NanoH2O lands Navy water desalination deal

The Navy funds research for on-ship desalination systems that promise to be more energy efficient, smaller, and handle water contaminants better.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
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NanoH2O on Thursday said it will supply components to the Navy for an on-ship desalination test that promises to be significantly more efficient with energy and space.

The El Segundo, Calif.-based company has developed a membrane that can improve the energy efficiency of reverse osmosis seawater desalination machines by 50 percent to 100 percent, according to NanoH2O CEO Jeff Green. It plans to start production of modules that use the membrane for testing with customers in the second half of this year, he said.

The Navy will be testing an on-ship desalination system which uses reverse-osmosis membranes which are housed in these pressure vessels. NanoH2O

The Office of Naval Research awarded NanoH2O $400,000 to test the system on ships for two years. In addition to being more energy efficient (Navy boats typically use diesel generators), the grant program will test the durability of the membrane in the face of water pollutants compared to existing products.

"You can imagine when it comes to the Navy, the footprint is really important, so a more productive membrane can make a difference," Green said. "And with Navy ships operating closer to shore these days, that means warmer water with more pollutants, so fouling of the membrane is a big concern."

The membranes include an engineered inorganic material, made out of a metal, which is combined with the polymers usually used for reverse osmosis membranes. That hydrophilic and porous material allows for more rapid throughput of water and less energy per volume, Green said. The Navy is interested in the technology for its size, which is 40 percent smaller than traditional systems.

NanoH2O in 2007 raised $5 million from Khosla Ventures, followed by another $15 million in late 2008. The company also has a distribution partnership with Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies, which owns and operates desalination plants around the world. Pending results of tests, Veolia will use the technology in upcoming projects.

NanoH2O makes modules--tubular pressure vessels that hold the membrane--which fit into existing reverse osmosis machines. High-pressure water is passed through the membranes to filter out salt and other materials.

The reverse osmosis desalination business is dominated by a handful of global corporations, although there are a handful of start-ups working in the area. Green said the company's business plan is to sell desalination systems to small and medium-size municipalities in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Middle East where high energy prices make municipalities more willing to try new technologies.