Designing Energy Storage Holy Grail for Africa – A conversation with Award-winning CEO Amrit

Designing Energy Storage Holy Grail for Africa – A conversation with Award winning CEO Amrit
Designing Energy Storage Holy Grail for Africa – A conversation with Award winning CEO Amrit

Quick Summary

In this podcast interview, Tony has been talking to Amrit Chandan, CEO and co-Founder of Aceleron, a brilliant startup, manufacturing advanced lithium battery developer aiming to accelerate the global shift to cleaner, more renewable energy and to empower people to benefit from sustainable battery technology.
We’ve looked at:
• Introduction of Aceleron
• The importance of energy storage for Renewable Energy in general and for Africa in particular.
• Aceleron reused batteries
• The “Global LEAP Solar E-Wastage Award” collected at Gogla global offgrid event in Nairobi.
Do enjoy the interview. Click HERE.


RiA (Q1): Good morning. Good afternoon everybody. So it’s a pleasure to be talking to you. Renewables in Africa, we are Africa clean energy champion. And today we have somebody who is very, very interesting. He just got off the plane so he’s driving back. I’m talking to Mr Amrit Chandan. Amrit. Good afternoon sir.

AC (A1): Good afternoon Tony. Good afternoon. Just come from Kenya. So I’ll say Jambo as well.

RiA (Q2): Oh wow. Okay. Jambo, jambo So, I’m hoping that you’re able to enjoy a little bit of sunshine. I know you’re driving back, you very busy, because you have a busy schedule. So we’re just going to crack on with the few questions that we have for you this afternoon is that okay?

AC (A2): That’s sounds good to me.

RiA (Q3): Okay. So the first question just to give justice to your career and the company that you running, I wanted to know whether you can briefly introduce yourself and also Aceleron please.

AC (A3): Yeah, sure. So, I am Amrit Chandan, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Aceleron and we’re all about building, batteries for life, so creating batteries for life. So I started my career, studying for a PhD in Fuel Cell, Engineering, which are not too dissimilar to batteries. And, it was after that PhD I was working and I met my co-founder, Carlton. So Carlton, studied, well he coordinated solar installations across the Caribbean for the earliest part of his career, and came to the UK to study for a MBA in Business Environment and Sustainability. And while he was studying for that masters, he was also the battery engineer on a electric motorcycle racing team. So we both met and realized that electric vehicles are coming to market in a big way, but there wasn’t really a good solution and there still isn’t a good solution for dealing with the waste that they will generate. And we also knew that people around the world want access to good quality energy storage.

So energy security is directly linked to the development levels of many different societies. And so it’s really imperative that people have access to, energy storage because you know, solar prices are dropping, wind prices are dropping, but the sun doesn’t always shine. And the wind doesn’t always blow. So people want to be able to use the energy when they need it. And so batteries are really, really important for that. So we’ve, we saw there was enough of a problem here to leave our jobs and started out this journey of Aceleron. So we started by taking apart lots and lots of lithium battery packs and realize that they’re not designed at all to be serviced or maintained during their life. This leads to lots of unnecessary costs and unnecessary waste. So we redesigned the battery so that we can easily take it apart and it can be done locally as well.

So in places like Kenya, the local population are able to, the local technicians are able to take apart the battery and maintain it, which means that over time, they’re able to better themselves as well by learning new skills and opening new opportunities. So, now fast forward to today we’re offering, services around batteries, really circular economy batteries. So batteries that we put into the field, we maintain them over time and we’re able to increase that access to energy storage. And hopefully have a positive impact on people’s lives.

RiA (Q4): Excellent. Excellent. That’s very interesting and very brave from you. I think I have to say that I admire what you’re doing and as actually coming back from, Kenya, so one of the countries from our beautiful continent. So I wanted you to tell me, according to you, why is energy storage so important for renewables energy? Number one, and especially for Africa.

AC (A4): Yeah, sure. So  in many parts of the world, the more developed parts of the world, they already have an established grid infrastructure, and so as they’re putting more wind and solar energy, renewable energy generation onto these great infrastructure, they, inevitably have issues with the intermittency. So, you know, power is being generated, but it’s not necessarily being used and it’s not always needed when it’s there and available. So the only way to, to mitigate this is by having access to lots of battery energy storage, which means that you can store the energy that’s being generated by the solar and by the wind. And then use it when it’s needed rather than sort of wasting it.

 In places like Sub Saharan Africa and Kenya where there isn’t necessarily a grid in all parts of the country, it doesn’t make sense to go through the same development that places like the UK went through where they did develop a grid and it was all based on coal and it was based on oil generators and, and nuclear generators. And said because solar has dropped so much, it’s a real opportunity for countries throughout Africa to embrace the clean energy generation that’s possible. And there’s an abundance of sunlight. There’s an abundance of wind, but you need batteries to be able to do this in a way that people can use the energy when they need it. So we can leapfrog  the use of coal, oil and other fossil fuel generation methods and jump straight into using solar and wind because we’ve got access to batteries.

RiA (Q5): Excellent, excellent. And there was something that you’re doing and is very important for, me because as a renewable energy professional, I usually will say to people, even if the whole world’s switching to renewable energy today, but we don’t associate energy efficiency, we’re still gonna have the same problem because it’s still going to be a lot of waste and you really tapping into this idea. So how did you come up with idea of repurpose of batteries. I know you mentioned a little bit in your first answer but I just wanted to go a little bit more deeper into that.

AC (A5): Yeah. So, we knew that electric vehicles are coming to market in a big way and they are now, they’ve been taking off in a, really big way, which is really good because everyone wants to stop using polluting old vehicles. But the challenge is that because of the way batteries are designed, they’re not designed to be taken apart. So they’re often built with permanent assembly methods. So spot welding and structural configurations and other sort of mechanisms. And that means that if you want to repair that battery, you end up actually destroying it in the process. They’re not designed with the end of life in mind. And this is a big challenge. So  when we started out, I mentioned we took apart lots and lots of lithium batteries and we were consistently finding that they still had upwards of 80% of their life left in them. But it was really inefficient because they were just being thrown away. There was no way to realize that residual value within the battery. And so we, so there must be a better way to do this. And we actually started designing the battery with the end in mind. So when a battery does need to come to the end of life, how can we deal with that waste? How can we solve that challenge? How can we make the battery maintainable? And that’s how we came up with the idea of redesigning the battery.

RiA (Q6): Okay. Okay. That’s great. So I can definitely see that and hear that one of the, unique selling point. If I may so of your battery or key quality, the fact that it could be reused, which is great. What are the other key differentiators would you say with other products out there? And what is your track record in terms of selling those batteries?

AC (A6): So we’re still quite an early stage company. We’ve been going now for just over three and a half years. But yeah, the main difference between our batteries and a lot of the other batteries is that it can be maintained over time. So you mentioned you buy a battery and then three, four years later it stops working. You don’t need to throw it away and buy a brand new one and spend all that money all over again. You can just pay to have the parts replaced that need replacing so he can get it repaired. And that saves a lot of costs for a lot of people all over the world. And that, makes a big difference. It’s a lot more efficient than, recycling the whole battery, at that point. In terms of, where we are, so we are doing a lot of work, especially in Kenya.

We see that there’s a lot of need for better quality battery storage in Kenya and others, Sub Saharan African countries. Off-grid solar energy systems have taken off in quite a big way. And now we need to, make the batteries more efficient as well. So there’s a growing e-waste challenge and there’s also, a need for batteries. So in Kenya we’ve been both repurposing battery packs and building second life battery packs as well as, putting in first life battery packs. So starting with both brand new cells and cells that we’ve actually managed to harvest. There’s nothing wrong with them, but we managed to harvest them from, solar lanterns and solar systems. So we’re able to create battery packs, which are already maintained and they can go into solar home systems again and it can be used in other applications. So we’ve even had a customer come in and buy a handful of these batteries because he wants to use it to power his rowboat. And he’s been doing that since. So there’s a lot of use cases for these types of batteries in the region.

RiA (Q7): Excellent. And I know that you are supported by a number of organization now, including Shell Foundation and one thing that we know about Shell Foundation is that they are very much interested focusing to the impact that entrepreneurs are doing in environment where they are stepping in their society. And I wanted to know how in your case, do you empower the local community with your innovation?

AC (A7): That’s a really good question. So empowerment and positive social impact is, core to our company values. And so we’re always looking at this and thinking, how can we do this better? So we, able because of how simple the technology is put together, we’re able to actually train local people who don’t necessarily have a technical background, and to be able to do then build the batteries, and so we’ve done this already. We built 200 batteries within Kenya. That’s part of our very first pilot with the Shell Foundation. And we’re hugely grateful to the Shell Foundation and all the other organizations that support us, including the department for international development as well. And being able to sort of build these batteries with no issues, just bringing in the parts and allowing the local, unskilled labour force, the local people to actually build the batteries was really amazing to see because it’s Kenyans building batteries for use in Kenya. That was a really powerful, thing. And now we’re actually, you know, repurposing batteries, again, using the local people, to actually do that. So they’re the ones who are, you know, dismantling the batteries and bring them together. And what’s really important as well is that these aren’t jobs that need to be done by men necessarily. So we’re actually able to also give this training to women as well. And, that’s addressed gender balance as well, which is, really good.

RiA (Q8): Excellent. And you, mentioned that you just coming back from Kenya where I believe you attended the GOGLA, Off-grid Solar Event, and then, if I’m also right, I think you picked up in a word there, which was the, Global LEAP Solar E-Wastage Awards. Congratulations first. So that’s certainly an achievement for a company. I believe that was just sort of was founded I think four years ago, roughly three, four years ago. You confirmed that. Why is that award, so important for you and is it a first big one?

AC (A8): It’s `quite a big award. So it’s given out by, CLASP. And you know there’s lots of supporters behind that who, who put their sort of money and effort into that award. For me it’s a really big award because it recognizes the growing challenge with e-waste. 18 months ago, E-waste was not something that was being discussed at all. And now it’s on the front of everyone’s mind. It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue because it’s, everyone recognizes that there has to be a solution for dealing with e-waste and we can’t just come into the country and put lots of these systems out there and then not be responsible for you know, the ultimate disposable. Trying to sort of make sure that they’re repairable and maintainable as well. It’s really important. And so that award for us, is really good because it’s the start of our partnership with a company called EnviroSource and also strengthening our existing partnership with the WEEE Center. So in Nairobi, the WEE Center deals with a lot of the, a lot of the waste and does a lot of social good, for the surrounding community and EnviroSource are based, we’ll be working with the Rwanda team to take what we’re doing at the WEEE Center, repurposing  local offgrid solar company waste and putting that into, and replicating that over in Rwanda as well. So we’re going to be creating repurpose batteries Rwanda pretty soon as well.

RiA (Q9): Okay. That’s great. And my last question, so you mentioned Kenya, you mentioned Rwanda. Where you are active? Where do you see the energy storage market going in Africa in the next 10 years?

AC (A9): So it’s interesting because Kenya was, I think that is the Capital of off-grid solar, and it’s where a lot of, the solar technology started. But that’s now moving across to West Africa and the model is moving over in to Latin America, in India as well, in East Asia. So it’s something which is proliferating quite a lot now all over the world. So there’s a need for batteries and wherever this thing, solar being used, wind being used, you need battery storage to do that. So now Aceleron is going to be the foundation of, clean sustainable battery technology in all of these places.

RiA (Q10): Okay, well we wish, Aceleron now very great future for the next 10 year, if not more. And we wish your success in employing and empowering lots of men and women in the continent. It was a pleasure for us to be talking to you this afternoon I’m only going to say now, make sure that you drive back safe back home and do have your rest, because I’m sure from tomorrow there’s going to be some other challenges awaiting for you along the way. But thank you very much Amrit.

AC (A10): Thanks a lot, Tony and Jambo again.

RiA: Jambo, Jambo. It was a pleasure.

Listen to the interview HERE


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here