We want to really make rural communities resilient and withstand the shocks of climate change themselves while also creating economic value for them. That’s why we are in this over the long term.
For Breakthrough Energy Fellow Vidyut Mohan, finding solutions to growing emissions in his hometown of New Delhi, India, and globally is a mission that hits close to home. He’s dedicated his career to developing clean technology in rural communities affected hardest by climate change—and he’s succeeding.
Vidyut is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Takachar, a company developing the first portable device for converting natural waste into bioproducts in even the most hard-to-access and underserved rural agricultural communities. Vidyut and his co-founder Kevin Kung, Chief Technology Officer of Takachar and also a Breakthrough Energy Fellow, had the opportunity to showcase their groundbreaking technology for Breakthrough Energy leaders and community leaders during a recent trip to India.
Vidyut explained that his drive for launching Takachar and advancing clean tech started early, sharing, “I grew up in New Delhi, and the city is known to have one of the worst air qualities in the world. You can see it around here right now, right? This is due to the open burning of agricultural waste here. So every winter, we would have very bad air quality and part of it would be contributed by the open burning of agricultural waste in farms surrounding the city.”
Vidyut began his career as a senior user experience researcher with Simpa Energy, where he developed affordable solar energy systems for off-grid households and small businesses in rural India. He went on to co-found Pirool Energy during his master’s study on biomass technology at TU Delft, a biomass-to-fuels company that focused on utilizing forest fire-causing pine needle waste in the Himalayas. He co-founded Takachar with Kevin in 2018.
Takachar’s mission also hits close to home for Kevin. He grew up next to a rice field and experienced farmers disposing of agricultural waste. He explained, “I grew up in Taiwan, and I lived right next to a rice field. I remember after every harvest, farmers would also burn some of the residues and it creates this smell, which is actually not unpleasant. Even today, it creates a very nostalgic memory whenever I smell that, but that’s not the sort of memories I want my children to have.”
After completing a Doctor of Philosophy in Biofuels and Renewable Energy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kevin spent six years designing engineering systems in resource-constrained settings. His past work includes borehole restoration in Uganda, interlocking stabilized construction materials in Ghana, and renewable energy systems in Kenya and India.
Takachar’s groundbreaking technology
The problem Takachar seeks to solve is massive—globally, $120 billion worth of biomass (crop residue) is burned in the open air each year. Takachar developed a portable machine that attaches to tractors and turns crop waste into biofuels, fertilizers, and other valuable products onsite, making it accessible to farmers in rural and underserved communities.
Traditional biomass process technologies are large-scale and expensive, forcing many farmers to burn their crop residues at the end of the harvest—especially those without the financial resources to transport waste to a centralized place. This results in both detrimental air pollution, GHG emissions, and economic loss for farmers. Through the deployment of the portable machine that can attach directly to tractors, Vidyut and his team solve for both.
He stated, “We want to really make rural communities resilient and withstand the shocks of climate change themselves while also creating economic value for them. That’s why we are in this over the long term.”
Takachar worked with farmers and potential customers to develop the technology to ensure it would be both accessible and functional for users. “We really spent a lot of time and effort speaking and engaging with our users and our customers and farmers to understand the needs, pain points, their aspirations, and work together with them to arrive at the features of the technology and the performance metrics and the functional requirements,” Vidyut said. “We’ve developed a really good system in our company to inculcate this habit in our prototyping process so that we come up with a product that really solves a problem for our end users.”
The role of the Breakthrough Energy Fellows Program
Vidyut and Kevin are both part of the 2022 Cohort of the Breakthrough Energy Fellows Program, which supports early-stage entrepreneurs with the funding, resources, and network needed to develop their technology at scale. For Vidyut, the opportunity to connect with other climate entrepreneurs has been key to advancing not just Takachar’s technology, but also the company’s business model and plan to go to market.
Vidyut explained, “The Breakthrough Energy Fellows program is like a family for us of entrepreneurs who are on a similar journey for climate impact. And it’s great to be with similar deep tech, climate tech startups who are trying to do their R&D, develop their technology and get that into the market.”
Kevin agreed. He shared that the Fellows program provides a community of innovators determined to tackle the world’s greatest climate challenges and solutions, making his experience more collaborative and successful. “The journey can get pretty lonely and you are not sure if you’re doing things correctly. That’s when having fellow innovators, people with whom we have Brain Trusts, and just having conversations about certain challenges that we’ve met. Building that community is very empowering and also very beneficial to our work.”
What’s next for Takachar?
Takachar is at the forefront of revolutionizing biomass process technologies and farming as a whole. For Vidyut, Kevin, and the rest of the leaders behind Takachar, their work is just one part of the global, collaborative effort needed to achieve a clean tech future—and Vidyut is optimistic.
“This work in the climate tech space has become mainstream. Everything is going to see a change and an upheaval, the way we produce power, the way we make cement, the way we make fertilizers, the way we make steam. Everything is going to change, and it has to change. And society is going to change on a very fundamental level because of that. So that’s what makes me very optimistic about seeing an impact, at least within my working career in the next 10 to 15 years.”