Mumbai: For some years now, ‘Go Green’ has been the anthem for engineers and tech companies, who are competing against each other to create and conserve clean energy. In the early part of the millennium, Rajat Gupta found him jumping on the bandwagon.
During his stint as Vice President of Infuse Ventures, he found that there were many companies generating clean energy, but energy efficiency and storage had few takers. “Clean energy production is the need of the hour. But how to store it and efficiently use it is more important,” says Mr. Gupta. The impetus for his pursuit came while he was doing his MBA at Harvard Business School and during his tenure as Chief Operating Officer of a dairy refrigeration startup, Promethean Power.
One of the applications of clean energy that he identified was in the area of mobile refrigeration systems. In India, most chilling systems used in the transport of perishable goods like food and dairy products, are diesel-powered. Like with any other application of fossil fuel, environmental pollution and low efficiency are inevitable. Mr. Gupta wanted to change that story, and started Thermal Energy Service Solutions Private Limited (TESSOL) in 2013.
“Our chilling systems work on electricity, instead of diesel. They come with batteries that are rechargeable,” says Mr. Gupta. Named “plug-n-chill” systems, the company has sold over 200 units, which can run for 10-12 hours continuously. “The batteries are manufactured by us and come with a one-year warranty. Recharging of batteries takes around five to six hours for chilled, and seven to eight hours for frozen-type systems,” says Mr. Gupta. “Our system reduces operation costs and saves up to 1,000 litres of diesel a year per vehicle.”
The shift to ‘plug-n-chill’
The system comes in variations ranging from 5ft to 24ft containers (up to 40ft for custom requirements), and storage temperatures from -25°C to +15°C. Tessol systems have better temperature-retention and reliability, Mr. Gupta says. “In the conventional chillers, some drivers switch off the systems to save diesel. But our chilling system cannot be switched off while in operation, so the drivers can’t tamper with the temperature.” The system may cost “plus or minus 15-20% of conventional systems”, ranging from Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh. The company also has last-mile delivery options, with focus on the hyperlocal e-commerce market: here, chilling systems are mounted on bikes. “Companies like Big Basket need smaller chilling systems for delivery. But, it hasn’t been successful as the (business) model couldn’t be scaled,” he says.
However, when the company was started in 2013, the plan was different. “We started off as a company that provides HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) solutions for office spaces,” Mr. Gupta says. “In India, offices use 40% of their total electricity consumption in cooling. We wanted to reduce the consumption of power by making the system more efficient.” But, things didn’t go as per plan. “We contacted a number of companies, but the projects had a gestation period of up to two years.” So, pivoting to other areas was imminent. “Some advisors in the industry suggested we move into the cold chain storage market. That’s how we started off.”
Although the technology has been around for several years, the idea had yet to pick up in India. For a year, the company did a review of the market about how the technology is used internationally. The system was finally launched in June 2014.
Tessol now has over 50 employees and offices in Navi Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi. It generated annual revenues of approximately ₹5 crore last year.
Besides cold chain logistics, the company is also exploring the stationary cold storage market. “Big companies and even small farms need cold storage space to store their perishables.” But the problem is the lack of electricity. “Forget Mumbai, there are places where you get electricity for only 5-6 hours.” A battery-powered system goes a long way in solving the problem of power outages, he says. However, the concept is only in its pilot stage. The logistics division, nonetheless, will account for a major chunk of the business.
The company now caters to a number of industries including fruits and vegetables, dairy, bakery, pharmaceuticals and sea food. Its client network includes Godrej Tyson Foods, Mother Dairy, Ribbons and Balloons, among others. Companies like Rinac and Icemaker pose a challenge to Tessol; these too produce electricity-based systems.
For the chilling systems, the biggest challenge is during long hauls between cities. “The battery life of 10-12 hours cannot be used for transporting to long distances. To overcome that, we are working on a system that has a battery life of up to 40 hours.” The company is also in talks with automobile companies to install their equipment at the time of manufacture. These proposals have varied degrees of success, some at more advanced stages than others. “Our product design team is also trying to make the system more light, modular and cost-effective,” he says.
Tessol has won national and international acclaim for its products. It was chosen amongst 500 entries from 66 countries at the Berlin Energy Transition instituted by German Energy agency, Deutsche Energie–Agentur, and won an award under the ‘Mobility meets energy transition’ category. “We also received awards from WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Emerson Cup for ‘Best innovation in cold chain in India’ in 2014 and 2016, among others” he adds. The company now has its sights set on expansion into the Gulf and SAARC countries.