Keeping it Fresh: Gradiant’s Claim to Fame

If you talk to Prakash Govindan about Gradiant Corporation and what it does, you’ll notice that he sounds like a proud father – and he has every right to be, as the company’s co-founder and CTO.

Founded out of MIT, Gradiant Corporation owes its success to its two founders, Prakash Govindan and Anurag Bajpayee. Under their leadership, the company has grown internationally with headquarters in USA and Singapore, three operating subsidiaries: Gradiant Energy Services, Gradiant China, and Gradiant India and over 200 global patents.

According to Dr. Govindan, Gradiant specialises in innovation and R&D, and provides unique solutions in three general areas: Desalination/Brine Concentration, Clarification, and Disinfection. Dr. Govindan spoke to his flagship technology Carrier Gas Extraction which he developed out of MIT while a student there and his newest technology Counter Flow Reverse Osmosis, which was invented in-house at Gradiant:

“Our award-winning flagship technology, Carrier Gas Extraction (CGE), replicates nature’s rain cycle within a controlled humidification dehumidification system for industrial application. It’s hyper-efficient in terms of cost and footprint, and uses a marginal amount of thermal energy to produce freshwater from wastewater and saline streams.

The second more recent desal-focused method, Counter-flow reverse osmosis (CFRO) will be a game-changer as well. Reverse osmosis (RO) technology is widely applicable for seawater, brackish waters and tap water, but is limited in terms of the amount of reject produced. The amount of reject is proportional to the amount of freshwater generated, most can only produce 50-60 per cent freshwater from the wastewater or seawater coming in.”

For clients, this is not enough. “50 per cent freshwater production rate is insufficient for a wastewater treatment system,” explains Govindan. “With CFRO we solved that problem by taking it to the saturation limit of salt – if you take it any further it’ll produce solid salt. We broke that barrier with an innovative thermodynamic approach allowing us to apply RO to produce freshwater.”

Gradiant’s two founders, Anurag Bajpayee (left) and Prakash Govindan (right)

Looking to the future, Gradiant aims to include electrochemical-based techniques to its repertoire, along with membrane techniques with an emphasis on developing ceramic membranes for bioreactors. Electrochemical reactions will be especially welcome in sectors such as the textile industry, as the reaction will be able to remove specific dyes and compounds, and is expected to be more cost-friendly and efficient compared to bulk removal techniques.

As for the ceramic membranes, Govindan expects that the technology will help to drastically extend the life of industrial applications: “Normally, a polymeric MBR membrane will last a year before it has to be replaced. We’re in the early stages of our R&D, but we’re looking to increase the lifespan to six or seven years.”

All this, he adds, will aid in Singapore’s drive to close the loop in water usage and recycling, ultimately fulfilling the country’s green objectives and easing the strain of water consumption.

“Singapore is a country focused on moving toward zero-waste and self-sufficiency not only in waste management, but water management. Singapore has invested heavily in municipal water. At this point every drop of water – domestic, not industrial – is being used two to three times through reusing, recovering, and recycling. Now the country is looking to solve industrial wastewaters by investing in companies that develop technologies focused on zero-waste within the business sector. Innovative solution providers such as Gradiant, with our upcoming technologies and existing products, can help achieve the nations objective by closing the loop in zero liquid discharge (ZLD).

If you look at today, the picture is not as dire in terms of the water situation in Singapore, but fast forward to 2040, Singapore is going to be water-stressed again. Water being used by industries is where the savings will be moving forward.”

Thanks to modern innovations, ZLD and minimum liquid discharge (MLD) technologies exist in the market. However, Govindan points out that there are several obstacles to closing the loop: “Generally, ZLD/MLD technologies have been extremely expensive. If there’s $100 million to be invested in a ZLD system, it is hard for a water management level person to get approval from executives to put that in the budget, because that’s not a revenue-generating product. Innovations like CGE and CFRO can bridge that gap, making that cost of water competitive with the cost of water the client is procuring and the cost they have by discharging.

The barrier has been overall cost of water and upfront investment, but quite honestly it has also been not enough regulatory drivers. Every single industry wants to become sustainable, and wants to have that circular economy within their mission and philosophy. In other words, they have to do ZLD. Disposal methods are becoming saturated. The earth is a finite body – we often think of it as infinite, but it’s not.”

In dealing with the financial aspect with ZLD/MLD technology, Gradiant seems to have an advantage against its competitors in terms of pricing. When asked how the company keeps its cost of its products and technologies lower than its competition, Govindan attributes it to Gradiant’s focus on R&D.

“We have fundamentally different products, fundamentally new innovations, we’re coming up with better ways of treating water. That’s what it comes down to, and at the end of the day I’d say it’s as fundamental as hiring a team which can do all that. Why we come up with more and more ground-breaking solutions is that we can at the same time grow our operational impact.”

Whatever Gradiant’s strategy, it appears to be working. According to Govindan, Gradiant Energy Services had only 10 employees when it started out in late 2016. Now, the subsidiary has grown to 120 employees.

For all the success that Gradiant has enjoyed, however, Govindan remains unfazed. In fact, he’s more than happy to admit he’s a self-labelled nerd, when sharing how Gradiant’s name came to be: “I wrote my PhD thesis studying the fundamental driving forces which drive the extraction of freshwater from saline water. Those driving forces are gradients of temperature and concentration, and mathematically, a gradient of concentration is written as ∆N, and a temperature gradient is written as ∆T, so we named the company GRADI∆NT.”