Did you know that atmospheric water in the form of vapour amounts to 10 times more water than all the oceans of the world combined? Start-ups such as Uravu Labs are trying to find the most environmentally viable technologies to utilise this water and thus address the bigger problem of water shortage and poor quality faced in the interiors of the country.
It all began in 2016 when the founders Swapnil Shrivastav, Venkatesh R and Sandeep Nutakki, were prepping to participate in an international competition, FutureArc Prize 2016 which had the theme ‘Imagining the future of water in cities', representing National Institute of Technology Calicut.“Our first model was electricity-based and its mechanism was quite similar to air-conditioners. But it wasn’t very efficient in places with humidity levels less than 40-60%. Also, the carbon footprint was very high,” says Shrivastav.
Cut to 2017, the team came up with a successful alternative. They combined material science with solar thermal energy, which would ensure almost zero carbon footprint, won’t require electricity and has minimal operational and maintenance charges. Designed into a compact solar panel like structure, the device uses a hygroscopic material that has a high affinity of attracting and retaining water vapour. The material would work at night — attached to a fan which would help in increasing the absorption efficiency of the material. Depending on the humidity level, while places such as Chennai would need to run the fan for 30 minutes to an hour, drier places such as cities of Rajasthan one would need to run the fan for five to six hours.
During the day the solar collectors would heat up them releasing the vapour which passed through a condenser tube. The vapour then condenses into liquid water. Most of the solar power is used as thermal energy but some of it is converted into electricity for the fan and other electronics
These panels, which are still in its prototyping stage are installed on the rooftops of buildings. Mostly, collaborating with NGOs and the CSR arm of companies, the start-up, however, is banking on real estate developers and individual households to generate a major chunk of their revenue. “We are in talks with real estate developers who are interested in installing our device in their buildings. We are also getting a lot of enquiries from other countries such as Portugal, Spain, Iran and Australia,” says Shrivastav, adding, “In India, at present we are focusing on the rural areas of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where there is severe water shortage and women in villages have to walk long distances daily to fetch water clean water.”
The start-up has already been tested in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, expecting the final product to be even more compact and efficient. A square metre of the panel in its current model produces around 3-3.5 litres of water in a day which is expected to increase to 5 litres a day once the founders release their final model. The device will be charged per square metre basis and the exact cost is still being worked out by Shrivastav at this stage. The founders have already got pre-orders of over 100 devices from various foundations and real estate developers.