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Water Today Title May 29, 2024

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Update 2023/10/6
UN Innovators

Mumbai Start-Up Top Innovator At UN Water Conference 2023

INDRA Water's decentralized wastewater treatment recovers wastewater for reuse

By Suzanne Forcese

“Less than 1% of wastewater is reused globally and over 50% of the world is water-stressed.”--Amrit Om Nayak Co-Founder & CEO, INDRA Water

INDRA has treated over 750 million litres of water impacting the lives of over 500,000 people with a 70-75% life cycle carbon savings; 35% cost savings; 25% energy savings; 70% less sludge (3200 Tonnes); removal of 2000 Tonnes of toxic chemicals from pre and primary treatment; 500 Tonnes of GHG reduction and an average spatial footprint saved per 1000 litres of 90%. Shown here is INDRA’s plug-and-play system in Hyderabad, India where wastewater was treated for reuse in irrigation.

WT: Please introduce yourself to our viewers, describing the journey that led to founding INDRA Water.

Amrit: I am the CEO and co-founder of INDRA Water.

Krunal Patel and I founded our start-up in 2018 to solve scarcity and pollution challenges in the water sector.

Growing up in the southern parts of India with intermittent access to water, I was sensitized to water stress and its adverse impacts on daily life.

Krunal was exposed to industrial water pollution at an early age from his father’s chemicals business.

We honed our skills in advanced automotive, clean energy systems, thermal batteries, and tidal turbine farms over the years.

While in our master’s program at the University of Washington, Seattle, we had the opportunity to work on storm-water treatment and recovery where we built a prototype for water treatment and recovery. Realizing this could make a bigger impact back home in India, we decided to start our venture in Mumbai, with the support of the Department of Science and Technology, IIT Bombay and KJ Somaiya Institute.

WT: Please give us a brief overview of INDRA Water.

Amrit: INDRA’s patented electrically driven decentralized wastewater treatment solutions are modular; 90% smaller than conventional systems that treat domestic and industrial wastewater.

Our systems are driven by INDRA SMART automation and SPECTRUM analytics to optimize efficiency and performance.

Key benefits include lower energy consumption, no added chemicals in the primary treatment of water, 65-70% sludge generation, up to 99% water recovery, higher efficiency, and lower maintenance.

INDRA’s novel broad-spectrum pollution removal solution can handle a wide range of pollutants like suspended/dissolved pollutants, heavy metals, emulsified oils, oxygen-demanding substances (COD & BOD), nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous etc.,) pathogens and petroleum. It also handles shock loads well unlike conventional chemically or biologically driven solutions.

WT: You were recently recognized as one of the 30 Under 30 Forbes Sustainability Changemakers. Just this past month you were invited to the UN Water Conference as one of the 14 Top Innovators.

What has this meant for you?

Amrit: We are honoured to be selected. This is excellent validation for the work our team has done and supports our efforts to make clean water more available, accessible, and affordable for all.

We believe that the decentralized treatment of water complements our existing centralized water infrastructure and is critical to bridging the gap between supply and demand for freshwater. The requirement for water is local; therefore, we must adopt approaches that promote distributed water treatment and recycling.

INDRA is innovating, designing, and building its product in India for the world.

India is a primary target market. 74% of the wastewater is discharged untreated into freshwater bodies. We are tapping into this large market with our solutions.

Our solutions are also uniquely poised to complement existing water assets on a retrofit model by handing over 70% of the pollutant load and variable load, thereby allowing existing assets to meet requirements and improved throughput.

WT: Why did you focus on wastewater to tackle water scarcity and pollution?

Amrit: Wastewater is a resource. Treatment and recycling of wastewater can help offset freshwater demand from natural sources like groundwater, lakes and reservoirs while also ensuring less pollution of oceans. Our nutrient recovery and sludge processing technologies focus on this process chain.

Effective uptake of treated water is critical to ensure economic viability. Expensive membrane technology (used in polishing in conventional systems) has created wastewater which has higher salinity and dissolved pollutants. These streams are damaging to the water bodies and their ecosystems.

A complementary ecosystem of decentralized treatment solutions can reduce the stress on groundwater, freshwater and central water infrastructure. 

WT: What are the problems you have identified with global wastewater and what do you see as problems with existing solutions?

Amrit: We are dealing with a 3-pronged problem statement: water scarcity, pollution, and extreme inefficiencies in water treatment technologies, solution manufacturing, system deployment and operations.

Our government's think tank, Niti Aayog, estimates that more than 23 major Indian cities will run out of groundwater reserves within the next decade. The gap between the demand and supply of water is set to double by 2030. This has resulted in a 40% rise in freshwater costs across India.

Existing solutions require large footprints and civil infrastructure. They are erratic and have more than 40% downtime resulting in penalties, water pollution, and a lack of financial viability.

Upgrading to new stricter regulations is difficult and expensive.

WT: How is INDRA a game changer?

Amrit: At INDRA we are driving the world away from harmful chemicals and over-reliance on biological systems towards an electrically driven energy-efficient approach to achieve a 90% lower footprint, 30% cost savings and 70% solid sludge reduction with up to 99% water recovery.

We have also achieved industry-first improvements in manufacturing operations with standardization in the water sector.

Our solution productizes the conventional water plant which is normally an EPC project. INDRA’s novel standardized platform ensures quick scale-up and mass production of water systems powered by smart software and firmware.

We can build up to 6 water treatment plants (1 million litres daily treatment capacity) every 45 days in our small factory as opposed to 8 months or longer to build and deploy each conventional plant. 

WT: How does your solution technology work?

Amrit: Our solution meets increasing water demands, overcomes scarcity challenges, enhances environmental stewardship, and complies with regulatory requirements. 

We have developed 3 different reactors to suit different wastewater. The first two types use our novel non-contact metal matrix technology which increases active surface area for high pollutant removal. The novel buffer mechanism ensures peak efficiency with minimum human intervention. The metal matrix can be easily charged and modified in the reactor core.

The second type of reactor uses electrodes as structural components and leverages fluid acceleration in smaller active volumes to increase treatment efficiency at lower passivation rates. 

This novel structural reactor is designed for mass production and excels in the removal of high quantities of suspended solids, fats, oils, and grease.

Our reactors are interchangeable and can be switched onsite between multiple flow and electrical connection mechanisms with ease.

Our proprietary reactors generate hydroxyl radicals and other super oxidants to indirectly oxidize organic compounds to carbon dioxide and water while salts are mineralized.

Direct oxidation is achieved by electron transfer between sacrificial/non-sacrificial anodes and cathodes. Generated electrons migrate through the electrode leaving behind holes which oxidize contaminants as excess electrons are discharged at the cathode. 

WT: Tell us about the projects you have undertaken in India.

Amrit: INDRA has deployed 8 plants and conducted over 30 pilots across India. These include deployments to treat textile, sewage, pharmaceutical, biorefinery, food & beverage, and manufacturing effluents, among others. Our systems have enabled at least 50% more uptake of water for process reuse while ensuring over 30% cost savings and 90% space savings for our customers.

We are presently working in Narsipur, another town in South India to treat its discharge streams flowing into the river.

WT: Moving forward. What is next for INDRA Water?

Amrit: INDRA’s pathway to scale has 3 steps that include:

  • A standardization and technological innovation plan that will see mass production of wastewater streams; hydrogen recovery to meet our plan for future energy generation from wastewater; and expansion into difficult-to-treat wastewater streams and drinking water disinfection (removal of pathogens, heavy metals, PFAs, PFOAs etc.)
  • A data analytics plan to classify wastewater parameters & historical variations, record treatment efficiencies and performance in changing conditions; decrease expenses; and improve response mechanisms
  • Partnerships and growth in South-East Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and North America.

WT: What message would you like to leave with our viewers?

Amrit: We are at a watershed moment in human history. The world is looking at the biggest opportunity to use technology, innovation, and sound historical practices to ensure water security and continuity through economically sustainable actions.

Let us make localized clean water more available, accessible, and affordable for all.


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