A new source of drinking water: fruit and vegetables

Dr Bruce Kambouris explains how he managed to "grow water" for drinking and for industrial usage, offering a sustainable solution to one of the most pressing problems of our times

The bottle is crystal clear, as is its content. The label reflects the current trends in graphic design – clear lines, simple big, bold capital letters, the full hipster aesthetic. It reads “BOTANICAL WATER MADE FROM 100% FRUIT & VEGETABLES.”

The bottle – and the concept – has begun finding its place among the other crystal clear bottles, sporting the label ‘source water’, ‘mineral water’, or even ‘glacier water’. Now to these we have ‘botanical water’ – and we have Dr Bruce Kambouris to thank.
The Mildura-based scientist has managed to come up with a way to turn waste water from fruit and vegetable processing into drinking water – a premiup product that is gaining awards and finding its way to exquisite restaurants and shops; more importantly, the technology he’s invented can be used for industrial water usage, responding to one of the world’s biggest challenges: water shortage.

“I am a trained chemical engineer, and I also have a PhD in medical sciences,” Dr Kambouris says, as a way of introduction.

“I was working in the wine industry as a chemist. It was then that I noted that, as we were concentrating grape juice, we would virtually remove three quarters of the volume of grape juice in order to get grape juice concentrate, and the predominant component of juice that was removed was water in order to make the concentrate economical enough to package, store and transport for later use. That’s where I came up with the idea.”

The idea was to make use of the liquid removed from the concentrated juice, tons of water from carrots, apples, pears, grapes, sugar juice and even tomatoes – virtually any fruit – that would be otherwise thrown away. “How good good it be to make water out of this particular fraction? Drinking juice was a good idea, why not drinking water from fruit and vegetables?”

The seed was sown. But from inception to actually putting an idea into action, it is a different process.

“An idea is so difficult to convert into commercial reality,” says Dr Kambouris. “I had a very high-paid job, a senior position in the wine industry, which I relinquished to pursue this. I just went out there, knocking on doors, trying to find people who can assist me in this newfound idea.”

This proved to be “extremely difficult.” People loved Dr Kambouris’ idea, but were not very eager to actually invest in it. Finally, Dr Kambouris found a partner in one of the biggest carrot growers in the country – Rocky Lamattina and Sons.

“They gave me the opportunity to work in their factory free of charge, to develop the concept at a laboratory level, to develop a commercial application for it. I did all that in their factories and hence offered them a small percentage of the company.

It is out of the Lamattina facilities that this new source of water was created, out of discarded fruit and vegetables – the ones deemed ‘too ugly’ to be sold in a supermarket.

“If a carrot is bent is thrown out,” Dr Kambouris says. “All of a sudden, we make full use of these ugly vegetables, not only to make juice but also to make water. We crush the carrots we make juice out of the carrot we concentrate the juice and what we remove from the juice is cleaned further to make it portable, storable water so we make full use of the juice. Besides, the pulp of the carrot is then fed to animals, so that we can actually use 100 percent of the vegetable. We are using the produce far more efficiently and this is also good for the environment, because you don’t discharge as much waste as you would have.”

The success of the procedure, led to more partners coming along. “I was fortunate enough to come across a multinational CEO and wealthy individual by the name of Mr David Driver who allowed me, with his money, to move to the initial commercial steps, to produce the water and release it in small quantities to the market,” Dr Kambouris says. “That gave us basically commercial presence with an actual product and from there the objective was to educate people that this concept existed.”

“The other change was that Terry and Spiro Paule, who are the owners, founders and – respectively – Chairman and CEO of the FindexGroup, have entered into my business and in a short time managed to get support from the Woolworths group and we’re about to go nationally with the Aqua Botanical bottled water. They managed to secure general distribution throughout Australia this is about to start in the following weeks.

“Furthermore we started exporting into China recently. The Chinese have really taken to the concept of botanical water and we’re in the process of making an arrangement to export large amounts to China, which of course represents a huge market. They are also putting down large investments to set up a new facility, possibly in Melbourne. On top of that, we started initial discussions with a huge Japanese beverage maker and distributor who has enormous interest in this botanical water.”

Dr Bruce Kambouris, between his partners, David Driver, left, and Terry Paule, right.

To say things are going well for the newly established brand on an international level is an understatement. Success has been documented in a series of International Beverage Innovation Awards that helped made Aqua Botanical known to the global industry. “We won four years back to back in the international arena, awards for ‘best water concept’ or ‘more sustainable water’, so all the big bottlers globally know about this botanical water; this seems to be an accelerating process for this small business that I have established,” Dr Kambouris says.

Making premium quality drinking water is one thing, but people need – and use water in almost all daily activity. Particularly in industry, water is used in various operations. Dr Kambouris quickly realised that his method could be really useful to meet the needs of juice factories and sugar mill processsors to become self-sufficient in providing themselves with factory water.
“I’m about to go to India,” he says, describing how he got to work with the sugar industry in the country – the second largest sugar producer in the world, but also a country which is the poorest in the world when it comes to water per head of population, the volume of fresh water is critically low and leads to disease and deaths even from children. “They use something like 120 tonnes of water an hour in one factory,” he explains. “You can imagine that the sugar industry is competing with direct use of water versus human existence, human life.

This has led the development of the company’s philanthropic arm, Botanical Water Foundation, aiming to give back to the needy of the world, by sharing the know-how and making the equipment that produces free, clean drinking water to communities.

“So, we have now started doing pilot studies with equipment in India, with the prospect of 9-12 sugarmills instantly taking on the technology to produce operations water and also drinking water.

Apart from the obvious benefits in ‘growing’ water to meet specific needs, the technology is also cost-effective. “This was a collateral advantage,” Dr Kambouris explains. “In concentrating juices we can actually reduce the cost of the final product enormously by saving electricity. The multiple effect evaporators used to create concentrate juice are big guzzlers of power, they need to heat the juice up to 70-80 degrees under vacuum in order to remove the water. The company we are working with in India is concentrating in just one facility nearly 320 tonnes of sugar juice per hour. If you imagine 320,000 litres of juice heated up to the higher temperature, just imagine how much power is required to do that. With our technology, we can preconcentrate the juice to 50 per cent to what the evaporator can do, we can remove half the quantity of the water in that 320,000 litres at 1/9th of the cost of an evaporator. At that point, we can take out water for our boilers which use about 80 tonnes per hour and use the water for drinking or operations requirements. That business suddenly has a lot of people interested in finding out about the technology. By adopting this technology of ours, not only are they reducing pollution to the environment but they are also going to be able to offer a new source of drinking water. Suddenly it does have a greater impact than just bottled water. It’s going to be a source of water that will not only will satisfy the increased demand that the globe is going to have for water and help in the water crisis the world is going through and is unlikely to recover from.”

Australia has been through a water crisis of its own, recently. Dr Kambouris is adamant that his idea of “growing water from vegetables” could benefit both the farming and food processing industry in the country. “This is why I’m attracting the Queensland sugar mills,” he says, explaining that sugar mills produce large quantities of ‘botanical’ water in a very short period of time. “Another option they have is using existing technology that can put all the excess water underground into our aquifers so that we could replenish them, storing this water for the factories, so in the off seasons, where they may want to grow more sugar canes, they can redeem this water from the aquifers.

So the water we’re going to be putting there will be drinking water quality, that can be used for harvesting. It has a positive environmental impact.”

It’s not only companies that are taking to this method, but governments too. “In a short period of time we’ve had the government of Fiji approach us in order to discuss implementing the technology,” Dr Kambouris says.

But what about Australia?

Dr Kambouris says that there has been some interest in the product by Canberra, but only on a consummer level.

“The Parliament House in Canberra has ordered Aqua Botanical water, which is great, but I wish they could seriously think of this product,” he says. “It is so important for us. We are a large farming country, we have got lots of sugar mills and we’re very dry. I estimate that we have about 10 billion litres of this water which can be used.

I hope that there is a politician reading your paper and saying: wow, what a great concept!”