First Stop Delhi: Observations from student Aaron Hanson

Blog post by Aaron Hanson, University of Minnesota

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The traffic! Riding in Delhi traffic is the most eye opening wild experience. I see now why so many researchers focus on transportation issues. The calm amongst the chaos is to me a beautiful example of coexistence. Our fearless leader Dr. Anu Ramaswami can be seen here on the left and some of the following pictures.

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The first week of this trip is to study urban infrastructure and compare centralized and decentralized systems to determine what makes for a more sustainable city.


In a city of 17 million people a water treatment plant (WTP) that serves approximately 18% is a civil engineering marvel. The Degremont plant in Delhi has the capacity to treat 635 million gallons of water per day. It is the largest in India, and it is impressive to say the least.

Pictures from centralized WTP

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I have been fortunate to visit with township developers on this trip that are implementing building or block scale electricity generation, and sewage treatment plants (STP). At first glance these seem to have an advantage over the centralized systems that are frequently under or oversized. The first of these that we visited has diesel generator (DG) sets operating for electricity in each block of buildings, and a waste water treatment plant located below it in the lower of two basement levels that provides the cooling water for the generators before being used as toilet flush water and to water the landscaping.

Pictures from township 1 DG sets

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Pictures from township 1 STP

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The Guar City township site we visited next has a zero waste initiative where they are composting organic trash for fertilizer. This fertilizer is used in landscaping and offered to the residents at no cost for house plant soil. Much like the first site we visited, they have integrated an onsite sewage treatment plant for each block of residential buildings and the treated water here is also used for landscaping and toilet flush water. In this township they have established a modular STP system that can be multiplied as the occupancy increases. The Guar City buildings are being built on the Indian Green Building Council gold level platform. This will include rooftop solar power generation as well as solar water heating and many other energy efficiency features.

Pictures from Guar City STP

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Follow up questions for Guar City

-What are they doing with the non-organic trash?

-Will there be any electric storage capacity for solar generation?

More features like these can be found at the township designed by the BESTECH compay.

Pictures from BESTECH designed township

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While these systems look very promising for the township developments there is still a need for the centralized STP systems in the single family housing areas. As of now only a percentage of existing homes’ sewage discharge is being treated. For the homes without connection to a STP the untreated sewage is being sent down the Yamuna River. To say it plainly; the situation stinks!

Pictures from centralized STP

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This combined with the raw water extraction for the WTP being done upstream of Delhi is killing this river. Some insight of local cultures’ reverence for rivers seems to contradict the mal treatment of the Yamuna. This history of cultural river reverence could be a fulcrum for change if the problem is framed correctly.

Pictures from Yamuna River

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Today we met with the Indian Green Building Council after which we toured one of the most energy efficient and highest indoor air quality buildings in the world. This is accomplished with a method of cycling the ventilation through the attic greenhouse that is filled with specially selected plants that help scrub carbon and volatile organic compounds out of the air as it passes through. Special hydroponic pots help to double the effect by cycling the air through the roots of the plants as well.

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Black buggers and coughing… reminds me of the stories people would tell me when they visited Los Angeles back in the 90’s. At breakfast this morning I noticed a number of people had runny noses and where coughing a bit. These mild symptoms are telltale signs of the larger heath issues stemming from the air quality problems in Delhi.

Happy New Years! Today was a day to finally catch up on some rest and relaxation. Mauricio and I treated ourselves to some good ole fashion Americanized Asian food at Benihana for lunch. The real treat though was dinner at Oh! Calcutta; a recommended Indian fine dining experience with Mauricio, Halston, Jill, Kate, Katja, and Amrish, from left to right respectively.


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