Avishek Goel, along with his colleagues Diego Quan Reyes (TU Delft) and Sanne Wassink (Rotterdam School of Management), won the Dutch CleanTech Challenge and were runners-up at the International CleanTech Challenge in London earlier this year. After that, several other contest wins followed.
They proposed a novel idea – GETI, a smart kettle which uses the waste heat from basic cookstoves (a flat plate over a wood fire) to generate electricity that can be used to light up rooms, charge phones and, most importantly, has zero emissions. Goel and Quan Reyes launched their start-up, Quantum Energy and Engineering, this year to alleviate the needs of rural communities around the world by providing sustainable and culturally acceptable energy solutions.
“I’ve always been the technical guy,” explains Goel. “I went to Dubai on a scholarship for my bachelor’s. I’ve always worked really hard for things – I’m glad it’s that way because you realise the value of the money you earn or spend. I also think that back then, I worked hard without the right sense of motivation. I have to say,” he confesses, “that I worked at an oil and gas firm for three months when I was in Dubai before I quit.” He left for India, where he started working with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). He worked there for three years, visiting villages and helping improve people’s livelihoods, before coming to Delft.
‘Their working conditions were terrible’
He realised something changed when he did a research internship working with bangle makers in India. “I was working on improving the furnace that the bangle makers use and we visited the site. Their working conditions were terrible. I couldn’t bear to stand in front of the furnace that they were using, but that was their livelihood. Those women and children did that the whole day. This experience made me conscious of the realities and the need to do something that had a social impact.”
GETI – the idea
Quantum Energy and Engineering, or Quantum for short, is the fruit of Goel and Quan Reyes’s labour. “Diego and I met while working on a project and we realised that we had similar visions and values. We both want to be innovators and solve societal problems. And the solution to these problems needs to be simple.”
An estimated 5.5 million people die annually of noxious fumes released by candles and kerosene lamps
The first product in their portfolio is a smart kettle called GETI. Nearly 1 billion people across the globe do not have access to electricity and are forced to use basic light sources. An estimated 5.5 million people die annually of respiratory diseases and noxious fumes released by candles and kerosene lamps. Moreover, according to the World Health Organization, nearly 2.1 billion lack access to safe and clean drinking water. GETI, which utilises the waste heat from basic cookstoves to provide clean energy, tackles several core problems at once.
They decided to pilot test the project in Guatemala, Quan Reyes’s home country. Goel tells that Diego, like him, has experience working on the problems of rural communities. “He knew the importance of adapting the product to their lifestyles and the technology to their cultural sensitivities.” He says that in Guatemala, the basic cookstoves are usually in the form of a slab on top of an open fire to make tortillas. “They already use a kettle to boil water. Now we are just proposing that they use the smart kettle instead which also provides clean energy in the form of electricity. GETI also generates enough electricity for some light bulbs and to charge a phone.”
Working at TERI was a transformative experience for Goel. “I realised something very important while working there – people will work with the new technology you introduce for two months, maybe three, until the point you stop monitoring the project. Once you leave them to their own devices, they stop using it.”
He then goes on to give an example that solves this issue. “We were working in a village with a women’s self-help group. The village had several jute looming machines and rice mills that were run either manually or using electricity from the grid. But there were lots of power cuts and the electricity wasn’t reliable. We developed a novel technology where we used the rice husk (sourced from the rice mills) as feedstock for a gasifier to generate electricity. All 48 jute looming machines, as well as the houses nearby, could run on the electricity produced from this process.”
They gave complete ownership of this infrastructure to the rural women. “We made them the business owners and independent.” For Quantum they adopted a similar business model. They want to transfer ownership to local communities so they continue to use them.
Sustainability at TU Delft
We start talking about the broader strokes of sustainability and how it affects the ecosystem at TU Delft. He believes we are on the right track. “TU Delft has lots of associations, competitions and courses on this topic. And in general, the Netherlands is very open to our input. In the 4TU Impact challenge, we got to meet the Prime Minister. They were so receptive to our ideas and immediately put us in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs. I see no resistance – they want to push us in the right direction and they understand that we’re the future.”
At this point, Goel and Quan Reyes are looking for investors. “Up to now, we’ve pitched in our own money and the money we’ve won through competitions. We are now looking for investors that believe in our cause. We don’t call ourselves an NGO. We are a business that wants to come up with a system that benefits both rural communities and our company. We intend to create a system where we lease GETI for EUR 0.50 to the community instead of them using a candle or kerosene lamp for the same amount. We want to create micro-entrepreneurs by transferring ownership to the community members. We’re not there to do charity. I believe that as Quantum grows, these communities will also grow with us.”