Smokeless, flameless stoves are powering Rashtrapati Bhavan and PMO’s kitchen
Cook stove may not be the ideal product to innovate, but Hari Rao clearly saw an opportunity. Despite challenges, Rao had the fire in his belly to start Agnisumukh, a biogas-based automated cooking equipment that saves more than 30% gas fuels.
This got Rao involved in an R&D session and he ended up designing an innovative industrial stove that would not only save fuel but also lakhs of money spent on operational costs.
The Bengaluru-based firm came into existence in 2013 and offers a wide range of solutions that aim to give a better cooking experience. Agnisumukh’s products include cooking range, burner system, bratt pan and tandoor and are designed such that they can work under low pressure, cooks faster, has automated control, are low maintenance and preserve nutrition in food, besides serving other purposes.
Transforming traditional cooking
Agnisumukh’s cooking range serves multiple purposes, including preserving nutrition, no noise pollution, low ambient heat, and the ability to increase the temperature beyond 1000 degree Celsius in a very short time.
Unlike the regular blue flame burners, Agnisumukh’s burners produce heat that is not centralized, but uniform. The conventional blue flame burners produce heat, which is pressurized at the center of the cook pot where food often gets burned and most of the moisture in the food gets used up.
“As a natural property, flame and heat have a tendency to accumulate at the center. We have innovated a mechanism in gas burners that regulates this natural tendency and spreads the flame evenly as a thin layer by turning into uniform radiant heat,” says Rao, a former Income Tax officer.
The idea of uniform heat was taken from the traditional cooking method of using charcoal heat, which emits far-infrared rays. Far-infrared rays belong to the good spectrum of light and help in cooking food faster and retain food natural moisture, thereby preserving the nutrition.
However, cooking through charcoal has its own set of problems such as fly ash, smoke, extremely unregulated heat and safety concerns.
“Our research was aimed at producing radiant heat through the gas medium by overcoming the problems associated with handling charcoal. The whole process from ideation to implementation took a decade’s time in order to evolve a sustainable business model,” he said.
The research led to a transformation of the traditional cooking, giving birth to an energy efficient burner produces uniform, horizontal, flame-less radiant heat through convection cum radiation mechanism. The burner can be controlled and one could add a timer so it can automatically switch off after a time pre-set. It also works on low pressure gas and can overcome noise pollution.
According to Rao, the burner has been tested and testified at a thermal efficiency, under IS 14612, between 65-68.9% against conventional burners with an efficiency rating between 36-45%.
The other concern was of polluting cook stoves leaving carbon soot residue, which not only harms the environment, but also requires daily cleaning and maintenance by water and detergents. Agnisumukh addresses these concerns as it designs devices which work on biogas, which helps in elimination of odour and produces no carbon soot. This helps them save more than 30% of water and detergent.
Rao claims that use of Agnisumukh’s devices pan India will help reduce carbon emissions by 10 million per annum. Also, it would increase the green cover by 450 million trees.
“Using of biogas by rural household who are off-grid power and modern fuel will not only have clean, cook stoves improving their health, but will bring down the pressure on forests for fuel wood,” the former IT official said.
After the firm’s marketing team organised a technology demonstration at ITC-Windsor in Bangalore in December 2014, the team bagged their first trial order. A few years later, Agnisumukh signed a Pan-India contract with ITC Hotels. Since then the firm has caused a disruption in the cooking industry and has served clients such as the Taj Group, Radisson Blu, Akshaypatra, Apollo Hospitals and Infosys.
Rama Murthy, Konark Group of Hotels, which has been using Agnisumukh’s devices for the past four and a half years, said, “For quite some time we had been looking for cooking equipment which would save fuel and Agnisumukh fulfilled that. The chefs and employees in our kitchens love Agnisumukh’s cooking equipment. They feel happy to use them as there’s no flame coming out of the burners and stoves making their work easier and comfortable. The heat generated helps a lot in cooking food faster, which of course is very important for our restaurants.”
Adding to its list of clients, Agnisumukh’s cooking range is also making dishes at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. “We also feel proud to share that The President of India’s kitchen and the Prime Minister’s Office kitchen is powered by our innovation,” said Rao.
Playing with fire
However, such innovations are never an easy ride. When asked about the challenges he faced while starting up the venture, Rao said, “The initial challenge was the fact that I was not connected with the subject with which I was dealing with. I was a commerce graduate, but now needed to deal with thermodynamics. I did not have any help from the agencies which were involved in the research of that subject or funding.”
Even in 2015, when the firm was ready with two products- cooking range and hotplate, it soon came across design and material issues. Both products went through several design changes until they were marked as ‘zero defect’ and ‘fail safe’ and capable of mass production.
With a team of just 10 in 2014 to over 100 till date, Agnisumukh has spread its presence remarkably across major cities in India including Bangalore, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram.
The firm has also signed an exclusive agreement with LPG Equipment Research Centre, which a collaborative joint venture of Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited. The agreement is aimed at enhancing efficiency of Agnisumukh’s burners and a strategic tie-up that would help the firm penetrate into the household sector.
Talking about impacts of Agnisumukh’s products, Rao said, “Every year, India records lakhs of deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning emitted from polluting cook stoves and Agnisumukh ensures a decline in the death rate and improved quality of life. It transforms life by improving the work atmosphere in the kitchen and improving the health of manpower working tirelessly in kitchens.”