The founders of Uravu (left to right) Govinda Balaji, Swapnil Shrivastav, Venkatesh Raja

Innovative ‘Star Wars’-Inspired Technology Tackles Water Shortages

In 2016, a severe drought hit Kozhikode, India, drastically limiting residents’ access to water. Among those affected was student Swapnil Shrivastav, who experienced firsthand the challenges of water scarcity, relying on just two buckets of water per day. This tough period fueled his interest in finding solutions to water shortages, inspired in part by a concept from the “Star Wars” universe.

Years later, in 2019, Shrivastav, along with Govinda Balaji and Venkatesh Raja, founded Uravu Labs in Bangalore. Their startup focuses on converting air to water using atmospheric water generators equipped with a liquid desiccant to absorb moisture. The desiccant is heated to 65°C using sunlight or renewable electricity, releasing moisture that is then condensed into drinking water. Each unit can produce about 2,000 litres of water in roughly 12 hours.

While Shrivastav initially aimed to provide drinking water to communities in need, financial constraints redirected their focus. “The technology needs more time to scale up and become cost-effective,” Shrivastav explains. Without sufficient funding in India, Uravu Labs began selling water to clients in the hospitality industry, who appreciated the sustainability aspect.

The global water shortage crisis is intensifying, with more than 50% of the world’s population experiencing water shortfalls monthly. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projects that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions with “absolute” water scarcity.

Atmospheric water generation (AWG) technology, powered by renewable sources, offers a promising solution. The AWG market, valued at $3.4 billion in 2022, is expected to grow to $13.5 billion by 2032. There are two primary AWG methods: cooling and condensation, which cools humid air to condense water, and desiccant-based systems that use hygroscopic materials to absorb and release moisture.

Majik Water, a social enterprise co-founded by Beth Koigi in Kenya, utilizes AWG to provide water in arid regions. Inspired by her own experiences with water scarcity, Koigi developed a system that captures moisture from the air using cooling and condensation. Despite demand, Koigi sees AWG as a temporary fix due to its high cost.

Manufacturers are striving to make AWG systems more energy-efficient. Innovations in compressors, heat exchangers, and desiccants are enhancing efficiency, while government support and digital payment systems are facilitating wider adoption. Companies like Veragon are adapting to digital payments, enabling more accessible water solutions in off-grid communities.

Despite the high costs—Veragon’s units range from $60,000 to $70,000—AWG offers cost advantages by producing water locally, reducing transportation needs. Uravu Labs is exploring advanced materials to improve desiccants’ efficiency and reduce required heat from 60°C to 40°C. They also plan to pilot projects in data centers in India and Singapore, using waste heat to generate water.

“Our system captures waste heat and returns cold water, significantly reducing freshwater consumption in data centers,” says Shrivastav. As technology advances, AWG systems could become a vital tool in addressing global water shortages.

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