Women’s Day Special: Tale of Twin Sisters From Odisha Who Make Batteries Out of Crop Residue
What does it take to feature in Forbes 30 under 30 list? Perhaps, an old biochemistry book from the grandfather’s library and a late-night conversation under open skies with someone who understands and endorses your thoughts, suggests the story of Nikita and Nishita Baliarsingh, who had each other’s company since birth. On this women’s day, here’s an impeccable journey of 23-year-old twin sisters from Odisha, Nikita and Nishita, who formed Nexus Power to make biodegradable fast-charging batteries from the agriculture crop residue.
“Our initial plan was to manufacture electric vehicles in Bhubaneswar, Odisha,” Nikita told Ootkal in an exclusive interaction. She was referring to 2016 when “EV was an upcoming trend in the market”.
“But the main concern was that even after multiple companies were promising to offer EVs, the buyers were not interested in opting for them over the IC Engine based cars. This gap in demand and supply forced us to investigate the causes behind the low acceptance of electric vehicles. A few major drawbacks identified were slow charging of the battery, high–priced cars, lack of local sources for procurement of Lithium and toxicity hazards,” she added.
After a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and a Master’s in Media & Mass Communication, Nikita wanted to fulfill a childhood dream that she saw with Nishita. “In school time, we discovered the meaning and true essence of entrepreneurship and we were sure, ever since, that we wanted to build a career as entrepreneurs.”
While Nikita specialised in Marketing Communication and Brand Management, Nishita went on to study corporate finance after her graduation. Neither of the twin sisters was a science graduate so how did they discover a technology that could change the lives of millions?
Old chemistry book and terrace talks
“We sincerely wanted to help improve the E-mobility sector. Our research made us realise that to make electric vehicles popular, first and foremost, the battery has to be perfect. Keeping this in mind, one night at the terrace, both of us, unanimously decided to work on battery technologies and build a green alternative that is equally efficient and effective as the batteries in the market currently. At that moment we had no clue what we exactly wanted to make. Also, neither of us was a science graduate and hence we had to read a lot to understand every bit of the genre we had chosen,” Nikita said.
“An old biochemistry book from our grandfather’s library gave us our first breakthrough towards innovating in the battery technology. There was a statement which said “proteins may have potential benefits in electrolytes” and that was the turning point. We pushed ourselves into continuous research and development and finally ended up founding ‘Nexus Power’ with an interesting innovation in EV batteries.” she added.
After plunging into entrepreneurship in the early days of college, the twin sisters supported their technical knowledge further as Nishita studied battery thermal management, Hybrid electric vehicle designing and Innovation & Intellectual Property rights, while Nikita went to IIT Roorkee and IIM Bangalore to study Selection of Nano Materials for Energy Storage and Innovation and Strategy Management.
“Apart from everything we had gained as students, our teachers and parents were always open for a discussion and have helped us in our journey. Most of the ideas around our work and company were actually conceptualised during casual discussions in college or at home. Everyone around us has been very supportive because of which the elasticity of taking risks has potentially developed in both of us.”
So, how does it work?
Nexus Power uses crop residue, the waste from the agricultural industry, to make biodegradable batteries. Otherwise, farmers in India have no other option than to burn this waste. The smoke generated causes severe air pollution in various states, especially in North India during winters. “We procure the unburnt crop remains and by applying a unique extraction and filtration process, we manufacture rechargeable energy-storing cells out of it. Multiple such cells go into making the IOT & AI-based sensor-enabled battery pack which is fixed in the EVs. A cell consists of 3 structural elements, namely – Cathode, Anode and electrolyte. The process of cell manufacturing at Nexus plays with the chemistry of the cell and builds all these elements with nanodot proteins derived from crop residue,” Nikita explained how her company manufactures “completely Lithium-ion free” and “eco-friendly” sustainable batteries.
Thanks to the abundance of its availability, the crop residue-made batteries are much cheaper than their counterparts. The farmers also get an additional income of INR 25,000 for every 100 batteries made by Nexus Power. Nikita adds that her company’s aim is to “eradicate seven billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the next century”.
The manufacturer of the biodegradable batteries for two-wheeler and three-wheeler electric vehicles has its perspective set on industries like “consumer electronics and solar energy storage” in the future.
Initially, the twin sisters were on shaky ground as they had to face challenges in the technical sphere. “A lot of time and energy was spent on research work and trial & error experimentation. There were days when we wanted to drop the idea and shift to something else, but gradually things began to settle for us,” Nikita said.
Nexus Power has been filing for multiple patents and copyrights since Day 1. “We haven’t come across a firm doing the exact same thing that we are doing with the cell chemistry yet, but with the way, startups are coming up in India, it is difficult to predict the longevity of our uniqueness,” the co-founder of the 2019-established startup added.
With a team of 11 members comprising passionate and experienced biotechnology, chemical and electrical engineers, Nexus Power does not want to hurry with the development of the product. The primary focus of the company is to ensure that the “battery pack is well tested and certified before Nexus makes its debut in the market”.
“Our prime focus is on perfecting the cell composition at the moment. We are also working on designing the battery packs according to the prevalent industry standards. Once we are ready with the MVP, we will perform the market feasibility tests and then the pilots. We are aiming to get done with the market testing and pilots as per schedule in order to go commercial by late 2022,” Nikita said.
In the future, Nexus will plan to make batteries for four-wheeler electric vehicles and commercial E-vehicles as well. The twin sisters also want to cater to the mobile phones and consumer electronics users of the country. “An idea that gets us excited is to manufacture 4 -wheeler electric vehicles with design thinking for the mid-segment income group in India, but that surely is only an idea at the moment, and will certainly remain one until the batteries pave their way into the EV industry.”
Future of electric vehicles in India
Amid the rising demand for electric vehicles, Nexus Power expects “a competitive offering in the 4W EV segment”. US-based car maker Tesla has set up an R&D center in Bangalore and will soon introduce electric vehicles for the Indian roads. Nikita believes that the pricing of the vehicle will be crucial as the Indian market is “price-sensitive”.
“A very high–priced vehicle shall again remain only in the hands of the rich and the middle class wouldn’t get a piece of the cake. While the gradual shift is coming in, a full switch to EV hopefully should be attained by 2030 as projected by the government. I believe the governments are doing pretty decent with their initiatives for promoting EVs in India,” she opined.
“If the government pushes EVs right now, the demand shall increase but the supply not being enough will not be able to fulfill the demand, leading to stagnation and price rise. Hence, the government pretty well knows this side of the industry and is slowly relaxing policies and allowing subsidies in order to maintain an equilibrium. Also, it is important that consumers try out EVs in 2w offerings first, like, see the market response and then eventually move towards the bigger purchases of 4 wheelers. The market is gearing up, never know what’s coming our way,” she explained further.
Message for aspiring women entrepreneurs
“Entrepreneurship is not just about making something new or earning profits, it has a bigger picture and it is necessary that all entrepreneurs and not just women grasp the essence and difference of being an entrepreneur and a businessperson. We all set goals and we must be patient enough to achieve them. Every day, one needs to have the same enthusiasm as day 1 to make sure that the organisational goals are achieved. Persistence and perseverance are the keys. All of us, together need to work towards making Odisha the most happening startup-hub of India.”
“Entrepreneurship is not only about everything we do physically that makes it work. It is about the emotional strength the founders possess, it is about having the same enthusiasm throughout, it is about believing in yourself and your team and most importantly, it is a journey and it has no particular destination. Both Nishita and I believe in innovating to sustain and dream of a greener planet Earth,” Nikita concluded.
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