Uravu Labs Wants To Scale Up The Biz Of Capturing Water From Air: Swapnil Shrivastav

Swapnil Shrivastav is the co-founder and CEO of Uravu Labs, a Bangalore-based startup that converts water from the atmosphere to consumable water. With time, the startup has expanded its business and made new collaborations with firms to grow. In a recent interaction with IamRenew, Shrivastav talks about his journey. Excerpts:

How did the whole journey start?

It was around 2012 when I was a student at NIT, Calicut when a competition was organized on imagining the future of water in cities. The idea behind the competition was for the students to pick a city, research about it and find out the problems it is facing with regards to facility and availability of water and come up with solutions. The city of Kochi, Kerala sounded a potential option.

It was then when I and my team studied the water network infrastructure. The potential solution that was suggested to combat the problem of lack of water availability was the idea of, “converting air into water” keeping in mind two things. One was that as the city of Kochi was located on the coast which experienced high level of humidity so it would be substantially easier to convert air due to the heavy presence of water molecules in the air. Secondly, the groundwater in the city was not that accessible due to the abundant presence of salt water which gets mixed with groundwater interfering with its quality.

This idea led to actually work on the concept. I am a big Star Wars fan and the concept of converting air into water was seen in the movie. This just further motivated me to bring the art of fiction to real life. Although the idea wasn’t paid much heed to thinking it was probably a fluke.

However, the idea of converting water from air was mulled over again and the team started working on making a few prototypes just out of sheer curiosity and passion.

How challenging was the journey?

The journey of making the idea work wasn’t a smooth sailing boat, several problems rose and needed to be addressed, one being the technological problem and other being if there were certain needs or applications where it could work.

While working with a Canadian nonprofit organization named Waterlution, our team explored several Indian states like Gujarat and Rajasthan. While exploring these states we saw water accessibility, and lack of infrastructure as their prime concern and if that’s not the case, every individual is relying on groundwater. Much to our surprise, there were a few bore wells that didn’t have water at even 10,000 feet and in some places the quality of water was deplorable.

Apart from these problems, the lack of availability of energy was an issue which led to finding a way to generate energy using solar.

When was the prototype made?

Further in 2018, this idea and prototype were framed concretely and that very year our team won a grant worth 50,000 dollars from Xprize an L.A.-based foundation for our in an international competition among 98 other teams. This money acted as the seed money which was used to build the company and then work on it full time.

In today’s time, one can access the water by either using surface water such as rivers, lake etc. or by digging a bore well and using the groundwater. This paved the way for us to think of an alternate non-renewable water source where one won’t have to rely on existing resources when the air around them can give them the desired amount of water.

How much progress has been made? What is the current status of the business? How do you plan to scale it up?

What started as an idea in 2012, progressed to a prototype stage in 2019 harnessing only 5 liters of water per day, today has risen significantly to 3000 liters a day as of October 2023. The Bangalore facility spread over 15,000 square feet extracts 3000 liters of water a day has the goal to scale up the level of water harnessed to 8,000-10,000 liters’ of water per day in the next quarter.

The hospitality industry including hotels and restaurants is confined to utilizing water from two options buying premium water bottles from brands like Himalayan water, Fiji, Vedica etc. or succumbing to reverse osmosis system using groundwater which leads to water wastage. Both the methods are expensive and impact the nature.

The idea to convert air into water will bring no harm to the environment from zero water wastage to zero carbon footprints all has been kept in mind. This unique and premium offering which many restaurants and hotels can use.

In the next two years, the target is to extract water at a scale of 1 lakh liters per day, a substantial jump of 33 times. A target to set up five to six facilities in India and two facilities abroad has been planned as well.

What is the cost of providing water using this unique technology compared to your competitors?

The price of bottled package water would be a little higher than biller which is retailed at Rupees 20 per liter however it would be 30-40 % lower as compared to the brands like Vedica, Fiji etc. which provide a liter of packaged water from anywhere between 50-120 rupees.

Is this technology patented?

All the used techniques are developed in-house and four patents have been filed in 63 countries. Apart from it, the words “from air” have been trademarked which is the term used by their neighboring partners. The chain of Leela Hotel is one of our largest customers with their own branding- Aujasya- so their water bottles have the packaging as Aujasya from Air”

What are the future plans?

The aim is to not only look at it as a sustainable method but also as an innovative platform where you can make multiple beverages because water forms the key ingredient in all the drinks be it alcoholic or nonalcoholic”

In non-alcoholic beverages over 95 percent of the content is water and in alcoholic beverages like Beer (92%) is water, even spirits have (60-70 %) water as their base.

What started as with just water extraction has now evolved drastically by including essential minerals like copper and zinc in their water bottles for a better taste and improved health.

We have done Pilot projects with companies like ANH  bev which makes Budweiser, Radico Khaitan which manufactures Apm Whiskey, Jaisalmer Gin, DRGO etc

This idea has just scratched the surface of 2-billion-dollar beverage market. The most recent projects are from UAE.

What’s the funding process for these projects? 

As of yet over 2.7 million dollars have been raised with major investors from Chennai, The U.S, France and Japan.

Are there any plans to export? 

Since the idea is to convert air into water, bottled water won’t be exported, and the model of packaging remains local, so talking in terms of exporting, a plant would be set up instead which will supply water. The target is to set up the machine in UAE by the year-end.

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