From Tesla to top tech entrepreneur in India

When Naman Chopra quit his job at top US tech-company Tesla in 2012, he was following a dream. The Delhi-based entrepreneur went on to found clean-technology company Rexnamo Electro Private Limited, bringing fast electric bikes to the masses. Now Chief Executive Officer of Rexnamo, 29-year-old Chopra explained what prompted his move back to India.

“Working in the engineering division at Tesla was deeply enlightening. I could see what was possible and I wanted to do more for my country. If we want to have an environmental impact, we need to act in these cities now, and transport is the number one issue to tackle,” he said.

Air pollution is a big challenge in India’s cities - one that is only going to become more acute given the pace of urbanization in the country. Bert Fabian, who coordinates United Nation Environments’ work on the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, said electrification of transport, especially public transport, is a priority. Electric bicycles also encourage cycling, supporting bicycle infrastructure development, he added.

For Chopra, mobility means freedom. “Transport can be a game-changer for rich and poor people alike,” he reflects. “I believe people should have freedom to choose their dreams – whether that means becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer. To do this, they must be connected to the work force.”

“My father, my biggest mentor, inspired me to create new things that have value for the world and are useful. So, I set out to combine my passion for technology, with doing something useful for the environment,” he said. Rexnamo prides itself on its hybrid graphene-based battery with hydrogen technology. It can be used in bikes, cars, buses, even airplanes.

Older, lithium batteries take longer to charge and require improved city infrastructure - specifically expensive charging stations spread throughout the city. Graphene batteries can cut charging times, while retaining high energy. The company has made the batteries commercially viable, which, combined with hydrogen fuel-cell technology, ensures vehicles can charge quickly and go long distances.

“We also eliminate the need for refueling, storing and transporting hydrogen gas in expensive high-pressure specialized cylinders,” he explained. “We have taken the best of different technologies and combined them. The result is fast and desirable vehicles, manufactured in an eco-friendly way, and affordable to ordinary people.”

From a US$375 motorbike to a US$18,000 luxury sedan, Rexnamo’s vehicles are electric and automatic. They range from small petrol scooters running at the equivalent of 125 cubic centimeters, to high-performing motorcycles reaching 60 kilometers per hour in seconds.

“No longer are poorer people confined to their neighborhoods: they can connect to richer areas of the city where the jobs are. My technology enables the poor to get rich. It will close the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.

The government of India has already offered subsidies on the e-vehicles, so they can be available commercially at a lower rate. But much more needs to be done, and part of the solution lies in addressing the underlying issue of outdated infrastructure, said Chopra.

“People should not arrive at work frustrated by traffic jams and delays. They are happier and more productive if they can travel by robust, comfortable means. My vision is to stop vehicle pollution and use technology to create a new layer of transportation infrastructure, improving productivity and Gross Domestic Product of the country."

Given the importance of public transport to aid congestion, Rexnamo is in the process of designing hyperloop-like infrastructure. The futuristic transport aims to propel passengers along low-pressure tubes in a series of pods, reaching speeds of up to 700 kilometers per hour. “Such infrastructure could be a reality in cities like Delhi in up to ten years, if more money is put into development and research”, he said.

“Designing new layers of transportation like this, will be cheaper in the long-run than replacing or repairing roads or even building more flyovers or intra-city expressways,” he added. “There is a lot more scope to develop our electric technology in India. Many more people want to take advantage of this technology. It’s just not as widely available as we would like yet.”

Do you have a story to tell? Can you inspire other young people to make a difference? Contact g.smith (at) un.org with your story.