BOSTON GLOBE: Out of Boston, Three Innovators On a Quest to Provide Drinkable Water
Poseidon Water, MIT’s Amos Winter, and Oasys Water are developing crucial desalination projects and technologies.
The world is a thirsty place. In many parched lands, including parts of the United States, desalination technologies are helping turn sea water and brackish ground water into clean water for drinking, bathing, and irrigation.
These three Greater Boston companies are innovating improvements to boost the scale and improve the efficiency of a process that delivers one of life’s essential needs.
Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant provides about 10 percent of the fresh water for San Diego County. (GREGORY BULL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Behold the King of All Desalination Plants
No one will ever accuse Poseidon Water of thinking small. In 2015, the Boston company finished a three- year project building a $980 million desalination plant for San Diego County in Carlsbad, California, now the largest facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The plant, which began operation last December, desalinates about 50 million gallons of sea water every day.
The facility, owned and managed by Poseidon, now provides the county with about 10 percent of the fresh water it consumes and has become a focus of debate in parched California. Are the ocean and huge desalination plants a good way to help the state solve its growing water crisis?
In fact, Poseidon is in the final permitting phase for a similar size $1 billion plant in Huntington Beach, California, and other, smaller desalination projects are under discussion in the state.
Some environmentalists had bitterly opposed the Carlsbad plant, arguing it would use too much electricity to operate and increase carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.
Others have complained about its cost and the additional $5 a month water customers will be paying under a 30-year contract between Poseidon and San Diego County.
But Poseidon Water chief executive Carlos Riva says the United States and the world will soon need to take dramatic action to avert potentially severe shortages of fresh water in the future. He believes that will require a combination of water conservation, new desalination plants, and other steps, such as water reclamation, i.e., cleaning sewer water.
“We’re going to need new water sources,” says Riva. “This plant could serve as an important model moving ahead.”
Venturing into New Treatment Territory
There’s more the one way to help address the world’s need for drinkable water.
Traditional desalination technologies normally push contaminated water at tremendous pressure through membrane filters that catch and collect undesirable materials. But Oasys’s technology, originally developed at Yale University, effectively pulls “abused” water across a series of hair-thin membranes, made of polyamide materials, cleansing them in the process.
Employing 60 people, Oasys says its desalination method reduces the cost and energy required to recover potable water from highly contaminated industrial waste water. Among the firm’s commercial customers are large water users such as power plants, mining companies, textile manufacturers, and oil and gas drilling companies, including North American hydraulic fracking firms. Last year, Oasys Water, which holds dozens of patents on its technologies, continued its aggressive push into new markets in Asia and the Middle East.
Oasys isn’t profitable yet, but executives at the venture capital-financed company expect its revenues to hit $7 million to $10 million this year. They forecast the firm to be profitable within a few years.
“We’re changing the water treatment game around the world,” says Jim Matheson, president and chief executive of Oasys. “We believe we’re doing a very important thing: restoring our water supplies.”