In 1973 I graduated in Chemical Engineering from IIT Bombay. This was the year that the oil prices suddenly went up and signaled the impending oil crisis. The message I got was not to rely so much on non-renewable materials like oil, coal and gas but to develop applications that harness renewable resources such as biomass. Since conversion of biomass is probably the most effective way of harnessing the solar energy, I decided to make my career in utilizing waste organic resources.
My first opportunity was to be involved in the design and operation of an MSW composting project, processing 300 tons per day, for the city of Mumbai (then Bombay). Several such projects were promoted through the federal subsidies. All of these projects ultimately failed because there are no tipping fees in India and sale of compost alone does not make such operations commercially viable.
The above project, however, gave me good exposure to the problem of municipal solid wastes and the conventional techniques that are available. The conclusion of this experience, however, was that we need a natural, cost-effective and simple solution which can tackle waste organics in a decentralized way.
The solution came to my notice in the form of a two-page article, ‘The Importance of an Earthworm’, in the June 1981 issue of SPAN. I was engaged in farming during this period and was already disenchanted with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. With my background, I could see the earthworm as nature's farmer as well as composter. Without much help from literature or university study, I started some practical experiments with earthworms using the local species. The results were quite impressive and I started talking and writing about my discoveries. Other farmers, however, were following the guidelines set by the agricultural universities. These promoted use of agrochemicals in farming. These killed the earthworms.
I was encouraged, however, when the communications department of the University of Poona (Pune) showed an interest in making a video film based on my experience. This department also put a student to work on a Ph. D. in communicating the importance of earthworms to farmers. Several additional films were made. These were telecast through the national television network. This awakened the agricultural universities and they began serious research in the field.
To develop large-scale engineering applications, I registered in a Ph. D. program at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, in July 1987. The Ph.D. was completed in 1996. During this period, I developed the concept which I now call ‘Vermiculture Ecotechnology’ and tested it in several large scale demonstrations to process solid and liquid organic residuals generated by society and in industries. These demonstrations generated resources for the users, who also paid my consultancy fees by which I sustained my research over the past 30 years. These demonstrations have helped to change the prevailing attitude about organic residuals from one of seeing them as wastes to seeing them as resources. This resourceful attitude is probably the best motivating factor for change in this area. Environmental regulations, alone, may not be enough. The Central Pollution Control Board, the EPA of India, decided to promote vermiculture for solid and liquid waste organics utilization. In addition, several universities took up further research in engineering applications of ‘Vermiculture Ecotechnology’. Apart from a PhD, this work also produced Indian and American patents for me, shared jointly with IIT Bombay.
This technology went through continuous upgradation in view of practical experience that was generated over the years. The incentives were reduction in the start-up period and also reduction in foot-print area and cost of the process. It was also found that inorganics pose more serious challenges than the organics. Organics, in fact, fuel the process of treatment of inorganic pollution. The ratio 'organics/inorganics', in fact, gives a measure of treatment. This ratio gets spoiled in most of the conventional processes.
Eco-logic (www.wastetohealth.com/methodology_articles.html) that was developed during these years to ‘learn from nature’, helped me to develop a refined form of technology in 1996. It is called the ‘BIOSANITIZER Ecotechnology’ or BioSanitizer Ecochip technology.
This technology covers almost all the areas of human activities, including the industries. The technology can now handle toxic organics, inorganics, pathogens, pests and other pollution aspects.
BIOSANITIZER Ecotechnology does not involve separation of pollutants and their disposal elsewhere. Also, there is no change in the form of pollution. Hence there is no generation of greenhouse gases while we treat solid, liquid or gaseous wastes.
Saline and brackish water is conventionally treated through membranes. These produce a concentrated effluent that poses more pollution challenges. BIOSANITIZER, on the other hand, uses nature’s 4 billion years of evolutionary experience and produces treated water that still has the salts, but they are now more palatable. This action is similar to the coconut plant that gives tasty coconut water that has about 3,000 ppm salts. These are produced from the seawater. If a coconut plant is to grow away from the coastal area, it is a common practice to feed the plant with salt in calculated doses.
My three decades of journey, thus, is inspired by nature. I appeal you to go through this website through the articles that have been written by me, on invitation, for different occasions. The ‘Methodology’ articles give the way one can read the ‘books of nature’. Articles that follow are meant to discuss the diverse ‘Pollution to Resources’ conversion applications of the technology.