Water is an incredibly scarce commodity. Hence, it becomes very crucial to re-treat, recycle and reuse every drop of spent water for industrial or domestic purposes .

Nivarutti Patil, our next pathbreaker, Water & Process Technologist at Suez-Water Technologies & Solutions, resolves problems mainly related to the water and wastewater domain by providing solutions to treat and re-use million liters of water every day.

Nivarutti talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his PhD related to treatment of waste-water and recovery of valuable components using membrane-based technology which is efficient in solving very stringent environmental problems.

For students, Chemical Engineers are those people who can provide better solutions and solve so many burning issues to save mother nature. Take it up if you want to contribute to the world economy and have a strong footprint in the market. 

Nivarutti, tell us about Your background?

I grew up in a small town in Jalgaon district, North Maharashtra. I was raised in a farmer family where I learned and practiced the traditional way to do farming from childhood. The traditional values of close family bond, living together, spirit of hard work and simple lifestyle became the core of my upbringing – the very same things I cherish most today. Everything about who I am comes from my family. It was a proud moment for my parents when their youngest child from the family who could manage to do education beyond 12th grade became a doctor. The field I chose (“Chemical Engineering”) as a career path was something new to me, but it is also close to farmers as it produces so many products useful for agriculture.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my graduation (2010) and post-graduation (2012) in Chemical Engineering from North Maharashtra University, Jalgaon. As a part of my postgraduate study, I was associated with National Chemical Laboratory, (NCL), CSIR, Pune for a year on a research project where I interacted for the first-time with renowned scientists and researchers. I could closely see the people who were dedicatedly working in science and technology. In this way my interest and journey started in research from the NCL, Pune. 

Further, I went on to do my PhD in Chemical Engineering at Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai. I learned a lot of new things in research from my “Guru”-PhD mentor and lab mates. The area I chose during my PhD was mainly related to Environmental Science where I got the opportunity to work on several industrial problems. We developed Membrane based solutions for water treatment for different industries.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?  

My role models, of course, are my parents, but the most influential people in my life are my teachers and PhD mentor who guided, supported and nurtured me throughout my career. The field I chose, “Chemical Engineering” is one of the most versatile streams and allows me to work in many different job roles, in a variety of industries as depicted below. 

My interest in research started from NCL, Pune. The research area that i further chose for my PhD work was related to environment science.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I chose Chemical Engineering as my field of graduation. In the beginning, I had no idea about this field. One of my friends suggested this field as a good career option because i could get an opportunity to work in different industries. During my 4 yrs at college, I learnt a lot, mainly concepts related to Heat and Mass Transfer, Thermodynamics, Chemical Reactions and Process Engineering which have practical applications in producing so many products such as Petroleum, Food, Cosmetics, Agricultural products and many more. Chemical Engineering is a vast career option and equips students with skills to solve issues related to different industries such as Refinery, Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Power, Nanoscience, Medical science, Food & Beverage, Water & WasteWater, Textile, Dye, etc. People always criticize Chemical Industries and Chemical Engineers for causing pollution (water, air, soil) and destroying nature. To some extent, that is true, but Chemical Engineers are those people who can provide better solutions and solve so many burning issues to save mother nature. Chemical Engineers contribute a lot to the world economy and have a strong footprint in the market. 

After my graduation I continued in the same field and did my Masters in Chemical Engineering. My masters program was designed in a such a way that the second year was completely dedicated to research work as a part of the masters thesis. I got ideas from my seniors particularly on where to go for research work in different organizations. I approached several scientists at NCL, Pune and got the opportunity to work at CEPD division (Chemical Engineering & Process Development). The research work assigned to me was “Simulation and Modeling of Catalytic Membrane-based Process” for hydrogen gas separation and purification. This field was completely new to me. I learned a lot from the scientists, mainly about various programing tools and how to simulate a model for any new process. This one-year experience at NCL, Pune helped me further to get an opportunity at ICT, Mumbai. The project was funded by Department of Science & Technology (DST) for around 4 years. I worked there around one year as “Research Fellow” and then continued on the same project work as part of my PhD. In this four year tenure, i worked extensively to develop solutions for different industrial problems. The project work was mainly related to treatment process of waste-water and recovery of valuable components using membrane-based technology. The membrane area chosen for this work was “supported liquid membrane”, one of the cutting-edge technologies which is efficient in solving very stringent environmental problems. Currently, this technology is in development stage and needs further research in order to make it economically viable. My PhD research work has been published in several peer review national/international journals and also presented in technical conferences.

During my PhD tenure I used to interact with so many experts in different domains. Value addition to your knowledge is possible by learning from other’s experiences rather than individual experiences. Most of my ideas about future career paths came after interaction with people in several technical conferences, workshops etc. Ultimately, everything pays off when you do your work with total integrity, discipline and dedication. I received several awards for the hard work I did in my research. European Membrane Society (EMS) members recognized my research work in one of the international conferences and honored me with the prestigious “European Membrane Society Award-2015” along with EMS membership and cash reward. The other memorable appreciation was from the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers (IIChE) in 2016 that bestowed upon me the “Outstanding Young Chemical Engineer Award-2016”, mainly for my contribution through research having social impact. This motivated me to further excel in my career in the same field.  

After spending almost 4 yrs in the membrane-based application field, I was looking for a job, particularly in the same field, which is a key area nowadays.  I got my first job at IIT Delhi as Sr. Project Scientist. My role there was to develop a membrane-based solution for the Sugar Industry. This project was funded together by Govt. of India & Pvt. Industry. Initially several trials were performed at IITD lab and then successfully demonstrated the capability on a Pilot scale at Daurala Sugar Mills, Uttar Pradesh. 

How did you get your first break?

After working around 1 year at IITD, I got an opportunity to work in the Water industry. I had appeared for the interviews in around 4 MNCs within a span of 2-3 months and luckily got job offers from all these companies. I chose the water sector and joined GE Water & Process Technology, Bangalore (currently SUEZ WTS). A few things I learned and that are very crucial in a career is to follow your interest and passion rather than money. Interview is not a skill to crack within a few hrs or in a day. It is all about your hard work and what was done in the past. 

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

It was an exciting journey starting from a school in a small town to a PhD at ICT Mumbai. I faced so many challenges – financial issues, language barriers (having studied in Marathi medium until 10th grade). But when you are genuine in your work, god always helps you at every step in life. My appetite to learn new things and support of my family, teachers gave me the strength to find a way and excel in my career.

During my PhD, I failed several times in my research work. My professor used to encourage me to do things in different ways, and finally success was on the way. That’s why so many accolades and awards were bestowed upon me, particularly for my research work.

I got rejected several times, even after clearing the final round of interviews for the job. I put in all efforts to grab the right opportunity. Finally, the day came when I had four offer letters at the same time from top MNCs in India. This was all because of god’s grace and the efforts I put in during my research.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

I work in the Water Industry R&D Centre as a Technologist. My job is to support customers and resolve problems mainly related to the water and wastewater domain. The core skills required to do this job is thorough knowledge in Chemical Engineering along with design of unit operations and unit processes.

My day normally starts with interaction with team members on customer problems, planning and execution of experiments in R&D lab. 

What I love most about my job is the contribution of my knowledge to mitigate environmental problems and resolve water crises.

How does your work benefit society? 

Every drop of water is important for every living species on earth due to the increasing water crisis. As per the report published by UNICEF, WHO (June 2019), 1 in 3 people globally do not have access to safe drinking water. Day by day water is becoming a burning issue due to increased population and urbanization, as well as demands from agricultural and industrial sectors. In most regions, available fresh water sources are already contaminated by humans either through domestic or industrial pollution. Hence, it becomes very crucial to re-treat, recycle and reuse the water for industrial or domestic purposes. As a water professional my duty is always to contribute knowledge for the society’s well being by resolving issues mainly related to the environment. We work in the water segment and provide solutions to treat and re-use million liters of water every day.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

The work done at IIT Delhi was remarkable. We successfully demonstrated the capability of a membrane-based solution from lab to pilot scale at the actual Sugar industry site. This was the first of its kind approach in the sugar industry to optimize the process and improve the sugar quality. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Follow your passion and your interest. Always choose your career wisely and what you like rather than what somebody insisted. 

Success is not just about getting a job after education but it’s also about all your hard work done in the past.

Everything pays off at the end if you are passionate about your work and perform tasks with total integrity and full efforts.

Learning can be more from the other people’s experiences than individual experience. 

Future Plans?

To contribute my knowledge more for the society’s benefit.