Renewable Water Technologies, the second-place finisher in the 2011 UH Business Plan Competition, yesterday held an open house to showcase their innovative solar-powered water desalination system.
Riley McGivern, project engineer for the team, gave me a quick demo and provided some insight into the progress that they’ve made and plan to make.
In a nutshell, their system heats freshwater in closed-loop solar thermal water heaters (similar to what you use on your home). Once the water is hot, it’s run through a series of heat exchangers and evaporators, which uses the hot water to heat incoming seawater. The pure H2O in the seawater evaporates out (just like in nature) and is then condensed into a cheap source of freshwater. Super-simple, cheap, and inexpensive, especially when compared with the typical reverse osmosis method of desalinization, which is extremely energy-intensive and costs about 50 cents per cubic meter (that’s 264 gallons) – after billions of dollars in plant construction costs.
“We’re continuing to test the technology while we pursue avenues for commercialization,” said McGivern. “We can currently produce about 20 gallons per day, but hope to hit ten-times that volume within a year. We’re also looking to ‘containerize’ the entire system, so that we can ship a complete system in a standard shipping container. This could be a great source of drinking water in disaster relief and humanitarian situations.”
John Chock, principal at Renewable Water Technologies, explained that the project is still very experimental, and that they aren’t quite yet at the stage of seeking venture capital.
“We’re looking for partners and have quite a few supporters,” explained Chock. “We’ve also received funding from Hawaii Technology Development Venture as part of their ‘dual use’ initiatives.”
It’s pretty impressive to see such an innovative approach to what could be one of the most-pressing issues of the next decades: access to fresh water for drinking and for agriculture. What’s great is that this technology was born and is being nurtured in Hawaii, and that’s a great inspiration to local entrepreneurs.