How Engineer & CEO Gyanesh Pandey Lighten Up The Bihar Villages

6 Jun

Gyanesh Pandey, a native of the village of Baithania in the District of West Champaran in Bihar had in the course of his life made an interesting journey via boarding schools to premier Engg schools in Varanasi and New York worked in the Power Management Semiconductor industry. Ratnesh Yadav, a native of Patna, had just moved back home from Delhi to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.

The duo sincerely felt the need for rural development in Bihar in particular and India in general and saw immense opportunities right at home. Rural electrification was considered more of a necessity than an option. The conventional technologies and grids have failed to deliver and the pervasive energy starvation in the country is a rather known reality. A solution that used non-conventional technology for distributed generation of electricity was a no-brainer.

What needed years was finiding the right technology that fit the economic model for the rural space. A hunt that dedicated efforts from nanotechnology driven Polymer Solar Cells to the Jatropha based Biodiesel, and pretty much everything in between only led to realizations about how the different non-conventional technologies employing renewable resources lacked substance when it came to applying them to solve a broader problem.

Gyanesh had a change of heart after a failed Vipassana course in late 2006 and by February 2007, he was back home for good – for the first time in life – chucking a promising career in the greener pastures of Semiconductor industry in the USA.

Having ran out of the more talked about and presumed promising options, a chance encounter with a Gasifier salesman, Mr Krishna Murari, proved to be a fresh ray of hope in the so far rather frustrating pursuit of the two friends. They learnt how several rice millers in the state of Bihar were using the decades old technology of Biomass gasification to power their mills using Rice Husk – largely a no-good by-product of their operations.

Rice Husk – perhaps the only Bio-waste in the lives of rural folks – was just the perfect source to power the dream of rural electrification. There was a catch though – all of the prevalent rice-husk based gasifier systems ran in what is called the ‘dual-fuel’ mode of operation where the Producer Gas produced by the Gasifiers was used in conjunction with 35-50% Diesel to power the Diesel Engines. This suited a Rice Miller just fine by saving him 50-60% of Diesel but wasn’t good enough to fit the economic model of Rural Electrification.

Why not use the gasifier based systems in ‘Single Fuel mode’ without any Diesel, was an obvious question. The answer available, which came from multiple research works in many reputed institutions, was very negative. Rice Husk, an amorphous and low density fuel produced a gas that had very high tar content and was rather dirty in general. The experts deemed it unfit for the Single-Fuel mode of operation.

Having demonstrated remarkable yield levels in one of oldest IC Fabrication units of North America, Gyanesh didn’t see it as much of a problem. A dirty gas can clog the engine but if the engine is cleaned before the clog hampers the operation, why can’t it work – was the simple thought. The thought was much appreciated by a scientist with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Mr S. K. Singh, and without any previous experience with Biomass Gasification, the persevering duo undertook the revolutionary task of shifting the paradigm in the rural as well as renewable energy space. They got their gasifier fabricated at a local workshop, procured a cheap CNG engine from a small supplier and modified it suit their purpose.

What had been a rather lofty and continuously unyielding idea for over five years took less than five months to realize and on the 60th anniversary of India’s Independence, a remote and run-down village of ‘Tamkuha’( Literally meaning Fog of Darkness) in the infamous Dhanaha region (often called the University for Kidnappers) of West Champaran district in the state of Bihar experienced electricity for the first time. The work was done under the banner of Samta Samriddhi Foundation, an NGO setup by duo in Bihar.

‘After sixty independent years, we have found freedom from Darkness’, said Mr Rambalak Yadav, a local teacher on the occasion. Having zeroed-in on the technology, carving a lucrative business model wasn’t much of a task. Much of the elements had been in the mind all through the long journey and it came together rather well on the ground.

Having a good enough business model and a working technology in the backwaters of Bihar doesn’t guarantee any larger success. The breakthrough needed exposure. Exposure came through the efforts of Gyanesh’s college friend, Manoj Sinha, a business student at University of Virginia at the time. Manoj had been aware of the work on the ground and he undertook the task of presenting the work to the world. Manoj was assisted in his efforts by his classmate Charles Ransler. The model proved to be a great success at various Business Plan competitions and Husk Power Systems was born. With the success came prize money, exposure and a stream of willing investors and the rest, as they say, is history…

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