Uravu Labs, a Bangalore-based startup extracts high-quality 100% renewable water acting as the solution to the lack of clean and adequate drinking water problem. The company is reimagining the water infrastructure for the 21st century. A large number of individuals and industries are dependent on groundwater for fulfilling their daily water requirement, adding to the problem of groundwater depletion. Air, in the form of water vapour, contains as much water as six times the water in all the world’s rivers combined. During an interaction with Nitisha; Swapnil Shrivastav, Co-founder, Uravu Labs highlights the drinking water issues and its renewable solutions.
Kindly talk about Uravu Labs and its unique offerings.
Uravu Labs is a Bangalore-based startup working towards reimagining the water infrastructure for the 21st century. Drinking water, being the backbone of our civilization needs our attention to go sustainable. A large number of individuals and industries are dependent on groundwater for fulfilling their daily water requirement, adding to the problem of groundwater depletion. Nature acts on the principle of balance and we are missing out on the water present on the surface. Air, in the form of water vapour, contains as much water as six times the water in all the world’s rivers combined. In fact, it acts as a limitless natural water reservoir of freshwater as it replenishes in a cycle of every eight to ten days. By harnessing the inexhaustible moisture present in the air using only renewable energy, Uravu extracts high-quality 100% renewable water acting as the solution to the lack of clean and adequate drinking water problem, already threatening our lives.
How did you generate an atmospheric water generator that is 100 percent renewable? Explain.
Uravu has developed a breakthrough 100% renewable water technology that utilises inexhaustible atmospheric moisture and only renewable energy to produce high-quality drinking water. Only when we use renewable energy to produce water-from-air, can we deem it to be 100% renewable. Uravu’s technology makes use of desiccants and undergoes two phases – a) adsorption and b) desorption. These two phases together make a cycle.
a) Adsorption – During the adsorption phase, moisture in the ambient air is sucked into the system and passed over the desiccant material. This moisture is adsorbed by the desiccant material over a period of a couple of hours.
b) Desorption – The earlier adsorbed moisture is later desorbed using thermal heat available at temperatures of less than 80 C. Heat can be sourced from solar collectors, waste-heat from industries, or even biomass waste, and is utilised to heat up a heat-transfer fluid (eg. water) which in turn heats up the desiccant material to the required temperatures and releases the earlier adsorbed moisture. This released moisture is then condensed at ambient temperature in an air-cooled condenser forming pure and 100% renewable water. The desorption phase also runs for a couple of hours.
How did you get this idea and what will be your future agenda?
During the college days at NIT Calicut, two of the co-founders, Swapnil and Venkatesh, faced severe water shortages which created an eagerness to do something in the water sector. Even while travelling to the remote areas in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the duo witnessed that the water shortage problem was pertinent. This led them to visualise something that will be helpful to people to cater for their water needs independent of the existing infrastructure and water sources. And eventually, the idea to tap into an inexhaustible source present all around us came about. Uravu wants to make 100% renewable water available and affordable to all in a few years. Our unique technology is made to serve people from every section and also act as an alternative to the groundwater used by industries all over the world. The climate crisis is real and Uravu can be a solution for the water sector.
Are there any challenges you have faced while making this product? Kindly elaborate.
There are many companies working on water-from-air technology but none of them has achieved a 100% sustainable way of doing it. So, the area of 100% renewable water generation from thin air is quite unexplored and Uravu, being a novel technology, has to go through a lot of R&D and testing. Initially, it was quite challenging to process the changes and see the good in our failed attempts. Hardware development requires a lot of patience and capital. Fundraising was another challenge that we faced at that time as it was slow and a hindrance towards growing our team. The best part is that all of that worked out and we have been doing pretty good for the last two years. Our team has expanded, funds have been raised with many new pilot orders globally and the product has been better than our expectation in every way. One upcoming challenge for us will be to educate businesses about the technology and its implementation. The majority of people are unaware of the water issues and groundwater depletion. We plan to create mass awareness and guarantee that Uravu water is of the highest quality, and in order to do so, Uravu will enlist the assistance of other parties to help them gain the trust and goodwill of our clients. Based on the success of this, we will be able to showcase to the broader market the positive response to renewable water.
How was the year 2021 in terms of business and what will be your marketing strategies to make your product more popular all over the world?
The year 2021 has been a great one for us as we excelled towards achieving our milestones. Uravu developed its first fully functioning 5 LPD unit which rolled the balls towards pitching our investors and clients. In terms of business, we got pilot orders of 5 LPD from customers like AB InBev (world’s largest brewer), Mittal Builder, and Novozymes which made us more confident with our product. Eventually, we successfully raised a pre-seed round from Speciale Invest (one of the best VC’s firms in the hardware space) and other individual investors from Japan and USA. The best part was to see our team growing from four to 40+ in a year.
We truly believe that our product speaks for itself which is why we are concentrating towards connecting its purpose with the lives of the people. Water being the unifying quality makes it easier for Uravu’s technology to be amalgamated with other industrial products. We want to market our product by making people see the difference it is creating in every way. Currently, our focus is on the beverage industry and the Residential/offices/hospitality sector. Uravu’s technology will play a huge role in their shift towards sustainability and we intend to sell our product to the top corporations and developers first. This will build trust among the users and make marketing easier in the future.
Kindly talk about your upcoming product and how is it going to help the environment.
With the technology being scalable, Uravu is going to build any capacity machine to produce renewable water starting from 20 litres per day (LPD) to 200 LPD and from 200 LPD to 2,000 LPD. 2000 LPD is the last technical milestone for the company. Beyond that to produce any capacity of water, Uravu will duplicate the 2000 LPD unit.
The machine capacities up to 200 LPD can be categorised as Low-Volume-Products (LVPs) and beyond 200 LPD capacity units as High-Volume-Products (HVPs).
LVPs will find applications where renewable water is generated on-spot and water is consumed there itself. Residential/offices/hospitality, etc. would be the key places where the Uravu water machines will be installed and end ㅡ consumers will consume water there on the spot.
HVPs will find applications in industries particularly, the beverage industry, wherein the beverage companies package the renewable water in their beverage products and launch a new series of beverage products marketing them as renewable beverage products.
Uravu will hold a total of 6 patent applications and these will be filed internationally. These patents cover the scalability and energy-agnostic innovations which are key to delivering affordable renewable water. On top of that, Uravu measures its impact through two key metrics – Greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential and groundwater savings. The energy spent in the process of Reverse Osmosis results in 3g of CO2 emissions for each liter of water. The energy spent in pumping the groundwater to usable heights also further contributes to the carbon footprint of water – at about 0.5g of CO2 per liter of water. With a 2000 LPD system, Uravu can reduce the annual CO2 emissions by upto 2,460 kg (GHG mitigation potential) and reduces the groundwater extracted by 1,024,000 liters (groundwater savings potential). These figures are by assuming that the RO recovery rate is at 62.5%, in reality, this figure is a lot lower (at 40-50%). A 62.5% recovery rate indicates that for 1 liter of water treated by RO, requires 1.6 L of groundwater (producing 0.6 L of reject water as brine).
What steps have been taken by your organization to keep your product quality and environment simultaneously safe?
Our top priority is to provide safe 100% renewable drinking water to people without affecting the environment in any way. To make sure we fulfil our objective, Uravu undergoes a seven stage filtration process. The ambient air is passed through High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and dust and air-borne pollutants are removed Then, the desiccant present in Uravu system absorbs only water vapour from ambient air. During desorption, desiccant is heated to 80 oC and any bio-life which might be present gets killed. The distilled water, the purest form of water, is then condensed and collected. This collected distilled water is ozonised in a storage tank and can be stored for 30 days. Ultrafiltration and Ultra-violet sterilization is further done to remove any contamination that might have developed during storage. Moreover, pH and TDS of water can be modulated with a mineral cartridge to fine tune water quality.
Talking about the environment, the moisture present in the air is among the most essential elements for life to thrive on the surface of the earth, and similar to other naturally occurring renewable resources is available in abundance. At any given moment there are about 37.5 quintillion gallons (141.9 quintillion liters) of water vapor present in the air. To put this number into perspective, it is 6 times the water present in all the lakes and rivers of the world combined. This moisture in the air is constantly refreshed through a process called the hydrological cycle because of which all the moisture in the air gets recharged about 40 times a year or once every 8-9 days, presenting a near-infinite circular source of water. Uravu uses this humidity to harness physical water through only renewable energy sources making it sustainable for the environment at any given point. Further, Uravu plans to increase its total capacity to a 2000 LPD system to reduce the annual CO2 emissions by upto 2,460 kg (GHG mitigation potential) and to also reduce the groundwater extracted by 1,024,000 liters (groundwater savings potential). Our two key metrics to measure the impact of our product are Greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential and groundwater savings, showing our intentions to keep the environment safe in all manner.