Aug 11, 2023

World Water Week: This Bengaluru

Before becoming one of the greatest Jedis in the Star Wars galaxy, Luke Skywalker was merely a farm boy on Tatooine — the hot desert planet where his family also ran a ‘moisture farm’. These farms captured vapour from the planet’s atmosphere using a device called the moisture vaporator for sale and use in their hydroponic gardens. Pretty neat, right?

Well, it didn’t take too long for starry-eyed youngsters looking for ways to solve the water scarcity problem to derive inspiration. And today, conjuring water from the air isn’t a fictitious concept anymore!

As our way of celebrating World Water Week 2023, we interviewed Swapnil Shrivastav, a Star Wars fan and the co-founder of Uravu Labs. Considering this year’s theme is “Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World”, we couldn’t have found an innovation that fits the bill more.

After experiencing the perils of water shortage firsthand during their student life, Swapnil and his friend decided to take matters into their own hands. “The rate at which we are consuming groundwater is much higher than the time it took for the Earth to generate it. India, in particular, pumps out more groundwater than the US and China combined,” revealed Swapnil.

During the El Niño phase of 2015-16, there were widespread water shortages across India due to the failure of consecutive monsoons. It was clear that prompt action and a ton of ingenuity were the needs of the hour. In 2016, Uravu started off with a water extraction process that involved a compressor or air conditioning technology to condense the water vapour in the air. While a lot of companies across the globe continue to use this technology even today, a mere six-month-old Uravu’s founders quickly realised that a more sustainable option was necessary.

Inspiration struck in the salt pans of Rann of Kutch, where Swapnil saw people evaporating groundwater to extract salt. And by 2017, Uravu had a working prototype for a fully sustainable water-from-air extraction process!

The procedure was fairly simple: the air was passed over silica gel, which is a desiccant (water-loving material); the gel swelled upon absorbing the moisture present in the air, which was heated using solar energy. This allowed the captured water from the silica to evaporate and then condense in a container.

Now that Uravu had added the renewable and sustainable feathers to its cap, another challenge stood in its way: to make it all scalable.

While silica gel worked well enough, Swapnil and the team realised that they needed a cheaper and more efficient substitute to reach their ultimate goal of being able to generate ten thousand litres of water each day.

Fortunately, calcium chloride (a liquid desiccant) came to the rescue. And in a matter of 10 months, Uravu went from producing 20 litres of water to 3,000 litres per day!

Today, Uravu caters to several beverage brands and has also dipped its toes in the hospitality sector. Moreover, the company even tailors water as per requirements by playing with the concentration of the different minerals added to it.

However, one burning question remained. With Karnataka facing drinking water shortage owing to the monsoon’s poor performance and Tamil Nadu’s farmers demanding water for irrigating their crops, the two states have been engaged in a row over the Cauvery water once again. Could a startup like Uravu someday help us stabilise our water supplies to some extent, even when the monsoon fails to perform?

Swapnil says that that is their goal. Emphasising that Uravu’s contributions were currently a drop in the ocean, the entrepreneur said that the company’s future plans entailed being able to serve as a backup in times like these. They hoped to be able to supply water to entire communities and sell one litre of water at the price of just one rupee.

As the Uravu family continues to work towards solving some of India’s water woes while striving to stay on the path of sustainability, Swapnil reminds us to celebrate water.

“Before the Industrial Revolution swept through the world, and pushed water even more underground, most cultures and civilisations celebrated water. Today, we face the out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem,” says Swapnil.

So, this World Water Week, he reminds us to celebrate water in its purest form and become more aware of how we’re using this precious commodity.


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