Elbow Engineers is a technology-based firm that manufactures machines, which convert moisture in the atmosphere to pure and fresh drinking water.
TIAS School for Business and Society
The technology utilizes the unused water vapor from the surrounding air to produce pure drinking water as per WHO standards without any micro-plastic or microfiber anywhere with a relative humidity > 20%. It works by sucking in air rapidly after which condensation of vapor takes place inside a specially designed loop (the design of the loop is inspired by the survival mechanisms of animals inhabiting deserts). The freshly condensed water goes through 4 filters, finally providing pure drinking water, complying with WHO standards.
In addition to the above facts, this technology purifies the air by conducting a photo-catalytic reaction that eradicates bacteria and viruses in the surrounding air.
With a strong focus on consumer segments, the company through its innovative design has been successful in manufacturing water converters which roughly consumes energy equivalent to 60 KWh - this means a converter can be powered through a small solar panel designed for household usage. With an average life span of 10 years, these machines are very well suited to meet the needs of the poor sections of the population across the globe. The innovation also focuses on using limited moving parts in the machine, which in turn drastically reduces energy consumption and makes the product more affordable and attractive to the consumers.
In the words of the founder, Mr. Kumar: "While working for a water management company in the USA, I saw a massive quantity of water was being wasted and at the same time I came across a paper published by MIT on trillions of liters of water getting evaporated at any given point of time which is more than sufficient for 7 billion people on this planet. This fact led me to start working on the ways to tap into this evaporated moisture in the atmosphere and subsequently led to the innovation."
After finishing his Ph.D., Kumar was working with a Boston based company on increasing the pH level of water in the United States. Over there, he found that the vast quantity of water was being wasted to improve the purity level of surface and underground water. Meanwhile, Kumar came across a paper published by MIT Boston which contained the research on evaporation of surface water and the result showed that trillions of liters of water are getting wasted in the process of evaporation. To address the problem, Kumar thought of looking up instead of looking down and it led him to come up with the idea of converting atmosphere moisture into pure water.
Kumar says: "In December of 2015, there was a severe flood in southern Indian states. That time I was working for a Boston based company to modify the Ph level of the water. After watching those scenes of the flood, an old saying came to my mind: 'water water everywhere but not a single drop to drink'. I started to focus on how to solve such a water crisis and then I came to know how desert plantations such as cactus gets it water, it's basically from the moisture in the atmosphere. That thought process motivated me and served as the backbone of my innovation. Based on this principle I designed the system and pitched my idea to IIT Chennai and IIM Kolkata. I received several awards for my innovation and this is how my journey begins."
Based on their educational background and working experience, Kumar and his wife were familiar with the problems concerning the availability of pure water. They built a small 20-liter prototype for converting atmosphere moisture into water and posted it on social media where it got great attention (almost 10,000 views and likes). Based on the overwhelming responses, they pitched the idea to IIT Madras and IIM Kolkata. And from there, Kumar was introduced to several business people and technocrats and floated the company, Elbow Engineers Pvt Ltd.
The innovation’s primary mission is to provide sustainable, safe, and pure drinking water to places where water is in scarcity and without causing any damage to the surface and underground water. In addition, in most cases, these potable water generators can be powered by a small portable solar panel, which is highly cost-efficient and energy-saving.
Moreover, providing affordable access to water from the air enables individuals to be independent of other costly and environmentally damaging ways to fulfill their demand for water.
Kumar mentions: "When I designed this concept, I was familiar that there are companies that are generating water based on the working principle of air conditioners. I wanted to be different in terms of affordability and sustainability. I wanted to design a product that can impact the livelihood of lower to middle-class people, as rich people can buy anything they wish. So, my overall impact is that I have made pure water an affordable product for the lower section of the population. They can be independent and generate their own water."
The company has installed these potable water generators at several locations, such as universities, tourist destinations, hospitals, railway stations, and other public places.
The company is in discussion with the planning commission of India to establish these machines on a large scale in coastal areas where availability of freshwater is on a decline.
Elbow Engineers introduced the product through social media as well as through participation in several innovation platforms organized by leading educational institutions across India. The product with its mandatory nature of usage got immediately noticed by the consumers and business people.
Kumar says: "Because of the innovation, we were the first mover in this particular segment. It raised curiosity among the competitors and consumers: it’s a cool idea but how can it be implemented? We designed the system with limited moving parts and the body design was very compact to make it more competitive."
Known for its energy efficiency and purity in generating water in a sustainable way, products of Elbow Engineers got a great response from consumers. The company has been able to sell 1,500 units of these machines since its incorporation in 2017, generating revenue of half a million USD and a profit margin of 15% to 20%.
Inspired by the innovation of the company, the company is incubated by IIM Kolkata, a leading business school in India and across the world. The company has been backed by CSR programs of business organizations, such as Tata Metaliks, for installing the machines for community service and creating entrepreneurship in remote locations in India.
Recently, the company has entered into a JV agreement with Aeronero Solutions Private Limited to widen the business portfolio and aim to manufacture and sell 200,000 units in the next 2 years. This ambitious aim is already on the right track as the company is engaged in discussions with the planning commission of India “Niti Ayog” to install 50,000 units of these machines in the remote islands of Andaman and Nicobar.
With rivers and other freshwater sources facing depletion, the challenge is enormous to meet the water requirement of the rapidly increasing human population. A large proportion of people in India are dependent on rivers and underground water to meet their requirements of freshwater, which has led to the creation of dry zones across the country. Climate change is another factor that has severely impacted the glacial waters, which is the major source to feed rivers.
Kumar says: "The biggest benefit of this innovation is the preservation of groundwater and in addition, people can get pure water from the atmosphere in front of their eyes. This gives immense confidence to consumers. Our system also addresses the problem of air pollution."
Considering the above challenges and water getting wasted through evaporation, Elbow Engineers thought of looking upward to meet the challenges posed by water scarcity. They designed a technology that will tap into the moisture in the atmosphere to generate pure water without causing any disturbance to the primary sources of fresh water. Elbow Engineers is addressing a critical environmental problem through its water conservation and generation efforts.
In addition, the technology purifies the air by conducting a photo-catalytic reaction that eradicates bacteria and viruses in the surrounding air. By reducing bacterial activity in the air, it reduces the spread of airborne diseases.
In social terms, Elbow Engineers strives to meet the water necessity of poor sections of the population through its sustainable, affordable, and innovative technology of generating fresh water. Elbow Engineers has successfully created tribal entrepreneurship at several locations across India which are helping the local tribal communities to earn their livelihood without a need to migrate into already crowded and stressed urban areas of the country.
Kumar Longanathan, Founder & CEO
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Chennai, Tamil Nadu, IN
Business Website: http://myteerthaa.com/
Year Founded: 2017
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
There used to be a saying in India that a Human needs three things for basic survival: Food, Clothes, and Shelter. Pure water and air were and are supposed to be available naturally. However, it is no longer the case because of the depletion of freshwater sources and rising pollution. Nowadays we read numerous reports on how people are suffering because of the non-availability of pure and freshwater. A recent example could be of Cape Town in South Africa where an entire city ran out of pure water.
Focused on freshwater conservation and generation, Elbow Engineers, established in 2017, innovated a sustainable and affordable technology to generate freshwater from the moisture in the air. Inspired by the fact of trillions of liters of water getting wasted through evaporation while people are struggling to get fresh water from the surface and underground sources, Elbow Engineers designed this technology to convert moisture in the atmosphere into fresh and pure water. It is worth mentioning that within a span of almost 2 years, Elbow engineers have been able to increase its client base to almost 1,500 customers, which primarily includes households, universities, government offices, railway stations, and other public places.