Getting fuel out of water

There's fuel in wastewater. Who knew?

DAVIS, Calif.--Here's a novel business plan. Prairie Village, Kansas-based Nowa Technology has come up with a wastewater treatment plant that sucks out materials from wastewater and some of these removed products can be consumed as a diesel additive. It depends on what's in your wastewater, but Nowa CEO Richard Nelson says you find the fuel there quite a bit.

You can mix it 50-50 with diesel and get about the same amount of energy as pure diesel, according to Nelson. (I ran into him in the hallway at the GoingGreen conference taking place here.) This is different than what Israel's BioPetrol is trying to accomplish. That company is applying the coal-to-petrol process on human sewage.

The unit costs $7 million and pays for itself in a few years, he added.

Water remains one of the growth areas in clean tech, but it doesn't nearly get as much focus as biofuels and solar power. One of the fears about the water market is that the main customers are slow-moving municipalities.

That's a misperception, asserted Jeff Green, CEO of NanoH2O, a desalination company that grew out of research at UCLA; 70 percent of the water that gets used goes to agriculture while 20 percent goes to businesses. Many of these companies have their own private purification systems.

"We are trying to make desalination competitive," Green said. In urban centers, water sells for around 25 to 50 cents a cubic meter. Water run through standard desalination processes sells for 50 cents to $1 per cubic meter. Nanotechnology and new membranes will bring the price down, he said.

Another interesting water company at the show is WaterLink Systems, which studies weather patterns and conditions and releases irrigation to farmers accordingly. One of the company's systems, bought by industrial water uses and agribusiness, can save up to a million gallons annually, according to CEO David Chacon.

The company actually grew out of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, said Chacon. After that debacle in 1978, two scientists tried to come up with a system that would use meteorological data to help rescue crews get people out of dangerous areas.

Big customers weren't interested until after the Bhopal disaster in 1984. DuPont then bought the company. The same two people then went on to create Waterlink.

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About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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