Industries and governments are looking for feasible solutions to not only generate renewable energy but also process waste in order to develop a well integrated circular economy that leaves little or no carbon footprint !

Ajinkya Shinde, our next pathbreaker, helps companies achieve their sustainability goals, through viable “green solutions” that they can implement and grow their business in a responsible way.

Ajinkya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his work on cashew nut shell, a waste product that remains after extracting the cashews, which was processed to develop biofuel, suitable to be used in diesel engines.

For students, several new technologies and solutions such as battery recycling, green hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, battery storage, waste-to-x etc., are reshaping our world and indirectly helping our society !

Ajinkya, what were your early years like?

I grew up in Pune, Maharashtra. My initial interest was in opening up electrical equipment and trying to understand and repair it. I messed up three radios, one Walkman, and one telephone. Finally, my father stopped bringing new radios. During my school days, I wanted to be a repair guy. My relatives used to say that I would become an engineer. So, I started gathering information about engineering from my tuition teacher. That is when I came to know that mechanical engineering is what I am interested in. I have always enjoyed cycling and swimming. My mother was a homemaker, and my father worked in a government office.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

From class 11, I developed a keen interest in physics and mathematics because of my extraordinary tuition teachers. This made my decision to become a mechanical engineer easier. I faced some resistance from my family members when pursuing mechanical engineering. Instead, they were trying to convince me to opt for information technology or computer engineering. 

I enrolled in a bachelor’s degree programme in mechanical engineering. During my third year of engineering, I started to develop an interest in renewable energy. My final year project was a portable wind turbine for mobile charging. I wanted to study further. Many of my friends were preparing for the GRE, and wanted to pursue MS in the USA. I was not interested in getting a degree from the USA. One of my cousins was a professor at IIT Bombay. He told me all the good stuff about IITs. The dream, which was left untouched, was a new motivation from here onwards. I failed in my first attempt and could not clear the GATE exam. I was able to convince my parents that I could clear it on my next attempt. I joined a coaching institute and started preparing for GATE. As a fallback plan, I completed two levels of the German language, A1 and A2. I cleared the entrance exam and enrolled in the Hydro and Renewable Energy Department for my masters at IIT Roorkee. During my postgraduate studies, I received a monthly stipend from the Ministry of Education, Government of India. 

Tell us, what made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

As I mentioned above, some of the key influencers are my tuition teachers and my cousin, a professor. They only suggested to me some of the best places to study, but choosing the renewable energy field was something I decided on my own. Some of the technical festivals/events of the IITs also inspired me to get into IIT. During my bachelor’s, I developed an interest in renewable energy, and my final year project was related to a wind turbine. My post-graduation project was related to biofuels. Things just aligned, and I was quite fortunate.

Can you tell us about your career path?

My coursework for post-graduation included different aspects of Hydro, Solar, Wind, and Bioenergy. My Master’s thesis was on Biodiesel derived from non-edible oils. I analyzed different blends of oils and the potential of converting them into biodiesel.

I was looking for a job that would be related to renewable energy. I did not have prior work experience. After a long wait, I received my first job offer from a Denmark based startup to work at their plant in Gujarat. My work was related to the research and development of different energy conversion technologies, such as biofuels, pyrolysis, gasification, etc. I worked on a UN-funded project to identify and research the potential of alternative fuels for the West African region.

Alongside, I assisted in waste-to-X (waste to energy) projects carried out using technologies such as pyrolysis, gasification, ethanol manufacturing, etc.

After a few months, I switched jobs and started working with Genesis Ray Energy, a Singapore based startup. I assisted in developing a GIS-based applications layered with insightful data about energy infrastructure projects across the Asia Pacific Region. Along with my team, we added key information related to Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal and Conventional projects. This would help users access insights and develop a pre-feasibility report from our application alone. I also contributed to consultancy projects which included a rooftop solar market entry for the Thailand market, a Hybrid Solar and Wind project feasibility assessment for 11 resource-rich states in India, and an assessment of Natural Gas demand and integration in the Philippines till 2050 considering upcoming renewable (including Battery Storage, Pumped Hydro, and Green Hydrogen), and conventional projects. After three years at Genesis, I switched to Evalueserve to explore new opportunities and learn new things. I have been working on research and consultancy projects such as Green Hydrogen, Waste to X, and Plastic Recycling.

How did you get your first break?

Even at IIT, getting a good job is difficult. I attended many campus interviews, but failed miserably in one or another interview round. I started applying for off-campus jobs via LinkedIn and the Naukri platforms. I used to send almost 20 applications daily. I received calls and attended interviews. But no luck anytime soon. Finally, a Danish company looking to develop solutions similar to my Master’s Project got in touch with me via LinkedIn. That is how I received my first job offer. After I received my first job offer, I received more than three to four job offers in the same month, which I had to reject. The Denmark-based company, Mash Energy ApS, is into the research and development of technologies that solve problems by providing sustainable solutions. I was working on a UN project as a part of this company. The company analyzes resources (Waste plastics, Biomass, MSW, etc.) that are not being used efficiently, develops a technology (building a pyrolyzer, gasifier, etc.) to convert these resources into valuable products, tests it, and implements it.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Deciding which stream to choose for post-graduation.

Once you pass the GATE exam, you will have many options as a mechanical engineer. I had received an offer from a similar branch at IIT Guwahati and another from IIT Roorkee. After reviewing the course details, I decided to enroll in IIT Roorkee’s Hydro and Renewable Energy programme, which required some basic mechanical engineering concepts.

Challenge 2: Not getting campus placement.

I received guidance from my friends at IIT. I started applying for jobs consistently. I made different resumes for different job roles. I told myself that if I applied to 100 jobs, I’d get three or four positive responses. It helped me. Finally, I had three to four job offer letters.

Challenge 3: Every other guy I saw was preparing for government jobs. I was not.

I faced peer pressure when most of my friends were preparing for government jobs because I was not. Whether I was wrong or going for an unconventional route, that was the thought ringing in my mind, but I kept looking for a private job in my field of interest.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

Currently, I work for a research and consultancy services providing multinational company, Evalueserve. My department deals with the Energy and Decarbonization market segment.

I help companies achieve their sustainability goals, viz., reducing carbon emissions, renewable and new energy, biofuels, waste management, etc. We assess various bespoke solutions for our clients and provide them with a feasible solution to attain their goals. We analyze and churn data to generate meaningful insights that help our clients make better decisions.

We recommend to our clients appropriate and viable “green solutions” that they can implement and grow their business sustainably. For example, a client wanted to incorporate green hydrogen technology into their energy vertical. We analyzed the technology that electrolyzes water into hydrogen and oxygen, unfolded details of key components of the electrolyzer, and gathered market insights (market size, materials, manufacturers, suppliers, etc.). This research, facts, and data based information helps our client make multi-billion dollar decisions and implement these solutions.

From the beginning of a project, such as preparing proposals (showcasing our expertise on the subject matter, our approach and strategy, and the project’s outcome), to the final project deliverables, I assist the team. Given my technical background, I am well-equipped to handle the technical aspects of projects and address any concerns that may arise.

What skills are needed in your role? How did you acquire the skills?

I need to understand problems that clients or customers are facing or trying to solve, and then develop a strategy to cater to these problems using my knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. Another skill required for similar roles is handling large amounts of data and deriving meaningful insights from it. Excel and PowerPoint skills are a must. 

What is a typical day like?

I start my day by planning things that need to be completed on a priority basis. I prepare a project proposal for the clients and explain to them how my organization can solve their big and small problems. When the clients give consent to start the project, I start with a basic Google search of the topic, go through the search results, and collate pertinent and reliable content to support the solutions and strategies. I present the outcome to the clients, clarify their doubts, and consider their inputs. Most of the time, I use applications like Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. My day, that’s about it.

What is it that you love about this job? 

I help organizations meet their sustainability goals and assist them in developing new technologies and solutions such as battery recycling, green hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, battery storage, waste-to-x, etc., indirectly helping the world to become a better place.

How does your work benefit society? 

My work benefits society. I indirectly assist in the resolution of problems faced by ordinary people, such as access to reliable and clean energy, waste management, and so on; problems faced by governments, such as energy self-sufficiency, issues related to waste, pollution, and so on; and finally, problems faced by organizations, such as meeting renewable energy targets, decarbonization across their value chain, developing sustainable solutions, and so on.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I worked on a United Nations project. I carried out research and development work related to the cashew nut shell, a waste product that remains after extracting the cashews. The shell, which is generally burnt or dumped, contains non-edible oil. I developed solutions to extract the oil and carried out tests on it. After modifications and converting it into biofuel, it was suitable to be used in diesel engines. This solution has been implemented in the western region of South Africa as a source of fuel for generators and other industrial uses, and in Denmark to fuel marine vessels. My work directly helped the community at large through this activity, thus reducing the carbon footprint.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

There is no clear path to success, nor can education guarantee it. A good education will be crucial to making your life easier and helping you earn your living. Think of a career where you would love to work hard because you are passionate about it. Whatever path you choose, do your best and you will be among the best in that field, whether it is arts, commerce, science, or any other.

Future Plans?

I should refrain from discussing this as it might not send positive vibes to the students. I do not have any long-term plans. Currently, I am going with the flow and achieving short-term personal goals.