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College's Water Crisis Made 2 Students Extract It From Air & Start Biz

Launched in 2019 by Swapnil Shrivastav, Venkatesh RY, and Govinda Balaji, Uravu Labs is a Bangalore-based water tech startup that generates water from the air.

By Bilal Khan
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Uravu Labs Co-Founders

Uravu Labs Co-Founders

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In 2016, the National Institute of Technology Calicut (NIT) faced a water crisis for about a month. During this time, the college depended on water tankers, with students receiving only two to three buckets of water daily. 

Although the water issue was resolved in a month, the problem left two students, Swapnil Shrivastav and Venkatesh RY, from the college pursuing architecture, very concerned.   

It was their last year of college when they embarked on research to find solutions to the water scarcity issue. During their research, they discovered that water is sourced from underground in most places, leading to decreasing water levels. 

Additionally, they found that the amount of water present in the air is staggering—it's six times the volume found in all the world's rivers combined in the form of vapour or humidity. 

"What's even more remarkable is that this vast reservoir of water vapour replenishes naturally within a mere eight to 10 days. This essentially makes it an almost infinite source of water," explained Venkatesh, co-founder of Uravu Labs, while talking to Startup Pedia.  

On the other hand, the co-founder further elaborated that, unlike water vapour in the air, groundwater reserves take a staggering 1400 years to replenish naturally. Groundwater, therefore, cannot be considered renewable in the true sense.

The co-founders of Uravu Labs, who just finished their architecture, concluded that if they can make water from the air cost-effectively, they can solve one of the biggest issues India has been facing- water scarcity.  

The Bangalore-based water-tech startup co-founders were so passionate about the idea that they abstained from college placements and continued working on the idea of building one-of-a-kind technology in India.

"We were also doing freelance work to sustain ourselves financially and invest some money in the technology to convert air into water. We are thankful that our parents and friends also helped us financially to build the technology," said Swapnil.

Finally, in 2018, the Bangalore-based young entrepreneurs were ready with the prototype. The initial prototype they developed resembled a panel design.

It measured two meters by two meters, featuring a coating of desiccant material atop solar thermal collectors. Essentially, it incorporated the desiccant material alongside the solar thermal heating unit within a panel-like structure.

"This prototype, producing approximately three to four litres of water per day, demonstrated the feasibility of creating a fully sustainable system without reliance on traditional energy sources," added Swapnil, co-founder of Uravu Labs.  

Process Of Generating Water From Air:

Uravu Machine

The process operates by utilising a salt solution, known as desiccant materials, which are substances that readily absorb moisture from the air. Depending on the relative humidity of the location, they can adjust the amount of desiccant to facilitate the absorption process.

After absorption, the solution is transferred to another chamber, where it is heated to about 60 to 65 degrees Celsius. This heat can be sourced from renewable energy, such as solar or waste heat from industries like data centres or distilleries. The heating causes the absorbed moisture to vaporise, resembling steam, which is then condensed to produce fresh water from the air. 

This process is akin to distillation but operates at a lower temperature. Once the vapour is released and converted into water from the air, the liquid salt solution returns to its original state and is cycled back to the absorber chamber to repeat the process. 

"This cycle can be repeated continuously, and the salt can be reused for approximately 10 to 12 years," explained one of the co-founders. 

Their technology was so innovative and problem-solving that they even won a grant from the XPRIZE Foundation (U.S.A), which was $50,000.

This grant helped the co-founders of Uravu Labs gain people's trust, apart from funding their technology at the commercial level.  

"Our parents understood us better, and people realised we were onto something impactful," said Venkatesh.

In 2019, they incorporated Uravu Labs in Bangalore.

With the grant, the friends-turned-entrepreneurs began working on making the technology much better. They even set up an office and hired 2-3 employees to assist them. In the same year, one more co-founder, Govinda Balaji, also joined the water tech startup. 

In 2020, they had an advanced prototype ready. This new compact design contained everything needed for water production, including the desiccant and heating unit. It could be paired with any energy source, including solar power, waste heat, or other external heat sources. 

This made it much easier for the startup to scale the production and focus solely on optimising the desiccant and heating components.

The major change between the first and second prototypes was transitioning from a panel design to a more versatile compact design. 

With all the R&D systems producing more water, they began commercializing water made from air in glass bottles under the name Uravu, with the trademark FromAir®.

In the coming years, they aim to commercialize industrial-scale FromAir® technology systems.

Uravu Bottled Water Features:

FromAir Water Bottles

They've created their recipe for Uravu drinkable water, seeking inspiration from ancient Indian practices. In the past, people used copper vessels to store water because it was believed that minerals from the copper would seep into the water, making it healthier and germ-free.

However, when they collect water through their air-to-water process, it's almost like ultra-pure distilled water, meaning it has no minerals. To make their water unique and add health benefits, they looked into adding minerals that improve taste and health. After testing various formulations, they developed their proprietary copper and zinc-enriched water.

Their water contains essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, sodium, copper, and zinc. While Copper helps keep blood flow steady and aids digestion, Zinc strengthens the immune system, sodium regulates fluid balance and nerve function, and magnesium supports muscle function and bone health. Together, they make Uravu water a slightly sweeter taste than other options. 

The startup sells premium glass-bottled water in sizes of 250 ml, 500 ml, and 750 ml. They offer customizations for brands to collaborate and build the exclusive FromAir® Club.

What started as one-litre water production from the air now has burgeoned into 3000 water production a day. Currently, they are selling bottled water in and around Bangalore to the Premium hospitality industry.   

Uravu also speaks volumes when it comes to the impact they create on the environment. For every litre of renewable water FromAir, they save 2.5 litres of groundwater. To date, Uravu has saved over 6 Lakh litres of groundwater.

By selling Renewable water FromAir only in glass packaging, they’ve prevented single-use plastic bottles from entering the environment!

Uravu Labs Revenue:

Uravu Warehouse

From starting with just one customer a year ago, Uravu is now serving over 50+ outlets in Bangalore.  At present, Uravu serves around 3000-4000 bottles every day to premium hospitality clients like The Leela, Hyatt Centric, Roxie, Byg Brewski Brewing Co., and many other established hospitality brands across Bangalore.

The startup has around 60 people, 40 being full-time members and around 20-22 being assigned to blue-collar roles. This totals approximately 62 to 65 individuals. Their factory spans 15,000 square feet, accommodating all team members in one location. This includes the R&D, business, marketing, and finance teams.

The Plan Ahead:

Bangalore-based startup is focusing more on a hub model. The idea is to establish factories capable of producing 10,000 to 20,000 litres of water per day, all in one place. They will transport the water within a 5 to 50-kilometer radius. They want to avoid the traditional method of transporting water over long distances, aiming for decentralisation. 

For instance, in Bangalore, they plan to scale up from their current 3000 litres per day to 10,000 to 15,000 litres per day. Over the next 24 months, they aim to establish 5 to 6 hubs in India and 2 to 3 hubs outside India.

They aim to reach 1 lakh litres per day of water production within 24 to 30 months. 

FAQ

What is Uravu Labs?
Uravu Labs is a Bangalore-based water tech startup that generates water from the air. It also sells bottled water to the hospitality industry and plans to sell at the D2C level soon.
Who are the founders of Uravu Labs?
Swapnil Shrivastav, Venkatesh RY and Govinda Balaji
How does Uravu Labs' technology work?
The technology utilises desiccant materials to absorb moisture from the air, which is then heated to vaporise the moisture. This vapour is condensed to produce fresh water. The process is similar to distillation but operates at a lower temperature, making it energy-efficient.
What products does Uravu Labs offer?
Uravu Labs sells glass-bottled water in sizes 250 ml, 500 ml, and 750 ml. Uravu water contains vital minerals such as magnesium, calcium, sodium, copper, and zinc. These minerals play important roles in bodily functions and also combine to give Uravu water a slightly sweeter taste compared to other options.
How has Uravu Labs' revenue grown over time?
Since its inception, Uravu Labs has experienced significant revenue growth. From starting with just one customer a year ago, Uravu is now serving over 50+ outlets in Bangalore. With an average month-on-month growth of 30% in revenue, Uravu aims to reach 100 Crores within the next 2 years. Recognizing the global consumption of trillions of litres of water by the beverage industry alone, they envision significant potential in becoming the leading renewable hydration partner across various industries.