The Ganga is perhaps the best example of society’s attitude towards waste — where devotion is tainted by wilful blindness to a river’s plight.
According to a report tabled in the Lok Sabha in 2017 by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, the very river, which is personified as a goddess in Hindu sacred texts, “receives 6614 million litres per day (MLD) of waste water”. The discharge includes waste water from households, sewage water and industrial effluents.
Moving on, 70% of surface water in India is deemed unfit for consumption with huge volumes of untreated water finding its way into rivers, lakes and other water bodies, every day. Meanwhile, organic waste dumped in landfills releases methane into the atmosphere and toxic elements from garbage leach into the soil, polluting groundwater reserves. Environmental degradation aside, the health costs owing to water pollution is estimated to be Rs 470–610 billion per year.
As per capita requirement of water sees an increase due to rapid population growth, over-consumption and contamination threaten to turn water scarcity into a widespread crisis.
Turning to waste to create profound impact
A dire scenario calls for desperate measures, especially since several sewage treatment plants (STPs) and effluent treatment plants (ETP) in the country have either shut down or suffer from frequent breakdowns and sub-optimal performance. The Gujarat-based REVY Environmental Solutions can enhance the capabilities of these plants, helping them deal with organic waste and waste water in a scientific, cost-effective and sustainable manner. No wonder, the founder and CTO of the startup, Dr Vanita Prasad, a renowned environmental biotechnologist with 25 years of experience, describes herself as a “microbe doctor” administering proprietary biomass as medicines to revive moribund facilities.
Founders: Dr Vanita Prasad, CTO, is a renowned environmental biotechnologist with 25 years of experience; Rajneesh Prasad is the CEO of REVY
REVY’s flagship product REVY S-Anaerobic granulated sludge, a consortia of 650 different kinds of microbes, is effective in reducing pollutants by decreasing Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) in the water. The treated water is a liquid fertiliser, rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, and can be used to rejuvenate the soil and improve agricultural output. “India has only 4% of the world’s freshwater reserves, of which 70% is used for farming. After our primary treatment, the water can take care of the country’s irrigation requirements, leading to a better management of a stressed resource,” says Rajneesh Prasad, CEO of REVY.
Anaerobic digestion, a four-step process in which organic matter is broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen, requires various strains of bacteria in the right amount for every stage. “If one doesn’t get the balance right, the overall performance of the waste water treatment plant suffers,” he says.
The treatment process using REVY’s proprietary biomass also enhances the generation of biogas, which can be utilised to meet energy demands. “We need to see organic waste and waste water as a resource. “If we manage them efficiently, India can aspire to become an energy-sufficient country,” says Dr Vanita, the recipient of several prestigious awards, including India Israel Innovation challenge, Swachch Bharat Grand Challenge and TiE- BIRAC WiNER awards.
Her foray into waste management is an inspiring story of compassion and foresight that began in the days of research for Ph.D thesis. “Fascinated by immunology, I wanted to design a diagnostic kit for which I had to collect blood samples from hospitals. While interacting with the patients — many of whom were suffering from tuberculosis — I came to know about their miserable living conditions,” she says. Their stories made her realise that she should turn her attention to sanitation to generate a profound and palpable impact in society. “I switched to solid waste management and tried to create value by recovering Hydrogen from and improving the conventional anaerobic process. This was 25 years ago, long before the potential of Hydrogen as a fuel was to gain currency,” she adds.
Later, Dr Vanita headed the R&D unit of an environment consultancy that was dealing in waste water treatment, which furthered her understanding of waste treatment processes. “Early on, I realized that bioremediation is the most eco-friendly and economical way to deal with organic waste and waste water,” she says.
In 2014, she decided to avail of the BIG Grant and the incubation facility offered by GSBTM’s Savli Technology and Business Incubator in Vadodara. “Even though I had the technical know-how, I didn’t have money and infrastructure to carry on with my work,” she says.
In 2016, Dr Vanita received BIRAC’s Bio-Ignition grant of Rs 35 lakh for her project on development of anaerobic granulated sludge. “I was overwhelmed that the Government of India reposed faith in a woman scientist. This recognition fuelled my ambition to make REVY a success,” she says.
The REVY team, comprising a bunch of committed professionals, works out of the startup’s registered office on Vasna Road in Vadodara
REVY Environmental Solutions was founded in 2017. The following year, the company received a BIRAC SPARSH grant to set up a 20 cubic metre treatment plant in Vadodara to demonstrate the technology validation in a larger prototype.
“Today, the startup boasts of at least six products, including seed cultures and biomass growth enhancement formulations (BGEFs) for both aerobic and anaerobic plants which have been validated on field to turnaround non-performing plants and optimize plant performance,” says Rajneesh.
No more crop burning
Dr Vanita has now come up with a solution to crop-burning. Crop remnants can’t be fed to a biological reactor since they contain high percentages of lignin that the bacteria are unable to break down. Biogas plants that use cow dung have also suffered for the same reason — the stubborn particles in the manure give the bacteria a harrowing time. Her formulation can separate the biodegradable parts from lignin. “The biodegradable elements can then be fed into a biogas plant while the lignin can be processed to create light and robust carbon products for industries,” she says.
Pilot plant at Manjusar GIDC in Vadodara
REVY’s patented offerings have elicited encouraging responses in chemical industry, dairy sector, petrochemicals, textile industry, beverages industry, and food and nutraceuticals industry. “We are of the opinion that ‘seeing is believing’ and when plant owners actually see the efficacy of our formulations, it inspires confidence in them,” says Rajneesh.
“We offer live bacteria, which doesn’t contain any redundant material, will consume all the intermediate products and give enhanced performances in terms of increased biogas output and maximum reduction of pollutants,” says Dr Vanita. As part of their marketing strategy, the startup sets up a small prototype of an anerobic plant at the client’s site to offer an improved understanding of their systems and processes.
To expand its footprint nationwide, the Vadodara-based startup will identify and work with channel partners. By and by, it will tap international opportunities through joint ventures and technology transfer.
REVY’s growth potential is closely tied to climate action goals that have renewed the focus on waste management. Both Dr Vanita and Rajneesh are hopeful that industries will eventually become responsible in dealing with the waste they generate. “Already, we are witnessing a remarkable shift from coercion to willing participation,” says Rajneesh while emphasizing that sustainability has now become an imperative for businesses.
Social Alpha’s Role
Social Alpha decided to invest in REVY for two reasons: 1) It has an active waste management thesis; 2) Organic waste in India — from residential, commercial, and industrial sources — is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). In fact, the humungous amounts of garbage we generate everyday ends up polluting the soil, air, and waterbodies.
“Apart from these, we were also impressed by how REVY’s proprietary biomass and the startup’s deep understanding of the way waste treatment plants operate, made anaerobic and aerobic waste processes more efficient. We had looked at several biogas and waste treatment plant technologies before zeroing in on REVY and found that many waste treatment plants were mismanaged and existing processes grossly inefficient,” says Ganesh Kaveeshwar, PM, Social Alpha.
Interestingly, the startup had also won SA’s Urban Liveability Challenge in 2019, which secured them seed capital and incubational support. “SA helped them make business plans; create and manage cash flows; and devise strategies for operations and scaling up. We introduced them to a few investors as well as managed their investment round. The grants received after winning the challenge were channeled towards supporting initial pilots and subsidising customers who were wary of introducing REVY’s technologies,” he says. So, far the journey has been good. Most of the customers who have worked with REVY have returned to give them bigger business. As the pilots continue for the next few months, SA hopes that there will be increasing revenue and more market validation for the startup’s solutions.
One of REVY’s core competencies lies in the knowledge and the years of experience that Dr Vanita Prasad brings to the table. “The startup has introduced its products in the market at competitive prices, which has helped the ecosystem — whether it be anaerobic digestion processes in waste water treatment plants or solid waste being digested through biogas plants. In short, REVY has made significant disruptions in the waste management landscape,” he adds.