To make aluminium the fuel of the country

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Last Updated 22 December 2019, 17:07 IST

With sustainability becoming the watchword today in every industry/business conversation, there’s one start-up that is working to make aluminium, a metal which is commercially viable, environment-friendly and almost endlessly recyclable, the fuel of the country.

Log 9 Materials is a Bengaluru-based cleantech start-up founded in April 2015 by Akshay Singhal, Kartik Hajela, and Pankaj Sharma. The start-up is using nanotechnology to clean up air and water.

Currently, the flagship project of the company is to build the cheapest and cleanest fuel cells.

Akshay Singhal, Founder and CEO, Log 9 Materials, says that the company started with the idea of developing expertise in graphene. “Graphene, the wonder material of the 21st century as it is called, has numerous properties far better than the incumbent material. In the initial years of Log 9, we developed expertise in developing, manufacturing, customising graphene and are currently the largest manufacturer of the material in the country. With this expertise, towards the end of 2017, we ventured out into developing fuel cells.”

The idea, says the founder, was to solve the pain points in the current electric mobility structure -- range anxiety, long charging time and dependence on countries like China for raw materials.

“If you see the consumer today, they want to travel long distances without worrying about running out of fuel, they also don’t want to wait for hours to get back on road again. These are the largest bottlenecks in the adoption of electric vehicles,” says Singhal.

Log 9 Materials fuel cells can provide a range of more than 1,000 km. After 1,000 km, users do not have to charge, but re-fuel it. Fresh aluminium in a rectangular ‘cassette-like’ form is put into the fuel-cell, a process that takes less than five minutes. The battery’s novel air-cathode selectively allows air to pass through to the electrolyte, reacting with the aluminium placed inside a chamber to generate electricity.

“We are in a developmental stage, we have a prototype, which is using the fuel cells. We will start our commercial trials early next year. We have filed for 15 patents around this technology. The plan is to launch the technology in the market in the next 2-3 years,” he says.

Singhal says that the company believes different use-cases adopt different technology solutions. “For example, lithium-ion works for two-wheelers and for intra-city travel by four-wheelers, however, for inter-city travel, particularly heavy vehicles, lithium-ion doesn’t work, you need something long-range. Our solution is more suited towards long-range and heavier segments. Before we go into automotive, we are also looking at replacing diesel generators. By using fuel cells, we not only make it clean and green but also cut the cost by half.”

The company has raised $3.5 million as a part of its Series A round, led by Sequoia India’s scale-up programme Surge and Exfinity Venture Partners.

The company had raised seed funding in March 2017, followed by Pre-Series A funding of around Rs 3 crore in 2018.

The other products developed by Log9 include Oil Sorbent pads, which are made using graphene and scientifically proven to absorb oil, petrochemicals, and other hydrocarbon-based liquids and can be used to prevent, control and clean spills in marine or terrestrial ecosystems. The company’s first product was called PPuF (Post-Purification Filter), which is an attachable plug-in filter for cigarettes which incorporates ‘nanocomposite filter’ that has been proven to reduce the toxins in cigarette smoke by up to 50%.

Only two players globally are working on aluminium fuel cells. There are other kinds of fuel cells, but they are so expensive, mentions Singhal, that their adoption in a country like India is impossible. “Aluminum industry is in its formative stage, but once this technology takes off, aluminium will become the fuel of the country.”

(Published 22 December 2019, 15:44 IST)

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