Imperial College London

ChemEng PhD student entrepreneur wins awards for renewable energy start-up


Clementine Chambon, co-founder of Oorja-Empowering Rural Communities

Recognition for Chemical Engineering PhD student Clementine Chambon for her renewable energy start-up company Oorja-Empowering Rural Communities

Earlier this month, Clementine Chambon, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering, (co-supervised by Dr Jason Hallett and Dr Paul Fennell) won the runner-up Althea-Imperial prize for female entrepreneurs for her start-up company Oorja (Oorja-Em'power'ing Rural Communities). The Oorja project aims to build and install decentralised, easy to operate plants to power off-grid villages in rural India. These plants will be owned and operated by local micro-entrepreneurs and women's self-help groups. The plants use rice husk wastes to co-produce electricity, biochar soil enhancer and household cooking gas.

Althea-Imperial winners

Clementine was in India earlier this month performing a field study in rural Uttar Pradesh in northern India together with her team where the pilot project will take place. The team’s visit was also covered in an article by The Times of India. They are currently completing prototyping and aim to launch the first field trials in 2016.

Clementine is also a finalist for the 2015 Echoing Green Fellowship, a program which supports emerging leaders to bring about positive social change. Clementine was in New York last week with her co-founder for the finals of this highly competitive competition, pitching for $90,000 of seed funding and mentoring opportunities.

Many congratulations to Clementine for these fantastic achievements and recognition of her outstanding work. We wish Clementine the best of luck on securing the Echoing Green Fellowship and the continued success of the Oorja project.

Clementine Gambon in rural India - Oorja project

Some background to Oorja can be found below but you can also visit the Oorja website for further information on this exciting project.

Oorja-Em'power'ing Rural Communities

Oorja logo

Uttar Pradesh, the third largest rice-producing state in India, is also among the poorest: 60% of households lack access to electricity. Villagers rely on kerosene lanterns for household light and diesel generators for irrigation and commercial power because they don't have access to electricity. Both are expensive and destructive to the health of millions of people and to the environment. The state is also prone to frequent droughts and soil degradation by erosion, an effect which is made worse by climate change.

By providing a unique multiple-product system at low cost, Oorja aims to address the needs of the poorest farmers, helping them to improve their livelihoods by giving them the means to produce biochar - a long-term, natural soil enhancer - and renewable electricity from locally available rice husks.

The Oorja team have designed a low-cost, integrated plant that uses rice husk wastes to co-produce electricity, biochar soil enhancer and household cooking gas. Each plant has the capacity to service five villages, and is easily affordable to local entrepreneurs with a further 66% subsidy provided by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy of India.

Oorja project plant sketch


Michael Panagopulos

Michael Panagopulos
Department of Chemical Engineering

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