On March 24, the day India started its three-week lockdown to contain the novel coronavirus, the founders of Bengaluru-based nanotechnology company Log 9 Materials held an emergency meeting to discuss what they could do as a company. Information about the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, was limited. Many people around the country were anxious about being asymptomatic carriers. Often, people would clean their food with soap and detergent as soon as it was carried into their homes.
Log 9’s three co-founders realized they could address this issue—the disinfecting process of everyday objects like groceries, newspapers, and money. “We saw this as a big opportunity—both from the business point of view and in terms of solving a critical problem,” Akshay Singhal, co-founder of Log 9 Materials told KrASIA.
Within 15 days, Log 9’s team not only built a working prototype, they were prepared to manufacture it at a large scale. Called the CoronaOven, the machine sterilizes any objects placed inside it in four to eight minutes, Singhal claimed.
The CoronaOven is basically a piece of hardware that uses UV-C (ultraviolet-C) light to kill microorganisms that are on the surfaces of objects. To be sure, there are other consumer products on the market that carry a similar concept, typically used to clean smartphones, but one endorsement sets Log 9’s creation apart from the rest. Earlier this month, the Indian Council of Medical Research recognized the CoronaOven as a scientifically designed disinfection machine.
Aside from personal use cases, Singhal believes that the CoronaOven can address the shortage of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits—at some locations, medical professionals have to reuse their PPE because supplies are low, putting their lives in danger.
“PPEs are ideally for single usage, but because there is a significant shortage, people are using it more than once at many hospitals. In that situation, it’s better to sanitize them before reusing it as long-term dampness inside PPEs might cause other viruses to grow,” Singhal said. The current models of the CoronaOven can disinfect masks, gloves, face shields, and protective goggles that healthcare professionals wear while treating COVID-19 patients.
The idea, Singhal said, is to significantly reduce the demand for new masks and certain elements of PPE kits, and to make some gear safer to wear more than once.
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There are significant limitations in Log 9’s current models of the CoronaOven, which comes in three sizes—20 L, 33 L, and 40 L. They are not large enough to sanitize full-body protective gear, and since UV light can only work on surfaces within line of sight, any folds or creases that aren’t exposed to the light source are not decontaminated. “We have made these variants keeping the use-case in mind. These can be used by organizations such as hospitals, government offices, as well as individuals in their houses to disinfect whatever items they get from outside,” Singhal said.
The units have sparked interest from the police and armed forces, which have reached out to Log 9 to ask for larger variants so they can sanitize their uniforms and coveralls. Singhal said that a larger model that can accommodate full-body suits may be ready within two weeks.
The company claims to have sold over 1,200 CoronaOvens, most of which were ordered by hospitals, government offices, police stations, and airports. Singhal said Log 9’s team is in talks with e-commerce, food and medicine delivery, and hyperlocal logistics companies as well. “Pilot programs with e-commerce companies are happening right now. They are ascertaining its daily applicability and seeing how user-friendly it is for their delivery persons,” he said.
Clean energy solutions
Founded in 2015 by Singhal, Kartik Hajela, and Pankaj Sharma, Log 9 Materials was established to create innovative solutions for the energy sector. Just before the 70-member team started to work on the CoronaOven, the company was developing aluminium-based fuel cells to power electric vehicles. The goal was to extend the maximum range to more than 1,000 km.
“We expected to start pilot trials by the end of this year, but because of COVID-19 we started to work on the CoronaOven, which has delayed [the fuel cell’s] pilot. We have yet to find out when we can start working on it again,” Singhal said.
The company has another product called Sorbene that is used to clean up oil spills and chemical leaks in bodies of water. Using graphene—an allotrope that is essentially a single layer of carbon atoms—the company said the Sorbene pads, which look like thick wipes and pillows, can be thrown into polluted water to absorb crude oil or spilled chemicals in an eco-friendly way, with five times the absorption power compared to other similar products. Log 9 claims to already have buyers in Singapore, Hong Kong, and India, where it works with oil refineries.
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In October 2019, Log 9 Materials raised USD 3.5 million as part of its Series A round, led by Sequoia India’s Surge and Exfinity Venture Partners.
Up until now, Log 9 has been draining its cash reserves to develop its line of CoronaOvens; some of its financial resources were from grants that the company received from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who formed the Action COVID-19 Team, commonly referred to as the ACT, to support companies working toward solving problems related to the pandemic. Also, Log 9 received a grant of USD 100,000 from the Marico Innovation Foundation. Now, the company is looking to raise new funds, as it wants to increase production capacity and go global.
Log 9 Materials has made one high-profile sale in the past weeks. According to news reports, French President Emmanuel Macron’s official residence, the Élysée Palace, has placed an order for the CoronaOven. Furthermore, it has received inquiries from companies in France, Canada, the Middle East, Singapore, the Philippines, and the United States.
The company wants to sell over 150,000 units by the end of 2021. “The coronavirus is not going anywhere and we will have to learn to live with it. We believe this will become a standard appliance for homes as well as hospitals in the future.”
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.