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RealtyNXT spoke to ECOSTP’s Co-founder Tharun Kumar exclusively

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Exclusive with ECOSTP

Armed with a rock solid determination and revolutionary technology to make the world a better place one water drop at a time, Tharun Kumar ECOSTP’s Co-founder is inspiring.

His company, which started in October 2017, recently got selected by ‘MODA Museum Atlanta – Full Circle: Design Without End’ for the outstanding work it has been doing. RealtyNXT presents an exclusive interview with Tharun Kumar. Read on and get inspired.

1. You have quite an interesting motto “Together let’s convert our sewage to gold.” Could you explain what exactly does it mean in terms of real estate? 

Water is Gold . Sewage Water is really Gold if we can convert to good water. The treated water can be used for construction purposes during construction and later used for Toilet Flushing , Gardening and Car Wash . In fact for one of our clients CoEvolve Northern Star we are providing bathing quality water from sewage . 

2. Polluted water is a mammoth problem in India with most of our water bodies polluted beyond imagination. What does your technological expertise bring to the table to tackle it?

Yes. According to the Pollution Control Board of India, out of the 29,129 MLD (million litres per day) of sewage generated, only 6,190 MLD is treated. The gap is a shocking 78.7 %. Interestingly, this is a global problem, too. Per the United Nations, about 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the environment without adequate treatment.
Our unique “Zero Power Zero Maintenance” Sewage Treatment Technology has no moving parts com- pared to conventional STPs which use energy, hogging motors, exhaust fans, pumps, and blowers. The product is a replica of a cow’s stomach based on biomimicry concepts. 

3. India is known for its careless attitude towards this burning issue, how did you manage to convince people that they need your technology now more than ever?  

We went and asked fundamental questions .. We found that STPs are not deployed as there were complex to maintain and need loads of power to operate . We articulated our patented – Zero Power Zero Chemicals Zero Operator solution and 28 clients in 8 states got convinced . Including Tata Steel, BHEL , Adarsh Developers, Brigade etc.

4. How did ECOSTP begin? What was it that kick-started this unique endeavour? Were you inspired by any particular idea from the West or it just occurred naturally to the co-founders?

It was a result of decade of result. We know that conventional STPs will not work as they need operators, chemicals are power. The prevailing paradigm to treat wastewater across the world today is “aerobic bacteria-based treatment” which is very power hungry. ECOSTP is based on anaerobic system.  An anaerobic bacteria-based system exists in pockets but has not been successful for various reasons. Our biological strategy was to look at how a cow’s stomach implements anaerobic digestion in detail. As we all know, the ruminant stomach in a cow turns grass into milk, meat, and wool. We biologized the same method to convert “bad” water to “good” water using exactly the same ruminant stomach process. Our natural digester model based on the biology of a cow’s stomach is used to break down organic fecal content into treated water. We add anaerobic bacteria catalyst seed (one time addition) from a cow dung substrate and the end result is that sewage you put in is converted to water, some gas, and very little sludge (digester). 

5. Do you think having the backing of Brigade REAP helped you lay a strong foundation? How was your experience with them?

Our team’s vast corporate experience has taught us that for any new venture to succeed you need Human, Financial and Social Capital (network, domain connect, customer knowledge). To get access to Social Capital, we roped in the leading Bangalore Real Estate Group, Brigade Group, as our mentor. We interact with Brigade Group as we share the same office space and constantly get insights about the marketplace and can spot trends early on. For example, we learned that commercial buildings are a big STP market opportunity, but that the “pain” is not big as STPs are maintained well by well-paying corporate clients and they don’t care. In contrast, in a residential layout the apartment owners pay for maintenance and cost economics is key.  Insights like these really helped us.

A graphic outlining the biological processes involved in anaerobic digestion

6. Your product is based on the four stomachs of a cow. Could you elaborate on that?

We took inspiration from the cow’s stomach, replicating its chambers and coming up with a civil engineering design which can be used for natural treatment of sewage. 

There are two biological strategies at play here. We formed a STP structure mimicking the cow’s stomach. There are 3 chambers interconnected with multiple pipes, with roughness added to the chamber walls to increase the surface area. The second component is the bugs that clean up the sewage. 

Life began on earth when there was no oxygen (primordial atmosphere). The earliest organisms used to get energy from methane, carbon dioxide, and sulphur compounds. Archea anaerobic bacteria and facultative anaerobic fungi (Neocallimastigomycotorigin) are all examples of such an environment. These bugs convert and clean the sewage in ECOSTP. 

The process of anaerobic digestion takes place in four steps in a cow’s stomach: Rumen, Reticulum, Omasum, and Abomasum. ECOSTP is a replica of the same. The process is as follows. 

Phase 1 – Hydrolysis: During this phase, the long-chain organic compounds (e.g. proteins, fats, carbohy- drates) are split into more simple organic compounds (e.g. amino acids, fatty acids, sugars) through bacte- rial action. 

Phase 2 – Acidogenesis: The products of hydrolysis are subsequently metabolized in the acidogenesis phase by acidogenic bacteria and broken down into short-chain fatty acids (e.g. acetic acid, propionic acid, butyric acid, valeric acid) and alcohol. They belong to diverse genera such as Escherichia, Flavobac- terium, Alcaligenes, Aerobacter, Psuedomonas, etc., and can function in a large pH range. 

Phase 3 – Acetogenesis: The organic acids and alcohols are broken down from acetogenic bacteria into acetic acid, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. 

Phase 4 – Methanogenesis: The products from the previous phases are converted into methane and carbon dioxide. Microbes involved in this process are also anaerobic and belong to the Methanococcus, Methanobacterium, and Methanoscarcinagenera. 

It is this complex anaerobic digestion process which a cow uses to convert grass to milk. We use the same technique to convert bad water to good water. We are constantly working to improve our product to match the efficiency of a cow’s stomach. We created a Biomimetic wall structure mimicking bovine tripe. Our race is to achieve the highest surface-area-to-volume ratio possible 

7. What are your dream numbers in terms of clients and revenue? 

We have currently 29 clients ongoing in 8 states now. We plan to ramp them to 60 clients with a 3.5 Crores turnover by 2020. 

Note that we licence the core technology and NOT manufacture STPs (which is done by developers ) keeping rapid scalability and sustainability in mind. We sell the ECOSTP DIY Kit, where our positioning is “Buy the ECOSTP Kit – Add concrete and STP ready!” This is similar to the Qualcomm model where they sell the core technology and mobile phones are made by others. 

8. Can you share 5 sets of numbers in terms of statistics that define your growth? 

We measure ourselves on the IMPACT which is tracked in our website via Impact Tracker. As of today we treated 28000 KL of waste water and saved 47 MW of power. 

9. What do you think about the future of PropTech in India? Where do you think EcoSTP would stand in the future? 

The regulations are driving the business. India is drowning in sewage as its fashionable to construct only Toilet with no treatment facilities. Now as it have become mandatory to create STPs we are expecting exponential business… and we really mean the word exponential .

ALSO READ: Exclusive: Natura’s Co-founder And COO Abishek Thomas In Conversation With RealtyNXT

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