Fixing time slots for bursting crackers and allotting days in a week for certain vehicles to ply might help control the quality of air, but is grossly inadequate to combat the larger problem of pollution. While it’s possible that the omnipresent smoke could obscure clarity of thought, one thing that’s amply clear is that policy interventions alone cannot counter this issue.
Although not an antidote to the growing pollution emergency, scores of companies have been jockeying to make life more tolerable by doctoring the air in people’s immediate surroundings. These modernized air purifiers are increasingly going mainstream and becoming a standard – not just in office quarters, but in homes as well.
One such innovation drew the attention of an internationally reputed cardiologist who saw a worthy replacement for his stethoscope in the product he helped co-create. Pure Skies reportedly reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide by 20 ppm. According to him, that is equivalent to turning the clock on climate change back by 10 years!
Devic Earth‘s co-founder Srikanth Sola
A green-tech company co-founded by Dr Srikanth Sola, Devic Earth’s Pure Skies systems claims to improve air quality better than any existing technology available today. According to the company, it can improve air quality index “by 33%” by reducing pollutants that are damaging to human health, including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2).
“We have developed three variations of the product thus far – a smaller version for homes, a medium-sized one for large indoor spaces like offices and hotels, and our flagship series, meant for cities as well as large factories,” says Sola, who is also the Director and CEO of the Bangalore-based company.
For him, the need for this technology arose when he moved back to India from the US and began working at Sathya Sai hospitals. “I came across a lot of heart patients whose conditions were caused or worsened by air pollution. As per WHO data, 7 million people die every year due to air pollution, but these are people who do not die – they survive, but live with lifelong illnesses.”
Buoyed by funding from Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Sola dove headlong into research that eventually advanced the development of the Pure Skies systems. The Central Pollution Control Board also came in and gave Sola and his team their technical and scientific expertise. This was followed by funding from Honeywell Industries and the prognoses looked good.
“When we looked at our data, we found that when we had our Pure Skies system on, air pollution levels came down drastically within a ten km radius. We were further able to ascertain that the number of patients coming in with illnesses that are known to be made worse by air pollution also came down.”
Sola realized that this technology could benefit lacks of people every day – in ‘one stroke’ so to say. “I might see 30 patients – max 40 – a day. But the benefit to society with this product is much larger, so I decided to take it forward. This is what triggered me to leave medicine and start this as a commercial enterprise ten years ago.”
How it works
The company utilizes radio waves – the kind that emerges out of a radio tower used to run televisions in olden days. But unlike a TV which is always broadcasting, Devic Earth pulses the signals periodically – say 10 or 15 per second – to accelerate miniscule particles in the air to make them settle out faster.
Sola explains, “Pollutants are constantly floating around in the atmosphere – triggered by wind, rain or other factors – but there is another process that happens called ‘dry deposition’. Here, small pollutant particles stick together and become large and then settle out in the atmosphere – and this happens all the time. In fact, more than half our pollution is cleared by dry deposition and technologies that have come before us take advantage of this. For instance, some air conditioners leverage dry deposition by electrical charge, but that generally only works over a small area. Radio waves, on the other hand, gives a slight push to these small particles to accelerate the process of dry deposition. This makes them settle out faster. That is the basic technology.”
According to Sola, there are two main advantages that this process has over other technologies like electrostatic precipitators:
- The use of radio waves reportedly makes it completely safe.
- The same makes it possible to cut through large distances with a significant benefit.
“This ensures that a single outdoor installation clears the air within a 10 km radius – depending on topography and height of nearby buildings. In factories, large buildings or homes, a single Pure Skies unit improves air quality inside the entire building plus its surrounding,” adds Sola.
Progress since launch
Although the product has completed a decade in R&D, the company formally launched just six months ago, with sales starting only since September. Having proven its solutions, the company is now adapting them to its customers’ requirements. Sola is also careful to reiterate that it is “not just a passive air purifier” and that, it uses “smart technology” as its primary solution.
“Our system constantly learns from the local air quality levels,” he says. “Say, if pollution is high in the morning and evening, or during peak office commute hours, the systems output can accordingly be modified. That is why, as the system is in place, it gets smarter and smarter and pollution levels go down even further with time,” he adds.
The company’s earliest traction has been with the medium-sized one meant for large indoor spaces (Pure Skies 6000) simply because the results are easier to demonstrate. And according to Sola, it costs just a fraction of what companies typically invest to mitigate pollution in their workspaces.
“This product goes for only Rs 7 lakh – hardly 10% of that of standard systems in the market today. The B2C unit is available from Rs 1.75 lakh – depending on the configuration – and the outdoor one for around Rs 12.5 lakh,” says Sola. “Moreover, our system is significantly more effective too because we find that when we churn our system on, pollution goes down by 33% in just three days, and by 50% in just a week. That is unheard of,” he adds.
Concurs Som Shekhar, a businessman who was one of the first customers of Devic Earth.
“The co-founders set up a demo for us in our office in Whitefield,” he says. “We saw a drop of about 25-35% PM in a matter of a few hours. This was done with the help of monitors that track these levels before and after switching on the Pure Skies system,” he adds.
The outdoor variant – Pure Skies 9000 – has also been creating waves since its installation at Airtel Delhi Half Marathon last October. Two units were used to create a cocoon of clean air around the entire 26 km race course, enabling over 35,000 runners to participate in the event in cleaner air.
“The event was two days after Dussehra so there was a huge spike in pollution levels. And to top that, crop stubble burning from Haryana, Punjab and even from across the border in Pakistan made it even worse,” says Sola. “The PM2.5 levels had been around 180 the whole week, which is really high. However, the level came down to 60 the morning before the race – a huge reduction. Athletes interviewed later did not complain of throat irritation, which has come to be expected of these events. This is an example of what can be done with this device in real life,” he adds.
Climate of change
Although the company received a lot of financial and technical support during its R&D phase – be it from scientists, engineers, funding agencies, government, private players, industry or the academia – going forward, it is largely on a self-funded path, albeit with sufficient help from well-wishers who have seen that the technology actually works.
The challenge for the company today has been to manage a sudden rush of orders.
“We have a lot of orders now, so focus is on meeting that challenge of providing a lot of orders while maintaining a high level of quality,” says Sola. “These are all customized technologies for each customer’s requirements and can take up to four weeks for delivery,” he adds.
Devic Earth has also been planning international sales starting this year for which it will look at additional funding.
“Our plan is to work in the domestic market for 2018-19, and go global by mid. We will start with international markets in the region – Singapore, the Middle East, South Asia, South-Central Asia and by the fourth quarter of 2019, we plan to hit North American and European markets as well. This will be followed by China, Japan and Australia,” says Sola.