Air pollution is a silent killer claiming one percent of the world’s population every year. A report by The Lancet Commission ranked India – with 2.51 million deaths – number 1 in pollution-related deaths, in 2015. And it isn’t just the national capital where the situation is alarming. Of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, six are in India.
Enter AirOK, an IIT-Madras incubated startup that has launched an indigenously developed smart air purifier, Vistar 550. Launched by three former IIT-Madras students – Deekshit Vara Prasad, Yasa Pavan Reddy and Vanam Sravan Krishna – the startup manufactures air purifiers that use a patent-pending technology to filter out major pollutants and gaseous substances.
The first-of-its-kind technology is completely indigenous and has seen wide uptake by businesses. Presently, AirOK supplies air purifiers to healthcare, real estate, hospitality, and IT sectors. Some units have also been delivered to homes in Delhi as well.
The case for AirOK purifiers
AirOK launched Vistar 550, a smart air purifier for the B2B segment, in July 2018. Using efficient granular absorbent particulate arrester (EGAPA), the purifier can filter out particulate matter, microbes, fungus, and gaseous substances (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide). The founders claim this is the only purifier at present capable of filtering this combination of pollutants.
Vistar 550 covers an area of 550 square feet, but AirOK also provides customised solutions for larger spaces. Vistar has a clean air delivery rate (CADR) of 480 m3 per hour, which is 10 percent more than the air purifiers available in the market. The filter can last for one year as opposed to commercial purifiers where HEPA filters have to be replaced twice a year.
A pilot test of this purifier was done at Child Trust Hospital in Nungambakkam. “It was very efficient in removing air-borne bacteria in the paediatric intensive care unit,” the hospital confirmed. After testing the product with Shriram Institute for Industrial Research, Bengaluru, the product was ready for launch. Just before launch, AirOK was approached by Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai, to help tackle pollution in the server room. Now, AirOK’s air purifier has repeat orders from Doordarshan.
“We have sold 120 units till now,” Deekshit says. Vistar 550 is also available online.
“We are also testing the air purifier with an automaker,” he says. Cars manufactured by the automaker will have an air purifier integrated into them. AirOK, which is focusing on cleaning up the air quality in kitchens, is also eyeing large public spaces where the ambient atmosphere is polluted.
“Our hotspot is Delhi,” says Pavan, who also heads AirOK’s marketing efforts. The response has been tremendous in the many expos and events that AirOK has participated in Delhi. Post-launch, sales are brisk in Delhi as well. The SAR group, which invests in clean technology and offers the Livpure brand, invested $2 million (Rs 12 crore) in AirOK in November 2017.
A home-grown startup
The Environmental Engineering Department at IIT-Madras was the ideation ground for the three founders. The trio was working on different projects, all related to air pollution. “When looking at solutions for air pollution control technologies, we wanted to develop one technology to counter all pollutants,” Deekshit says.
Sravan’s master’s project was developed into a prototype, which was approved by the IIT-Madras Incubation Cell for development as a product.
The founders developed three prototypes in 18 months and the IIT-Madras incubation cell invested Rs 5 lakh as seed fund and assessed the progress made. When the trio was able to develop a prototype using the seed money, the incubation cell helped the startup get a loan of Rs 30 lakh at a low rate of interest from the IIT-M Alumni Fund. Deekshit, Pavan and Sravan developed commercial prototypes using that money. “Fabrication of the design was the biggest challenge,” Deekshit says.
Sravan, who leads R&D efforts, came up with a unique sensor-based design to assess pollution levels on the go. The sensor switches the device on or off, depending upon the pollution level. The purifier has a circular shape, enabling 360-degree coverage.
Work on the startup began in April 2015 with an audacious dream: making the world’s air free from toxins and pollutants. Deekshit initiated work on the startup after working in an Indo-German project on air pollution technologies. He says, “I joined the project after my BTech. I didn’t want to follow the crowd, I wanted to do something different. I told my parents to give me two years to try something.”
The market and future
A report by market research firm ReportLinker states that rising disposable income, improving lifestyle, and worsening air pollution are driving market growth for air purifiers. “Growing affordability, rising hygiene concerns, the aspiration to lead a healthy lifestyle, and rapid decline in prices of air purifiers will further boost the growth of the market,” the report says.
According to a TechSci Research report, India Air Purifiers Market By Filter Type, By End User Sector, By Region & By Company Forecast and Opportunities, 2011-2021, the market for air purifiers in India is forecast to reach $209 million by 2021, due to rising awareness about the impact of indoor and outdoor pollution on human health and growing consumer awareness. Air purifier sales are expected to grow at 24 percent between 2018 and 2024, according to Bluewave Consulting.
Amazon India started delivering air purifiers online in 2015. Brands operating in the Indian market include Honeywell, Philips, Kent, LG, Sharp, Hindustan Unilever, Havells, Mi, and Usha Shriram. Home-grown brands include Crusaders, Dyson, and Purita. However, all of them use HEPA filters in contrast to AirOK.
As of now, different products to tackle air pollution are being tested in the AirOK laboratory. The startup aims to become the one-stop solution for all air pollution-related products developed indigenously, and the co-founders are working towards their grand vision of placing a giant air purifier in public spaces in India – something already in place in China. “Our mission is to help people counter air pollution and lead a pollution-free life,” Deekshit says.
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