India: Inspired by Star Wars, it created a device that fights water scarcity

The severe drought that hit India in 2016, particularly in the southern city of Kozhikode, caused severe water shortages with residents having limited access to water.

Among them was Swapnil Srivastav, a student at the time. “We were given two buckets of water a day and collected it from water tanks,” he told the BBC.

It’s been a tough month for him and others in the region, though he says it’s not unusual for water supply problems to affect parts of India.

Srivastav was already interested in the problem of water scarcity, as he won a student fantasy competition for water in cities of the future in 2012, but his experience prompted him to start looking for practical solutions.

In fact, in the context of the search for solutions, the science fiction film series Star Wars was also an inspiration. “One element of inspiration was from Star Wars, where there is a device that turns air into water. I thought why not give it a try? It was more of a curiosity project,” he said.

A few years later, in 2019, this idea led him, Govinda Balaji and Venkates Raja to form a Bangalore-based startup called Uravu Labs.

How the air to water system works

The company has an air-to-water system, atmospheric water generators containing desiccants absorb moisture from the air.

Using sunlight or renewable electricity, the desiccant heats the liquid to 65 degrees Celsius, releasing the moisture, which can then be turned into potable water.

According to Srivastav, the entire process takes about 12 hours. Today, each unit produces about 2,000 liters of drinking water. However, it claims that while its aim is to provide drinking water to water-stressed communities, it is not economically viable.

“We realized that we still need more time to scale up the technology and bring down costs, or someone has to fund it, but we didn’t find support in India,” he said.

Instead, they currently sell the water to 40 customers in the hospitality industry, who in turn use it to supply customers with drinking water.

“We’ve tried nonprofits and CSR (corporate social responsibility) departments… but many companies shy away from technology. They thought it wouldn’t work. We had to move to commercial consumer applications because they were willing to pay us and that’s a viability factor for them,” he said.

Water scarcity is nothing new, but many countries, particularly in the Global South (broadly including Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Israel, Asia except Japan and South Korea, Oceania except Australia and New Zealand) are experiencing severe drought and facing floods. related to climate change and pollution of water sources.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 50% of the world’s population – four billion people – face water shortages at least once a month, and by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with “absolute” water scarcity. expected to live. United Nations and UN Agriculture.

Is atmospheric water technology the answer to water scarcity?

But can atmospheric water production technology answer the problem of water scarcity? It is an energy-saving technology that can be used from renewable sources.

It is also a way to provide a source of fresh water without the need for traditional water infrastructure, making it an attractive option in remote areas.

Also, there seems to be a market for this technology.

According to a report by Global Market Insights, the atmospheric water production market is valued at $3.4 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $13.5 billion by 2032.

There are two main methods of producing atmospheric water. First, there is the process of cooling and condensation, which cools moist air to its dew point, causing water vapor to condense into liquid.

The second is a desiccant-based system that uses hygroscopic materials to absorb moisture from the air and then release it through a heating process.

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