MAKING BIG WAVES: AquaBotanical is the brainchild of Sunraysia inventor Dr Bruce Kambouris. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

A LITTLE more than two years ago, an inventor had an idea to produce purified drinking water from vegetable matter, and put the plan into action at a little-known location in Koorlong.

The result of this cleverly inventive mind, combined with state-of-the-art technology, was the creation of an award-winning Botanical water.

The brainchild of inventor and scientist Dr Bruce Kambouris, AquaBotanical was born through a process that enables naturally occurring water from locally grown fruit and vegetables to be harvested at the same time as juice concentrate is manufactured.

The globally-patented process entails the extraction and utilisation of every available drop of water contained in fruit and vegetables, with everything from carrots to grapes being used to capture the nectar-of-life in a sustainable way.

As the company’s website boasts: “We’ve proudly created a new, sustainable source, Botanical water!”

Consumption of bottled water around the world has been increasing exponentially and a major shortage is looming.

In 2012, the global consumption amounted to 288 billion litres and was forecast to reach 391 billion litres by 2017.

Mexico has the highest per-capita consumption of bottled water in the world, amounting to almost 245 litres.

While the demand for fresh water is growing, the availability is reducing, with underground aquifers being depleted around the world as consumption of bottled water rises.

It was against this backdrop that Dr Kambouris developed a process that could purify surplus water created during the juice extraction process from fruit and vegetables.

“Water is becoming a critical issue for our future,” he said.

“India for example has the lowest available supply of fresh water per head of population in the world.

“They also happen to be the second largest sugar cane producers, and I have had discussions with government officials in India about the possibility of extracting water from sugar cane, which can be done without affecting the sugar yield.”

Based on current sugar cane production in India, it is estimated that 60 billion litres of drinking water could be harvested.

Water can be harvested from any fruit or vegetable, but as Dr Kambouris points out, the primary use of the produce is unaffected by this process.

“We don’t just go ahead and damage an orange or a carrot to make water, that would be nonsense and counterproductive,” he said.

“The actual process itself ‘taps’ into companies that are already producing juice and juice concentrates, and now the sugar industry represents a big opportunity to be a part of this as well.

“Around the world there is the potential to bottle a trillion litres, and this technology is the key to unlocking that availability of fresh water.”

So how do the economics of this technology stack up? According to Dr Kambouris, very well.

“The juice factories run anyway, and their main aim is to reduce the juice volume by taking out predominately water, creating a concentrate which is then packaged for export and local distribution,” he said.

“Until now, there was virtually no use for this water, which is effectively water with slight traces of juice, which would otherwise be discharged into the environment as waste.

“My technology cleans this water up, purifying it into a sugar free, stable product that is the purest water available.

“What we have done is to create a new, sustainable source of water globally, and it’s estimated that more than one trillion litres can be produced around the world using this technique, and this can be achieved in most countries where fruit and vegetables are grown.”

AquaBotanical is making big waves around the world, and has been the recipient of some major awards that recognise the significance of this new technology and the sustainability of the product.

Shortly after the product made its debut, it won the 2015 Food Industry Innovation Award and was the only Australian finalist at the Global Bottled Water Awards (GBWA).

In 2016 the company was awarded ‘Best New Water Concept’ and ‘Best Sustainability Initiative’ at the GBWA in Prague.

The awards attracted more than 100 entries from 25 countries in 11 categories, demonstrating creativity, innovation, marketing, community initiative and environmental best practice, and were presented by specialist consultants to the food and drink industries worldwide, Zenith International.

The event organiser said: “It is a wonderful achievement for a start-up Australian business to have won these awards and it demonstrates that in the current, highly competitive market, such as consumer goods, a relatively small player like this can be successful on a global level.”

Earlier this year AquaBotanical was back in the spotlight again, this time in Germany, where they collected another two accolades in similar categories, at the ‘Zenith Innobev’ Awards.

AquaBotanical is processed and bottled at the Lamattina Beverages factory in Koorlong.

The plant produces high-quality fruit juices and concentrates for export and local consumption and is a technological show-place of modern processing and packaging equipment, situated in a massive warehouse.

“Effectively, we make full use of the fruit and vegetables during the process of concentrating the juice we derive water in parallel, which makes the process extremely efficient, at the end of the process the residual pulp is then used to feed animals, or is returned to the land,” Dr Kambouris said.

“Market research shows that consumers believe water derived from fruit and vegetables is a cleaner, healthier product than water that has been recycled or brought up from underground.

“In Australia we have the potential to produce more than 10 billion litres of water annually via this process, and market research carried out in China, Japan and Indonesia tells us that our reputation for producing clean, green produce, means that there is strong interest and acceptance of this water in those countries.

The product contains more than 70 naturally occurring mineral trace elements, and in the case of the sparkling version, carbonation is added, together with some additional minerals.

Australian-owned, AquaBotanical positions itself as a super-premium brand which comes encased in a stylish, blue-glass bottle, and was first introduced to the market in fine dining establishments in Melbourne and Sydney.

Since then, its distribution has grown enormously, and the product is now available in supermarkets and restaurants across Australia, including Mildura.

AquaBotanical is produced in two bottle sizes, 330ml and 750ml and is available as a still and sparkling water.

“We already grow to eat, now we are growing to drink,” Dr Kambouris said.

The potential for international sales is also being realised, with a number of global specialists taking notice of the product following its success at  international awards.

“It was interesting to have our European friends and several large overseas companies saying, “Where is Australia in the water business, and where on Earth is Mildura, expressing amazement that this product was coming from here,” he said.

“All of a sudden the branding is in between Coke and Pepsi, and I’ve had people from New York come and see me talking about joint-venture opportunities.”

Dr Kambouris has a small team of five people working alongside him, including marketing and distribution experts.

Naturally, the commercial implication for the technology is enormous, and the technology patents have triggered the interest of a number of multinational companies with global brands, who are keen to embrace the potential the technology offers.

Dr Kambouris is at heart an inventor, and he showed me a number of other innovative products which have application in the beverage industry, including an ingenuous bottle top, which is much more that just a cap.

It seems the sky’s the limit for this clever scientist who, fortunately for us, calls Sunraysia home.