Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Solution Within Reach

Silicon Valley may hog all the headlines, but a life-changing technology could be under development in California's depressed Central Valley. WaterFX has built a solar-powered desalination plant. Founder Aaron Mandell's
solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot.

That brings Mandell's water cost close to what farmers are paying, in wet years, for water from the Panoche and other valley districts - about $300 an acre-foot. And that makes it a more economically attractive option than any of the 17 conventional desalination plants planned throughout California.

If Mandell can pull it off, the tiny farming town where he is starting his enterprise could be known as ground zero for one of the most revolutionary water innovations in the state's history.
The WaterFX solar trough
Mr. Mandell has eschewed venture capital. Although he does want to turn a profit, he is more interested in the technology's widespread adoption. He has made the technology "open-source," i.e., freely available.
"What we are trying to do is to develop a model that can be replicated. The problems in California are identical to those in many parts of the world. China is depending on delicate river systems to provide water for all types of economic growth that will not be sustainable. We could also do this in Saudi Arabia – they use an enormous amount of oil for water consumption, to evaporate or move water around the country."
It's easy to let our imagination get ahead of ourselves; WaterFX hopes to produce 2,200 acre-feet of water next year, about one-third of the annual water requirement, for example, of Foster City's 31,000 people (which includes some industry).

Nevertheless, it's just possible that a tiny company west of Fresno has made the solution to one of mankind's thorniest problems----access to plentiful, clean water at a reasonable cost--within reach. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

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