India’s cities are growing, and fast. Currently, 377 million Indians live in cities, most of which have inadequate sewage treatment capacity. Instead, as was common in the West not too many decades ago, untreated sewage finds its way down the path of least resistance – i.e., into the nearest river or stream. The result is devastating to the environment and to the health of the poor, with billions of dollars spent on treating extremely preventable illnesses.
Two entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to tackle this problem: Anisha Shankar, an Indian from Seattle, and Mario Varon, a Colombian from Baranquilla, Colombia. They’ve teamed up to form Tansa Clean, a company on a mission to transform sanitation in India.
Solving a problem of this magnitude is a daunting challenge. The government of India is building sewage treatment plants, but not fast enough. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pushing for more and better toilets, but upon that success, the problem of processing the sewage still remains.
What then can two entrepreneurs do to make a difference?
Shankar and Varon talked to the wide variety of companies which touch the waste stream, and found a point of leverage. Specifically, they found that a large amount of waste is collected in septic tanks, which are regularly emptied by vacuum tanker trucks. At the same time, they found that a growing number of anaerobic biodigesters are being built across India, processing agricultural waste and animal waste, turning waste into renewable energy and pathogen-free compost.
The plan at Tansa Clean is to redirect the tanker trucks to the biodigesters. Human waste works just as well as animal waste in those processors, which work even better when both animal and plant wastes are mixed together. The gas produced in the process can be converted into electricity and can replace compressed natural gas in cars and trucks. This plan, thus, will both stop sewage from being dumped, and will turn that waste stream into energy, with enough value to make this plan fiscally sustainable and scalable.
Tansa Clean is partnering with a biodigester operator in the state of Maharashtra in India to test this system. They’ll create a network of vacuum truck operators who will make deliveries and they’ll measure gas and compost outputs.
To finance the test, Tansa Clean is running a $20,000 campaign on Indiegogo. Early traction is good, reaching 19 percent of their goal in just 11 days, which caught the attention of Alaska philanthropists Robin Smith and Eric McCallum. Smith and McCallum have taken a common page from philanthropic fundraising, challenging Tansa Clean to raise $5,500 by midnight of October 20th at which time, they’ll kick in a $2,000 contribution.