According to The Water Gap – WaterAid’s State of the World’s Water 2018 report, a whopping 844 million in the world are deprived of safe and clean drinking water. 19 per cent of these reside in India.
Access to safe drinking water has always been a grave problem due to several reasons including water pollution, a lack of sewage management, and growing industrialisation.
A victim to such a sad state of affairs were two college friends, Anto P Biju and Thomas Cyriac from Palai town of Kerala. In 2017, when they were on a day-trip, they were given dirty water when they asked for drinking water.
Recalling the incident, Anto tells The Better India,
We were travelling to another city on a bike and at one point, we took a break at a food joint on the highway. We had some refreshments and while consuming the water, we could see its dirty brown colour.
Being students of engineering at St Joseph’s College of Engineering and Technology, Anto and Thomas worked on inventions to solve every day problems.
Switching on their engineering minds, the duo decided to work on solving the problem of filthy water.
The first product developed was a pen that could detect the elements in the water. On putting the pen inside water, it would list water impurities and say whether the water was fit for consumption or not.
Though they received appreciation from the faculty and their classmates after the product was displayed at an innovation competition organised by Kerala Startup Mission, it was unsettling.
After we designed the special pen, we realised it wasn’t solving the problem. It only identified it. We needed to build something more concrete. So we embarked on another project, says Anto.
For nearly two years, the duo rigorously worked on building a prototype while balancing their academics. As many as 60 variations of water purifiers were designed and rejected. From dedicating several sleepless nights to reaching out to experts, a lot of hard work went behind inventing the cost-effective water purifier.
Taking inspiration from scientists at Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology in Bhubaneswar, the two friends completed the hitherto incomplete project of mini-cartridges that filter impure water using activated carbon.
In 2018, Anto and Thomas, both 21, officially registered their startup ‘Lamaara Technologies Private Ltd’. With this, their product was now ready to be introduced in the market.
They got a seed funding of Rs 2 lakh from the Kerala Startup Mission to develop the product.
How The Cartridge Works
The size of an index finger, the water purifier is an indigenous technology that filters harmful microorganisms. Pores that act as micro-reservoirs are fixed over a disc inside the cartridge. It eliminates foul smell, harmful metals and colours from the water. Moreover, the technology adds minerals that improve the immune system.
The result is water that is safe for drinking, according to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The BIS works under the of Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Government of India.
The organic water filter can cleanse impure water up to 30 liters within a few hours. Every five years, the cartridge that costs around Rs 60, will have to be replaced.
Using activated carbon proved extremely economical for us as the manufacturing cost is merely Rs 10. The USP of this water purifier is that it is cost-effective and unlike other purifiers that are made from synthetic fibre, this one is organic, says Thomas.
Creating a Social Impact
The duo developed the technology around the time of the Kerala Floods of 2018 and it was put to test during the devastating event.
With thousands of people displaced and moved to relief camps overnight, they were already dealing with several problems, one of them being procuring clean drinking water.
After relentless rains, people were falling ill from drinking unclean water. We wanted to contribute and prepared a container and fixed the cartridge inside it, says Thomas.
Around 200 such purifiers that require no electricity, costing around Rs 2,000, were donated to relief camps set up in flood-affected areas of Kottayam district.
As the news about their initiative spread, several people showed interest in purchasing their product. In fact, investors approached them for funding. “We received an investment of Rs 4.5 crore to develop more such water purifiers and are currently working on multiple projects,” says Thomas.
So far, the startup has sold 200 water purifiers in the state, besides the ones donated during the floods.
Collect Dirty Water In A Bottle And Get Pure Water In Return
The final year engineering students are ready with their next invention–a bottle.
What makes their silicon bottle different from others is the water filter cartridge. The bottle has an in-built organic filter at the center-bottom, on the base. Its job is the same as the previously built water filter– to remove all impurities.
The iBo or ‘Intelligent Bottle’ has a three-layer filtration system that consists of Nano-fibre membrane, made with the help of nanotechnology. It will help to remove microorganisms such as bacteria and protozoa. Coconut activated carbon will be able to remove odour, chemicals and chlorine contents from the water.
The third stage of the filter consists of a mineral add-on feature that will add minerals to the water and make it slightly alkaline, so that it is beneficial for the health of the customer. The alkalinity of the water has the potential to kill viruses.
All one has to do is fill the bottle with any kind of water and the purifier will provide safe drinking water within minutes! The bottle is priced at Rs 600.
The idea behind developing the bottle is to tell people that they don’t need to buy costly non-portable water purifiers that occupy space in their house. Besides, the conventional purifiers are known for producing waste water post the purification process. The iBo can be carried everywhere and it comes to people’s rescue when they do not get clean water, says Anto.
The student startup has developed different versions of the bottle. The Alpha version comes with an application that is linked with the bottle. On filling the bottle, the app will show the ingredients or matter present in the water. The user can also fill in personal details like Body Mass Index, based on which, the app will remind the user to drink water to avoid dehydration.
The BETA version is the stainless steel bottle that is foldable, thus eliminating issues of space and weight. “Our customer target are school and college students. Even I have avoided carrying a water bottle because of lack of space in my bag,” says Anto.
In another couple of months, the duo will launch the bottle in the market.
The Way Forward
Keeping their grade up and working on the product hasn’t been easy for the two friends. But every failure has been a stepping stone to success. “A genuine concern from our respective parents, the pressure to score decent marks and pursuing our passion takes toll on us but it also gives us life learnings,” points out Anto.
He adds, “One of our biggest learnings was to develop an efficient team or to outsource the work. We had received an order of one lakh purifiers from a reputed bank but we were unable to distribute due to logistics. So, from then, we have outsourced the manufacturing process.”
As for their plans, the duo will soon appear for their final exams, after which they will start working out of Kochi.
“We plan to work on cartridge purifiers that will come in various sizes and capacities. Consumers will be able to fit these in their taps, bottles, and containers,” they sign off.
To know more about Lamaara’s products, contact Anto and Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)