Legatum Fellow Spotlight: Shreerang Chhatre
Nov 18, 2010
Shreerang's work as a Legatum Fellow focuses on the use of fog harvesting to address the shortage of clean drinking water in India. A PhD-CEP candidate in Chemical Engineering and an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan, Shreerang explains how his water harvesting devices will operate and how his doctoral research informs his work.
By Shreerang Chhatre, 2010-2011 Legatum Fellow
Access to adequate supplies of clean drinking water is a major concern in many parts of the developing world. Large populations living in the arid parts of such countries depend either on groundwater, which is not suitable for drinking, or water supplied by tankers, which is expensive and intermittent. Water collection from fog harvesting has a huge potential to locally satisfy the need for a pure and dependable supply of water.
My doctoral research involves understanding the impact of surface wettability and surface texture on designing oleophobic (oil-repellent) surfaces. I plan to apply my theoretical understanding of surface wetting phenomena to predict and enhance the efficiency of fog harvesting devices. The basic principles of my research on designing oleophobic surfaces can be extended to optimize fog harvesting devices (a prototype device in my lab at MIT is shown in Figure 1). This allows me to apply my research to a real world problem and to help people alleviate water scarcity in their community.
In the next few months, I plan to initiate a pilot scale project using standard fog collectors to evaluate the suitability of the location for fog capture. Pilot scale fog harvesting projects have been carried out in western South Africa, Namibia and Nepal. Much of India has similar climate, terrain and wind patterns. Due to this similarity and the large size of the Indian market, I would like to initiate the venture from India.
Even in the arid parts of the country, the appearance of fog in the early morning is common. Fog is a completely untapped water resource. Fog harvesting provides an opportunity to “produce” water locally for rural communities, which will reduce the stress on groundwater. Moreover people will have a chance to own their water collection and distribution system.
The proposed water harvesting devices have no moving parts and do not need any power to operate. These devices will be made up of locally manufactured polymer meshes and other textile materials. The construction will not require heavy capital equipment and it will employ local unskilled labor. The carbon footprint of such devices will be substantially smaller than traditional truck-based transport which is highly carbon intensive. Also, an insignificant amount of the total fog will be harvested; therefore “depletion” of the fog is not perceivable over a reasonable time scale. Finally, fog harvesting will reduce the withdrawal rate from ground water sources, maintaining the sustainability of the water tables.
I am currently a PhD-CEP candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering and an MBA candidate at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. I hold a B. Tech. and a M. Tech. in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay. I received the Institute Gold Medal for being the highest ranked student among the Dual Degree class of 2007.
Figure 1: A prototype device collecting fog in a lab experiment at MIT
This article appeared in the Legatum Center's Fall 2010 newsletter.