With the severe water shortage seen across the country, cities in India could well be on their way to becoming the next Cape Town, several experts say. With groundwater fast depleting, proper measures need to be taken to manage the availability of water. Especially considering the fact that India is the world’s largest user of groundwater. In fact, Bengaluru is on the list compiled by BBC of the 11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water.
In such a backdrop it is pertinent that new and sustainable sources of drinking water are discovered and utilised to ensure we don’t face an acute shortage.
Interestingly, the atmosphere contains 12 quadrillion litres of water and is an inexhaustible resource.
For Swapnil Shrivastav, Sandeep Nutakki and Venkatesh R, this was an eye opener when they were working on a project in college titled ‘Imagining the Future of Water & Cities’, where they were looking at alternative and decentralised technologies to source, access and distribute water.
“This is enough to meet the needs of every person on earth for a year,” Swapnil says.
That was when they decided to work on a solution that could produce water out of thin air.
However, they started working on the idea only towards the end of June 2016 after graduating from college.
“Between the time we got the idea to when we started actually working on it, we visited a few places in Rajasthan and Gujarat which face constant water-related problems. We got valuable insights – the solution needs to be simple, have close to zero operating and maintenance charges, and should work reliably even in the driest of conditions,” he says.
In 2017, they founded Uravu in Hyderabad to develop a device dependent on solar energy that utilises water vapour in the air. Accessing this infinite source will help improve access to drinking water.
How does it work?
All it takes is a technology built out of a combination of material sciences and solar thermal energy. Uravu uses a hygroscopic material, which sucks water vapour from the air at night and stores it. During the day, solar collectors are used to heat the material and release water vapour, which is converted into water when it cools down.
Once the water is released, it is then passed through condenser tubes to give liquid water. This water can be sent to homes through pipes for use.
“The complete process is driven by solar thermal energy which we are getting from the sun. For a few small electronic components which require electricity, we have an integrated solar PV panel. Thus 100% renewable energy is used,” Swapnil says.
Uravu currently has a working prototype, which is being internally tested in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. The prototype produces around 50 litres of water in a day and Uravu wants to increase this to 2,000 litres a day by June.
Interestingly, the 2,000-litre target is a requisite in the $1.75-million Water Abundance XPRIZE challenge that Uravu is a part of. This Xprize challenges teams from around the world to revolutionise access to fresh water by creating a device that extracts a minimum of 2,000 litres of water per day from the atmosphere using 100% renewable energy, at a cost of no more than 2 cents per litre. Uravu is one of the top 5 finalists and the only team from Asia.
Plan to help water-stressed rural areas
While it has its eyes set on the $1.75 million prize, as a business Uravu wants to first start piloting its solution in highly water-stressed rural areas where people are facing water problems affecting every day life. It wants to do more pilots with strategic partners and reach water scarce areas.
“Women and girls spend hours collecting water. We want to put an end to it, we are looking to partner with foundations, corporates, NGOs and the government,” Swapnil says.
A lot of Uravu’s effort is currently focussed on product development, integration and field testing. It plans on generating revenue in the form of sales and project implementation.
Within the next 2 years, Uravu wants to launch its consumer household device, which can be simply installed on the roof to produce clean drinking water.
“The on-site harvesting of water addresses bigger challenges like distribution, logistics and management rather than just water shortage. This system will be an alternative source of freshwater and will increase water security while making drinking water more accessible and affordable,” Swapnil says.