How this Bengaluru-based firm is giving new life to wastewater
Boson Whitewater has partnered with India Water Systems in Hyderabad to convert water treated from sewage treatment plants into potable high quality water by using IoT and AI
40 per cent of Singapore's water needs are met through recycled wastewater. Their wastewater gets transformed into high quality water by its National water agency, Public Utilities Board which collects and treats all the sewage generated water. India still has a long way to adopt the Singapore model, says CEO and co-founder of Bengaluru-based Transwater Systems, Vikas Brahmavar. With cities growing rapidly the demand for water will continue to swell. The only way forward is to focus on 'Whitewater,' (recovered potable quality water from treated wastewater). Working in this direction, Brahmavar founded Boson Whitewater in 2011. The company works to the advantage of apartment communities that have excess treated STP (sewage treatment plant) treated water and for industries in need of clean water. In a conversation with Bizz Buzz, the co-founder urged related companies to join hands with them in solving the city's issue of excess STP treated water.
What are your plans for Hyderabad's whitewater ecosystem?
We will start with IT Parks and malls which need water for their cooling towers. It's a great value add for them as they also have excess STP (sewage treatment plant) treated water to be disposed off. We will make it profitable and viable for a few commercial projects and then move to the apartment segment. We are already in talks with apartments to understand the need and acceptability and in the process, we are mapping the same to industrial water needs.
Communicating to the stakeholders here in Hyderabad, what would you say is the profit of taking Boson's service?
Most apartments today are unable to comply with 'Zero Discharge Policy' because they have no avenues to discharge their excess treated water. Even though they convert their wastewater into STP, they are able to use only 20 per cent of it into gardens and flushing. With Boson Whitewater system, the unused 80 per cent can be converted into high quality potable water that can be sold to nearby industries for their fresh water requirements. It's a win-win for apartments and industries.
Besides funding, what support startups in this segment seek from the government?
Market access, if the government brings in a policy for industries or IT parks and malls to use only re-processed high-quality water for cooling towers, then our work becomes easy. Few government agencies are in the process of drafting a policy to use treated wastewater for construction reuse.
Where is India headed in the demand outstrip supply of water
We are drawing water from the borewells at an alarming rate. We draw about 135 per cent more than what we recharge back. Since we do not have enough data to say when the borewells will stop yielding water, it's high time we start making use of waste water. If we can generate whitewater equivalent to the volume currently drawn from rivers, cities can become sustainable. In turn, preventing exploitation of borewells and better usage of river water in the areas is needed the most.
According to you, what are the water smart attitudes that cities need to adopt?
All cities of India are relying on the 'Water Infrastructure' designed for 1/10th of the population. Cities have been always looking at distribution of water by monitoring the levels of water in the dams. The shift should happen by looking at the volume of water generated as wastewater in the city, which is more accurate and also based on population. If the wastewater can be converted to high quality water and mapped for water reuse application it would be the right way forward for cities to sustain in terms of water.
The reason behind the hindrance in usage of STP treated water
One of the initial challenges was to convince apartments to reuse recycled water for domestic purposes. We met over 400 apartments to create awareness and share insights on the possibility of converting any wastewater to high-quality potable water. We showed them live lab reports from our commercial installation. In spite of that, not one apartment agreed to reuse the water for domestic purposes. We had a customer who made a remark that drinking recycled water was safe only in Singapore and not in India because they did not have trust in Indian technologies and Indian companies. Changing their mindset was far from easy. We instead decided to pursue industries more closely. We found a win-win solution for apartments as well as industries.
Which establishment has higher potential for Boson Whitewater usage, yet lagging behind?
Large industrial applications, like laundry, cooling tower, electroplating, paper, textile washing, automotive, semiconductor; all of them can use whitewater which is better than the municipal or borewell water. They would also benefit from lower operating costs as whitewater generally does not require any further treatments like RO / softener. Eventually we believe it will find its way for domestic applications at apartments.
What is the reason behind the gap between government policies such as zero liquid discharge and its implementation?
Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) norms have been there as policy for industries however it has been difficult for the government to enforce it well. Economic viability to implement ZLD norms has been a problem for industries. The primary reason for this we believe is the cost of water. Government's fresh water supply is at a subsidized rate. For example, if an industry is ready to make a zero liquid discharge system and reuse all the recycled water inside their industry, it would probably cost 11 to 18 paise per litre for ZLD treated water and if the government is giving water at 2 paise per litre, why should the industry bother to treat the wastewater and reuse it when fresh water is available at a very low cost?
Will India be able to adopt Singapore's water management model?
In India, water management is based on the quantity of water coming into the city through rainfall. We measure the level of water in our dams and then plan our water distribution. However, with erratic rainfalls, it becomes difficult to entirely depend on rainwater for our water needs. Many advanced countries across the world have a model similar to Singapore wherein water management is based on the volume of water going out of the city. For example, if a city in India with a population of 20 million people uses around four billion litres of water each day, out of this at least three billion litres can be recycled. These three billion litres of high-quality recycled wastewater can be used for centralised air conditioning in commercial buildings, and other industrial needs. Currently, only 0.4 billion litres of water are getting reused and the rest of the contaminated water flows into our lakes and rivers. We need concerted efforts to make the Singapore model a reality here.
Bengaluru Citizen Matters research states certain reasons behind Bengaluru apartments not reusing wastewater. Your comments…
We were a part of the research conducted by ATREE and other stakeholders. We believe the primary and most important reason is the economic viability of recycling water. When economics work everything will fall in place. We are the only company now focusing on this issue and we want many more companies joining us to solve the city's issue of excess STP treated water.