In Tunisia, the start-up DrillSERV has developed a solution to monitor groundwater variations using a mobile application. Its objective: to prevent the excessive use and depletion of water resources.
Created in 2018, the Tunisian start-up DrillSERV was initially a project to explore water resources in Tunisia. Co-founders Ahmed Aouiti and Hamza Essayeh then realized that there was a huge problem with accessibility of aquifer data and that they lacked real-time information.
In 2021, they released the prototype of their Ilma app. By means of sensors placed directly in the wells, his solution makes it possible to monitor the water table and prevent the risk of overexploitation of the water table. Ahmed Aouiti, geoscience engineer, talks about how his solution works.
Engineering Techniques: How does your groundwater monitoring solution work?
Ahmed Aouiti : Our project Ilma, which means “water” in Maltese, is made up of two entities. First, a piece of hardware with sensors that are placed directly in the customer’s well and a DS box to transfer the data to the application. Then, a piece of software, which is therefore the Ilma mobile application, which allows you to view the data in real time and warn the customer if there is a risk of overexploitation of the aquifer. Thus, if the app perceives a risk of depletion, it alerts the customer and, if he has access to the pump, it can automatically turn it off. Our solution also allows you to forecast available water resources in the short and long term.
What needs does your solution meet?
Today, in Tunisia, total water availability is around 400 cubic meters per capita per year, below the limit of 1,000 cubic meters per capita. The country has a shortage of water and it is necessary to have a more effective management of our groundwater.
Thanks to our solution, our customers can decide to stop using a well before the aquifer runs out, for example by using reserve wells or digging another hole. This limits the risk of unplanned downtime in factories, for example, which can cause losses of several thousand euros depending on the sector.
For farmers, especially in coastal regions like Sicily, our Ilma app also helps to avoid the risk of marine intrusion. It is overpumping that creates this seawater contamination of fresh water that has a detrimental effect on crops. With our solution, farmers are alerted if their well is overexploited and they can stop sooner. In France, for example, where the water table is relatively close to the ground, the water table is recharged mainly thanks to rainwater. If you pump too much, the water table will no longer have time to recharge and even rainwater will not be enough. The water table is running low and a new hole has to be dug, which is expensive.
Who is your solution for?
Our customers are farmers, water industries, agro-food products, dairy products, etc. Since last year, we have sold our solution to 127 customers in Tunisia. We are also trying to enter the African market with a subsidiary in Niamey, Niger, before entering the Mediterranean market. Indeed, with climate change, countries like Spain and Italy will soon suffer from water shortages.
Is your solution effective in combating water stress?
It helps to avoid waste, overexploitation and better manage resources. On the other hand, it cannot be a solution to water stress because the real problem is climate change. We are talking about a big problem and all of humanity must intervene, otherwise there will be more and more water shortages.
What are your plans with DrillSERV?
Our solution works with big data, so in order for our predictions to be more and more accurate, we want to collect more data. Then, we want to develop our start-up by marketing our solution in the Tunisian market, but also raising funds that allow us to improve our solution, invest in R&D, recruit permanent staff, etc. export our solution to international markets.
Is it easy to innovate in Tunisia?
Since the 2011 revolution, and more specifically since the 2018 startups law, the State has offered financial aid and tax benefits to entrepreneurs to carry out their innovation projects. However, accessing finance remains difficult and opportunities are few. For our part, we received aid from the State in 2019, but otherwise we operate with our savings. That’s why we organize our own fundraiser.
Interview by Alexandra Vépierre