FORBES: Ex-Topgun CEO Pilots Water Treatment Startup Into $36 Billion Fracking Industry
At the same time as global demand for freshwater soars, surging industrial processes have made it more toxic than ever. It’s estimated that by 2030, the world’s freshwater demand will outstrip supply by 40%. Jim Matheson, an ex-Navy fighter pilot and TOPGUN Instructor thinks his company’s solution for treating wastewater from fracking – high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale – could have widespread applications in an increasingly thirsty world.
Matheson became a partner at Flagship Ventures after he turned in his wings as a fighter pilot. He became so interested in Boston-based Oasys Water, an upstart in a conservative market with very few pure-play companies, that he left Flagship to be its CEO in 2012.
Using technology developed at Yale, Oasys uses a process called forward-osmosis to clean the water. The proprietary draw solution comprised of thermolytic salts to naturally draw fresh water across a patented semi-permeable membrane which leaves unwanted salts and contaminants behind. The mixture of draw solution and fresh water is then heated to change the phase of the draw solution solute from liquid to vapor, leaving behind fresh, potable water.
At the moment Oasys is focused on the $36 billion fracking market, because huge quantities of contaminated wastewater – containing salt, chemicals as well as low levels of radiation – are produced as a byproduct. In Pennsylvania for instance, contaminated water is usually either reused in the fracking process or transported in trucks to states like Ohio or West Virginia to be pumped back underground. Oasys is positioning itself to offer a cheaper and safer alternative to trucking the water out of state.
It’s won some notable contracts both domestically and further afield. In December 2013 Oasys inked a two-year licensing agreement with oilfield services giant National Oilwell Varco NOV +2.2%. In China, Oasys signed a deal with Beijing Woteer Water Technology to use Oasys to treat cooling tower blowdown from power plants.
“For every barrel of oil or gas, you get three or four barrels of water,” explained Matheson. The ‘produced’ water from fracking is a particularly ‘difficult’ water says Matheson. It is usually 10-15% salt, compared to seawater which is about 3% salt.
“Our attitude is, the more difficult the water the better,” says Matheson. The company’s got its eye on the UK market as it expands its shale industry as well as the Middle East, where industrial activity is depleting reservoirs.
Oasys has raised a total $35 million funding over two rounds. Revenue for 2013 was between $7-10 million says Matheson, who thinks that will double or triple year on year, with hopes of an eventual IPO in around 2016.