The Social Entrepreneur
Innovation: When Siddharth Mayur’s grandmother was caught in repeated blackouts in her ancestral village, he resolved to solve her energy problem once and for all. It was the start of a seven-year journey that was to lead him to Dresden.
It’s been seven years, We’ve been working on this, since October 2009,” says Siddharth Mayur. He’s sitting at a meeting room table in the Berlin offices of Germany Trade & Invest where a heavy winter squall is battering the window. It’s a stark contrast to the oppressive heat of Mayur’s home in the western Indian city of Pune. He is explaining the driving force behind his groundbreaking business project: a solid oxide fuel cell generator powered by clean energy sources with near-zero emissions. Mayur hopes it will bring energy independence to every farm, village, home and small business.
Siddharth R Mayur, Managing Director of MPower GmbH | © MPower GmbH “It was Deepavali 2009,” continued Mayur. “Deepavali is a very important festival in India, a festival of lights at which you pray to the goddess of wealth. I rang my grandmother who lives in our ancestral village to exchange greetings and she said she was enjoying the festival of lights without lights, because there was no power.”
“It shook me up. I called my friend Amarnath Chakradeo, who was to become a co-founder, and told him that we could not accept these unreliable power supplies any more. I wanted power for the people 24/7, and it had to be clean, green, reliable, and affordable for all.”
Determined to push through a cost leadership strategy to maintain his promise of affordable technology for Indians, Mayur’s search for a research and development partner took him on a roundabout route to Dresden in Saxony, Eastern Germany, and finally to the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (Fraunhofer IKTS), one of the world’s leading applied research institutes for fuel cells.
Fuel cells have been around the corner for many years, but are now becoming more commercially viable, which is good news for the environment as they produce energy with barely any greenhouse gas emissions beyond water vapor steam. The Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) that Mayur is developing use hydrogen that can be extracted from a variety of abundantly available sources to produce power and usable heat with higher efficiency than any other power generating technology.
Germany is setting up a network of hydrogen gas stations for the next generation of fuel cell-powered cars, while a market introduction program and the extensive piped gas network help increase fuel cell installations in both residential and commercial premises as part of Germany’s energy transition (Energiewende). The depth of research Mayur found at the Fraunhofer Institute swung the decision to invest in Germany.
“We almost ended up signing a contract with a USA-based technology company, but my partner Amar met the Fraunhofer people at an expo in Tokyo and it all changed,” reflects Mayur. “I realized that these were the guys writing the textbooks on energy, the guys who could attack this problem from scratch. It wasn’t easy for either party. We constantly challenged them. Fortunately they were very open to change, pushing the boundaries, and helping us with our vision by developing a robust, scalable, and efficient fuel cell generator named h2e.”
During the development of the h2e project, Fraunhofer and Mayur entered into a joint arrangement to commercialize the fuel cell stacks developed by Fraunhofer IKTS and high performance materials specialist Plansee SE, stacks which Mayur wants to become the worldwide benchmark for SOFC technology.
Mayur’s company MPower GmbH was set up to produce and commercialize the stacks in Germany, from where they can be shipped to India and the rest of the world. As Fraunhofer created the technology and Mayur’s investment helped him acquire the commercialization and production rights, the project is a fine example of a successful Indo-German venture. The cooperation will transfer a key clean energy technology to India while simultaneously attracting investment into Germany and creating a global market.
A REVOLUTIONARY SOLUTION
“Fraunhofer wasn’t just interested in helping with the technology, it was interested in the business case, and is actively pursuing the idea of having a stake in MPower,” says Mayur. He sees fuel cells as a crucial technology to help Indian farmers trapped in desperate rural poverty access a reliable energy source, that will drastically improve their productivity.
“We have created a social solution, using German engineering and Indian entrepreneurship,” he explained. “And now we are the only company in the world looking at solving problems for agriculture with our “BHJurja” fuel cell product, because if you solve the problems linked to agriculture, you solve food security as well.” Mayur says his company will be instrumental in converting farms into factories with 24/7 energy available to every farmer, saving them from the inconveniences they frequently endure.
If Mayur can deliver continued cost reductions, fuel cells of this kind could be a revolutionary energy solution for the Indian economy, which is likely to be the world’s fastest-growing in 2016. India’s rural regions, such as the area where Mayur’s grandmother lives, have a new hope that Mayur adds bears the label: “We are developing a technology which is ‘Innovated in Germany, and Made in India & Germany, for India and the World.’”