Breakthrough in efficient water recycling

June 11, 2008 7:34:23 AM PDT
California is officially in a drought with many of us now facing water restrictions. So it may interest you to hear the ideas of a Bay Area scientist who wants to recycle the worlds' dirty water.

This invention isn't going to magically reverse the drought or give us more water to drink. But it may, at some point, be able to clean and recycle water at a rapid pace for all of us to use.

Bay area scientist Meng Lean is hard at work these days recycling a lot of dirty water.

"If you are looking at gray water, which is for agriculture or washing your car and stuff like that where you don't need to drink it, then this is sufficient. You can just use this and it will be ready to go," said Meng Lean Ph.D., Palo Alto Research Center.

No it is not safe enough to drink but the change is noticeable.

This invention came about when lean was hired by the U.S. Army. His job was to develop a system to purify water for soldiers in the field. From that, this water purification technology emerged inside a Palo Alto lab that's smaller than most college dorm rooms.

"It has a huge potential to change the way water treatment is done throughout the world," said Nitin Parekh, Palo Alto Research Center.

The potential is to recycle water faster more efficiently from lakes, rivers, agriculture even beverage companies. The key to cleaning the water is found in lightweight disks or spiral filtration system. Water is funneled through the disks as they spin, then speed and science take over, separating dirt and particles - leaving the rest. Long term, Lean's team wants to sell the idea on a large scale to water districts.

"You can put 10 modules, 50 modules, to get to the millions of water a day that are typical requirements for large water utilities," said Parekh.

The big sell here, according to Parekh, is space and money. He says the technology is cheap to make and filters water five times faster than today's system and the spiral disks take up little real estate space compared to water treatment plants.

"Since we are using tax payer money, we are always looking to cut costs anyway we can. So new technology on the market that helps us to do that - we would be very interested in that," said Susan Siravo, Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Lean admits this technology isn't perfect.

"There are viruses that are smaller than a micron that we can not get removed from the water treatment process that we use," said Parekh.

By the end of June, Meng Lean and his team will launch a larger operation. The goal is to recycle 100 liters of water a minute. The future of his invention will hinge on the success of that next experiment.


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