As a major driver of the Paris Climate Accord, India has a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. By the year 2030, the Indian government hopes to see only electric vehicles plying on its roads, and cut down the country’s massive crude oil import bill by 30%. Considering the critical state of air quality across major Indian cities and towns, these are necessary objectives.
However, if one observes the current state of the automobile market in India, it might well be tough to achieve this objective. Moreover, most of these hybrid or electric vehicles sold in India are beyond the budget of most households.
With the full-scale adoption of electric cars in India becoming a distant dream and the fact that millions of new cars will roll out on our roads every year, the urgent need is to ensure greater fuel efficiency in vehicles. This serves two objectives—lower emissions and fuel consumption. With new cars and bikes plying almost every other day, getting stuck in traffic for hours has become the norm in cities.
Although people are well aware of the harmful effects of traffic in terms of time wasted, what is often not taken into consideration is the impact it has on vehicles themselves. The process of stopping and starting, and repeating that motion during traffic, takes a toll on a vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
However, Altigreen Propulsion Labs, a start-up based out of Bangalore, has developed a low-cost technological solution that can essentially convert any existing fossil-fuel-based vehicle from bikes to trucks into their hybrid version, and in the process, improve the vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
“Our company provides the full stack for electric powertrains, which includes electric motors, power electronics, battery pack, wire harness and telematics,” says Vishesh Mehra, Product Manager at Altigreen Propulsion Labs.
“Our first product is the HyPixi, an electric retrofit kit which works alongside existing engine and helps in boosting their efficiency, reducing their fuel consumption and exhaust emissions by more than 25%. All this is done without any external charging.”
How does this piece of technology work? “Our technology works on something called regenerative braking, a concept used in full hybrid vehicles as well,” says Mehra. “Whenever a vehicle slows down using brakes, it loses its kinetic energy in the form of heat in the brake pads. With regenerative braking, we prevent this wastage from happening.”
Speaking to The Better India, Mehra delves into more detail. “We harness the kinetic energy of the vehicle and use our proprietary motor-generator system to convert this kinetic energy to electrical energy which is stored in our battery pack. Then when the vehicle accelerates, and the ICE engine is most inefficient, we use this electrical energy to boost the engine. The engine feels that it needs to do lesser work and draws lesser fuel from the fuel tank,” adds Mehra.
Unlike factory-fitted CNG cars, the HyPixi neither tampers with the car’s engine nor alters the customer’s vehicle driving experience in any way. Moreover, CNG works only with petrol engines. It cannot be retrofitted on diesel engines.
What the HyPixi system essentially does is that it fixes the problem of the already existing millions of vehicles on the roads of the country. It costs between Rs 70,000-90,000, excluding state subsidies.
The start-up was founded in 2012 by Amitabh Saran (a former engineer with NASA), Shalendra Gupta (a finance expert), Lasse Moklegaard (a control engineering specialist) and John Bangura (an expert in high-performance motors)—four men from three different countries with decades of industrial and entrepreneurial experience between them.
Incorporated in 2013, the start-up has invested a lot of time and effort into research and development, filing nine patents in more than 60 countries. Of the nine, four have been accepted in the US, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
There were a lot of challenges the firm faced in developing the technology and acquiring the necessary funding. “How do you create components that can fit into existing, highly engineered, high-performing vehicles? The technological challenges were compounded by the need to innovate with very little funding, make the product low-cost and high quality, and do all this without an established ecosystem that encourages innovation,” said co-founder and CFO Shalendra Gupta to the Economic Times. The challenge of acquiring the necessary capital is evident for any start-up in a capital-intensive industry like automobiles.
Despite their initial struggles, the firm has managed to raise about USD $3.5 million thus far, mostly from angel investors. They are currently in the process of raising more capital. With technology constantly evolving and the requirements of human health and vehicle efficiency rising every day, a lot of capital is required not just to build these products, but also for further R&D.
For the time being, the start-up is selling the HyPixi to corporate fleet owners, but in the near future, it will look to move towards individual customers as well. “We have started sales in the middle of this year, and will begin pilot trials with corporates such as Avis Budget Group, Indian Defence Forces, Coca-Cola India, EESL, Baghirathi travels. These trials range from anywhere between 3 to 10 vehicles each. We are planning to open up sales to individual customers in the next 4-6 months once our service and installation network is built,” says Mehra.
What about tie-ups with the government? They have been holding discussions with multiple government agencies, but nothing concrete has emerged as of yet. In the automotive sector, however, the start-up is working with three original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in three different vehicle segments. “Our partnership with Greaves Cotton is public. Unfortunately, we cannot disclose the names of the other two OEMs as of now,” Mehra adds.
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“We will have a nationwide network of trained installation and service centres in the next two years so that maximum number of people can benefit from our technology. With the widespread adoption of HyPixi, India can achieve its carbon reduction goals, and also improve urban public health and substantially speed up the transition to fully electric vehicles,” says Gupta.
One hopes that this is indeed the case.
For more information on this system, you can click here.