This Bangalore-based startup converts water from Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) into potable high-quality water that can be used for household purposes, centralized air conditioning in commercial buildings, and even for drinking and has saved around 77 crore liters of water to date.
Vikas Brahmavar spent four years in the UK, from 2004 to 2008, working in the software sector for an Investment Bank. However, his long-standing passion for the water industry remained steadfast. But after returning to India, In collaboration with Gowthaman Desingh, he co-founded Boson Whitewater in 2011 with a vision to revolutionize the wastewater recycling practices of industries, IT Parks, malls, and apartment communities.
The Boson Whitewater system features an advanced 11-step filtration process, complemented by IoT technology that enables real-time monitoring of water quality and quantity. This innovative system also offers remote access capabilities, minimizing the need for manual intervention.
Abhishansa Mathur was in conversation with Vikas Brahmavar about his journey of founding his startup, challenges, future plans, and more. Here's the excerpt of the interview below.
1. How and when Boson Whitewater was founded? Can you walk us through that journey?
I used to work in the UK, and my office overlooked the Tower Bridge. Every day after lunch, my colleagues and I used to walk to Tower Bridge and sit on the banks of the River Thames to have lunch. Our favorite topic of discussion always revolved around the challenges India faced, and the idea of doing something about it was constantly on my mind. After I returned to India, in 2018, I began working with water. We officially started BOSON Whitewater in 2019, but the entity's name, Trans Water System Private Limited, dates back to 2011. Whitewater refers to recovered wastewater. Since people usually have psychological reservations about accepting the concept of recycled water, in Israel, they call it whitewater or manufactured water. We decided to adopt the term whitewater.
2. Tell us about the process you follow for recycling wastewater.
So, in every housing society or IT park, there is a sewage treatment plant and they are supposed to treat water as per norms. Most of them achieve it by using it for gardening and flushing. But they don't take it beyond that and drain the remaining water. So only 20% gets reused, and 80% is sent to the drain. We take the STP-treated water, process it via an 11-stage treatment process and convert it to drinking quality water where it meets the norms of IS 10,500 standards of drinking water.
3. Could you talk about your research a little?
Between 2008 and 2014, we primarily worked with rural schools, focusing on providing them with non-chemical treated water. We obtained two design patents during that time. We developed equipment designed for use at bus stands and railway stations that required no power to operate. However, later, we started receiving calls from people who informed us that they lacked a proper water supply and were seeking solutions for their existing wastewater. That's when we began researching how other countries managed their water resources.
I conducted research and discovered that countries like the UK, California, Israel, and Singapore base their water management on the city's population and the volume of waste produced. They initiate their planning with wastewater and then address the industrial water needs before addressing freshwater distribution. In contrast, in our country, we start with freshwater coming into our dams, plan based on dam water levels, and then decide on distribution. Little attention is given to what happens to the water after it leaves the city, whether it flows into drains, neighboring states, or the ocean.
In Bangalore alone, approximately 200 crore liters of water are discharged into drains daily after use. However, the supply of freshwater is insufficient, averaging around 145-150 crore liters. This scarcity forces people to rely on borewells, depleting groundwater resources. We urgently need infrastructure to address this issue.
4. Throw more light on the Infrastructural changes we need.
If you see cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Chennai, and Hyderabad, people don't know what to do with wastewater because it is not usable. At most, they'll use it for gardening and flushing. So, if we can create an infrastructure that can make that water useful, then the value of water will increase. For example, if you're running an industry that needs to further treat hard water for its operations, you can achieve savings if we are able to supply high-quality recovered water compared to borewell water. That's what we have achieved here in Bangalore. We are now selling around 8 lakh liters of water every day. Companies are using our high-quality recovered treated water.
On the other hand, if you live in an apartment complex, you may have excess water within the complex. You can use it for gardening and flushing, but after that, you may not know what to do with it. In such cases, we set up a system within the apartment complex, convert the water to high quality, and supply it to industries near the apartment. This way, the wastewater problem is solved. It is commercially viable and beneficial for apartments, industry, and us. Everyone in the cycle benefits!
5. How much space do you require when it comes to the housing societies and these IT Parks?
They will generally have STPs, and near the STPs, we generally ask for space of around 2-3 car parks, i.e., around 22 ft X 14 ft is what we need to set up a one lakh liters of water recovery system in the apartment. For the IT park and mall, we again need the same kind of space, but the treated water is used by them for their applications like centralized cooling. We pay the apartment rent for the space that we use, and also for the power that we use for our operations, and we do not take any money from the society. They just have to permit us to set up the equipment there, as well as the tankers coming in to take the water to the required industry. We make more money by selling this water to the industry. For IT parks and malls, we sell water on a per-liter basis to them. This means they buy water for, let's say, a five-year contract and purchase one lakh liters of water from us every day, which is suitable for cooling tasks or any specific cooling operation at a suitable quality. We become the water utility company, and instead of buying it from the municipality, you buy from us.
6. How do you generate awareness and how do you get such projects?
We have been a part of NITI Aayog and have also been a part of WRI (World Resource Institute). So agencies like these and platforms like yours help us. We have acquired new clients through our collaborations with other companies. The apartment communities have also been kind to us. We are also working with Mercedes and Brigade Group. However, due to their use of capital-intensive equipment and the need for time and space, our progress is somewhat limited. We are also striving to raise awareness using local KSPCPs, pollution control boards, and local citizen networks that are grappling with water issues. We are involved with the World of Water forum and the Bangalore Apartment Federation, and they assist us in finding new connections. The water that we supply is equal to bottled water which people buy from the market. The value parameters meet that quality. They are purchasing from us, it costs them less and the unit economics in their laundry also get improved.
7. What were the challenges that you had to face?
Finding the right technology and being able to convert wastewater into high-quality water was the challenge, which we fixed. But then there were still some areas that needed solutions. We are currently looking to integrate AI to monitor the parameters of contamination, on the basis of which we'll be able to perform Predictive Analysis. The next challenge was the customers. The IT parks and malls require more time to set up because they have to allocate parking space, and the existing infrastructure also needs to change a bit. For the apartment communities, the approval can take months. An average standard time is three or four months to get an NOC to go and check feasibility, and then we get into an agreement. So, it is generally four or five months before we set up anything with a partner.
Another important thing is the distribution. We have always been people who are in the city's core areas that are used to getting municipal water. But when we got to the tanker level, where people buy larger volumes, working on the logistics for them was not easy, as there were many unorganized players who would not let us transport water in some areas. So, we took the help of our local contacts and communities and also conducted extensive research to gain a better understanding of the area.
We are also not cutting the current tanker businesses and are trying to work with them instead of giving the transportation contract. So, previously, we were thinking of not involving them, but now we don't do that. We use their tankers, they get money for the transportation, and everyone benefits. So we were able to solve this by involving the same people who could have created problems. But we still don't know how to move things faster when it comes to the apartment communities, as the process involves way too many people.
8. Tell us more about the technologies that you have patented.
We have two patents. One is for the water conditioning and how we treat the hardness of water without chemicals. There is a design patent on that. The other patent is on the water as a service model where we have converted it to waste water based on a specific number of stages. In terms of technology, I think we need technologies that are quick and can be implemented immediately. It should also be commercially viable, and adaptable with the existing infrastructure. And that is what we have tried to do. To have an existing infrastructure without making too many changes.
9. What are your future plans?
We have saved around 77 million liters of water in the past 3 years. Now the goal is to scale up in the areas of apartments, IT Parks, and malls in Pune, Chennai, and Hyderabad. We already have our teams looking after our projects in these cities, and that's our plan for the next 6-7 months. Since we raised investments last year from different companies, and we have become profitable now, for the next year, if we can expand to different cities and implement 20-20 systems at the same pace as we did in Bangalore, then we'll expand to 20 cities there. For cities that are not near the coastline like Agra and Jaipur, setting up desalination plants is our goal.
For people on the coast, the cost of these systems is high, so we are working on that as well. Another goal is to plan for the 30 cities that have been listed by BBC, which will run out of water. Our target between 2030 to 2033 is these cities. This way, if we can create a significant impact and benchmark the model, large players will also join. We'll also probably have become better by then. So, we ideally want many players to enter this market to actually solve the city's problem.
1. Your favorite books.
Water Is Life. I also listen to many self-help and motivational audiobooks. Currently, I am reading Back to Bharat by Nagraja Prakasam. Another favourite is the Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. I have also been reading books on valuation now since we have raised funds.
2. Your favourite podcast?
I listen to podcasts that are on climate and climate tech. I am currently listening to WTF is with Nikhil Kamath's podcast.
3. What kind of music do you like?
I used to listen to a lot of Metal music but now I'm into classical.
4. Your hobbies?
I love playing badminton. I used to be a state player a long time ago.
5. Favourite movies?
I like Action movies. I watched Jailer by Nelson Dilipkumar recently and loved it.
6. Favourite travel destinations?
My favourite, I would say is Alicante in Spain. I also like Portugal and Barcelona. In India, Shillong, Ladakh, Kanchipuram, Hmapi, and Madurai are my favourites. I also like temple towns!
7. Favourites In Food?
Mexican! I love burritos. I also like Arabian food, especially falafels. As far as Indian food is concerned I love home-cooked food. My wife is an amazing cook.