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GPS Renewables: Converting waste to bioenergy, the tech way

The founders of the Bengaluru-headquartered company—who run what is reportedly Asia's largest bioCNG plant in Indore, among 100 other tech-led captive biogas plants—believe India has barely scratched the surface of the multi-billion dollar biofuels industry

Divya J Shekhar
Published: Aug 17, 2023 04:42:05 PM IST
Updated: Aug 18, 2023 12:36:27 PM IST

GPS Renewables: Converting waste to bioenergy, the tech way(L to R) Mainak Chakraborty, Co-founders and CEO, and Sreekrishna Sankar COO, of GPS Renewables Image: Vikas Babu for Forbes India
Mainak Chakraborty did not opt for campus placements at the end of his postgraduate management diploma course at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B). He wanted to start something on his own, a for-profit venture that was environment-facing, but was not sure what to do. Soon enough, along with a senior from IIM-B, Sreekrishna Sankar, he realised there was a business opportunity in a problem that was staring IT city Bengaluru in the face: Waste management. This led them to think about converting waste to bioenergy, where they realised technology could play a role and help the engineers put their skillsets to good use.

At the time [around 2010-2011], their idea was to “product-ise and decentralise biogas production for an urban setting”, Chakraborty says, by helping commercial spaces like hotels or corporate campuses convert their organic waste into energy. The duo launched GPS Renewables, a biofuels technology and execution company, in 2012. Until then, they had only seen solutions like gobar gas plants that were designed to provide low-cost waste management solutions to rural areas. These were large, often smelly structures with a large footprint and involving a lot of civil work.

For urban settings, they had to find a way to make these plants smaller, smell was a no-no, and feeding of waste into the plants had to be as less messy as possible. In the absence of huge swathes of land, they also had to find a way to build the plant vertically, spread across many floors. The health of these plants also needed to be monitored and tracked remotely. The non-profit Akshaya Patra helped them set up their first commercial pilot. They also catered to corporate campuses and luxury hotels, often retrofitting their solutions to fit the available space.
GPS Renewables: Converting waste to bioenergy, the tech wayFrom then to now, GPS Renewables has set up close to 100 captive biowaste-to-energy plants across the country. “We have an original artificial intelligence (AI) solution called the BiogasBot with patented hardware, which keeps track of the bio-health of all our 100 plants across India,” says Chakraborty.
They also run two large, functional bioCNG plants. One in Indore, reportedly Asia’s largest bioCNG plant that processes about 500 tonnes of organic waste; and the second in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. “We are also setting up multiple plants that convert paddy straw, which is often burnt in the North and is a source of smog every winter, into bioCNG for vehicular applications,” Chakraborty says, adding that at Haji Ali in Mumbai, they run one of the world’s first biogas-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station.

“We have multiple innovations, from special microbes and our own monitoring software to specialised products for carbon dioxide capture and removal,” says Chakraborty, claiming that GPS Renewables, with a 300-people strong team, has an annual revenue run rate of Rs500 crore and is a profitable company.

The Bengaluru-headquartered company has raised about $20 million in total funding, the most recent being a Series B round of about $17 million, led by Neev Fund, in 2022. Their Series A fundraise had happened in 2020. A bulk of the funding came only after seven to eight years of operations, Chakraborty points out, explaining how it has not been easy for startups in the climate tech space, with their engineering solutions and innovations having long gestation periods, finding it difficult to raise funds.

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“Until then, we were very frugal with our operations and spends, surviving on seed money, research and development (R&D) grants, debt and non-collateral loans under the government’s Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE), and purchase-order financing,” Chakraborty says.
“We are bullish on GPS and what the company will be able to achieve in the biofuels space,” says Akshay Panth, chief investment officer, Neev Fund, which led the Series B fundraise last year. “When we invested, GPS was an SME business that was growing fairly rapidly. They had done the Indore bioCNG project, were on the cusp of growth, and even though a lot of focus was on project and execution, they were a tech-driven company at the core.”
According to Panth, one challenge is that biofuels is still nascent with multiple segments emerging at a rapid pace. “There is a constant tussle between demand and supply, and a stable ecosystem is needed now,” he explains, adding that it is a capital-intensive business and if GPS were to decide to do all these projects on their own balance sheet, they would need to raise more capital. “That said, they have a good revenue visibility given their commercial and industrial (C&I)-focussed client base,” he says.
Chakraborty believes they have barely scratched the surface of the multi-billion dollar global biofuels industry, and his goal for the next three to five years is to help GPS remain profitable and run some of the flagship biofuels projects across the world in India.

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