For jump-starting innovation in battery technology
India has some of the worst air pollution in the world, due in part to vehicle emissions. While electric vehicles (EVs) could help drive change, many potential users are turned off by the long charging times required. Twin sisters Nishita and Nikita Baliarsingh are attacking those hesitations by creating fast, efficient and inexpensive batteries for EVs—made from crop waste.
The two knew they wanted to pursue eco entrepreneurship and began digging into more sustainable power options. “That’s how the entire story started,” Nishita says.
With the help of a government grant, they launched Nexus Power in 2019. Now the startup is working on a project to use protein extracts from crop residue to create batteries—which at the end of their life cycles could be turned into fertilizer. For farmers, the concept would reduce the pollution caused when they burn post-harvest residue and provide them with added income.
The sisters spent months experimenting with different crop proteins to test potential energy output. “We really had to dig deep to finalize what works,” Nikita says.
Their major discovery: By manipulating the raw material, they could create electric batteries that charge faster and have a longer range than lithium-ion batteries—for about 40 percent less cost. “With every passing day, with every new experiment, we come across new problems that this battery could possibly solve,” Nikita says.
When COVID-19 forced them to delay plans to relocate from their kitchen to a formal lab, they doubled down on developing product materials, registering their intellectual property and trademarks, and addressing compliance issues. “When it comes to the investor discussions, you have to have everything in place,” Nishita says.
That eye for detail has helped their team secure government grants, and they are now planning several large-scale pilot projects to test the batteries over the next 12 months. Nishita and Nikita have also met with investors and automotive brands to demonstrate the technology. If all goes well, the sisters believe their batteries could be on the market by the end of 2022—cutting air pollution across India and potentially the world.
“When we speak about it, the first reaction is, “Wow, that’s so different,’” Nikita says. “The more we get into the technology, the more exciting it gets.”
Q&A: Nishita Baliarsingh on electric planes, the need for patience and Ray Kroc
What project most influenced you personally?
The entire concept of having an electric plane really influenced me. I’ve also been fascinated with the concept of 3D-printed materials like rockets, engines and chassis in place of welded ones.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that we’ve come this far in our journey. It seemed nearly impossible when we started.
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
I see changing thought processes and attitudes in the young generation of today. They are definitely more open to accept challenges and look at loopholes with a critical eye. Most of the projects evolve out of a need to solve a particular problem. The younger generation is ready to work on this transitioning shift and innovate on simple issues that were neglected earlier.
What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now?
The biggest challenge young leaders are facing today is patience and focus. They do not wait for their innovations to reap benefits and pivot towards other projects. That’s where they lose their focus, too. My advice would be to document a plan for progress and hold on to it until it starts giving the desired returns.
Fast forward: What’s one way managing projects will have changed over the next decade?
About a decade ago, most of the technology testing was done physically through prototypes. Now we see a transition towards calculations being fed into simulating software to check performance—then build the product for final testing. This definitely helps save a lot of resources.
What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?
I’d want to have two people on the team. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a space scientist and former president of India, had a critical approach toward science and keen eye for detailing in technology. I would also love to have Ray Kroc. The way he launched McDonald’s is a story to learn from.
How did the pandemic change the way you manage projects?
With the lockdown, most of our lab trials have been at a standstill. That really troubles me at times. We’ve tried to remain grounded and work as much as possible from our houses. It has been difficult, but as much as we could do from the comfort of our homes, we’ve done.
Nikita and Nishita Baliarsingh Jump-Start Innovation in Battery Technology
India has some of the worst air pollution in the world, due in part to vehicle emissions. While electric vehicles (EVs) could help drive change, many potential users are turned off by the technology due to long charging times. Twin sisters Nishita and Nikita Baliarsingh are attacking those hesitations by creating fast, efficient and inexpensive batteries for EVs—made from crop waste.