Innovation Focus: Water Treatment & Desalination

One-fifth of the world’s population live in areas of the globe where water is scarce as a naturally occurring resources. One-quarter of the world’s population, about 1.6 billion people, live in regions where the local economy cannot support the infrastructure needed to draw water into municipal systems. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) reports that enough freshwater exists on Earth to support seven billion people, but issues with uneven distribution, pollution and poor management greatly hinder this.

Like most other natural resources, there is a finite amount of water in our world. Few resources are required more than water, which is used at every level of society and industry. Not only do humans need to consume water daily to survive, hundreds of thousands of gallons may be used in thermal cooling or oil extraction processes. In the United States, 41 percent of all water withdrawals are used to irrigate crops.

In IPWatchdog’s continuing coverage of Earth Day 2014, we decided to take some time to look at inventions that may help address water shortage issues across the globe. In many areas of the world, disputes over access to available water are leading to great tension among a growing global population that relies on the substance. Today, we wanted to scour the recent published patent applications and issued patents coming out of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for technologies in this field.

We’ve noticed a great deal of inventions that involve desalination techniques to turn saline water containing a lot of salts into fresh, drinkable water. Desalination is capable of reducing salinity in water from 35,000 ppm, the typical salinity of ocean water, to 1,000 ppm, and many of these innovations are designed to help people apply desalination techniques on a wider scale at lower costs. We’ve also noticed some developments that might help communities derive water from sources other than rivers and streams, such as the atmosphere. As I conducted my research I was struck by how many of these inventions for creating clean water involved other recycling or sustainable technologies, addressing many environmental concerns through one novel system or apparatus.



Renewable Energy Atmospheric Water Generator
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140083120

Across the globe, daily access to fresh drinking water is a concern for about 880 million people. Waterborne disease carried in impure drinking water kills thousands of people every day and causes real issues regarding sanitation and food preparation in various regions. In extremely poor areas, the time and energy spent collecting water and properly treating it creates a burden on developing economies. As fresh water resources are depleted because of over use, new methods of creating desalinated water for public use are required.

In September 2013, joint inventors Elizabeth Nowak of East Aurora, NY, and Guy Katz of Ashkelon, Israel, filed this patent application with the USPTO to protect a portable apparatus for generating drinkable water from atmospheric sources. As the patent application states, this apparatus would be designed to collect water through solar-powered condensation, tapping into nearly 3,100 cubic miles of atmospheric water across the globe. This model improves on previous atmospheric water generators by providing an off-the-grid method for generating water that doesn’t rely on electrical power.


Process and Apparatus for Treating Perchlorate in Drinking Water Supplies
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140102980

In certain urban areas around the globe, municipalities are forced to reduce on groundwater supplies in order to provide drinkable water for residents. Groundwater can often be brackish and filled with a great deal of environmental contaminants, like perchlorate. Perchlorate is a salt created as a byproduct of perchloric acid, a product used heavily in the pyrotechnics industry and in the development of rocket fuel.

This patent application was filed by General Electric Company of Schenectady, NY, in June 2012 to protect an improved process for removing contaminants, including perchlorates, from groundwater. The treatment system utilizes an ion exchange material to remove oxidants causing brackishness in water. Unlike previous methods of ion exchange to remove perchlorate, the ion-exchange resin used in this process is capable of being recharged for reuse. Although this patent application is assigned to GE, we thought it interesting that the two inventors named in the invention were from New Mexico, a state specifically cited by this patent application as a state for which this system is very useful. Perchlorate and other contaminants are found in New Mexico water, as well as other states, as a result of vacant industrial operations in those regions.


Treatment of Waters With Multiple Contaminants
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140021135

The use of hydraulic fracturing techniques for the retrieval of oil and gas in the United States has been a topic of growing concern in recent months. Although some argue in favor of hydrofracking’s ability to reduce our dependency on foreign sources of oil, a number of non-profit organizations have raised significant questions about environmental concerns caused by the technology. For example, the high-pressure water used in fracturing shale, which contains chemical additives, must be captured or it usually returns to the surface as flowback. This can be as much as several hundred thousand gallons of flowback water.

Industrial water treatment company Liberty Hydro, Inc., of South Charleston, WV, filed this patent application with the USPTO in March 2012 to protect a reverse osmosis system for treating feed flows in hydrofracking processes. The system is designed to remove multiple contaminants produced from oil and gas drilling and produce a “substantially pure water stream.” This invention effectively desalinates the water, removing sodium chloride and other mineral impurities, and removes toxic heavy metals from the resulting salts.



Stand-Alone Integrated Water Treatment System for Distributed Water Supply to Small Communities
U.S. Patent No. 8647479

Small communities in rural areas have particular issues when trying to address water shortage issues. Unlike larger cities, these municipalities often don’t have the infrastructure or resources needed to provide water to support a developing economy. Water is a crucial resource needed in a large supply by many community stakeholders, including industrial facilities, commercial businesses and individual residents.

The UPSTO issued this patent in February 2014 to Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated from Palo Alto, CA, protecting a stand-alone integrated water treatment system that can be used to distribute a treated water supply throughout a community. Water to be treated enters the system through an input, where it is put through an electrocoagulation process to turn undesirable solids into suspended, granular pin floc. The pin floc can be removed through the use of a spiral separator, and the remaining water is treated in through ultraviolet sterilization. This system can be entirely powered through solar or photovoltaic means.


High Efficiency Water Purification System
U.S. Patent No. 8691095

As many of the technologies we’ve profiled today have already shown our readers, reverse-osmosis (RO) is a major area of development for water purification systems. These techniques have been shown to produce water of a purity that meets exacting governmental regulations at the federal and state level. One drawback to implementing these systems in municipal water systems is that RO typically only recovers from 60 percent to 80 percent of a feed water stream as usable, treated water.

Water Intellectual Properties, Inc., of Cleveland, OH, was issued this patent by the USPTO to protect an RO water purification system designed for use in industrial applications. The system utilizes a second water recovery process that produces a consistent 80 percent water recovery rate. This technology can be installed in new water systems or retrofitted for older RO water purification systems.


Other Patent Applications in Water Treatment Technologies

A growing focus on providing treated water for contemporary society is resulting in a large number of patent applications filed with the USPTO for protecting desalination technologies. Although not every invention we found today result directly in ultra-pure drinking water, the removal of contaminants from water supplies can provide great benefits for the environment. Reducing chemicals polluting any water supply at any point of the water cycle can prevent harmful substances from impacting public health in any way.

Various methods of water filtration and treatment for removing heavy wastes from industrial processes are featured by a couple of patent applications we noticed here at IPWatchdog. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140091040, entitled Bicarbonate Conversion Assisted RO Treatment System for Natural Gas Flowback Water, would protect methods of treating water to reduce sodium bicarbonate content. Filed by Hydration Systems, LLC, of Scottsdale, AZ, this system enhances reverse-osmosis (RO) water purification systems for natural gas flowback by turning sodium bicarbonate into sodium sulfate, which can be more easily separated from the water before RO.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140076812, titled “Water Purification Systems and Methods.”

U.S. Patent Application No. 20140083931, which is titled Anti-Biofouling Membrane for Water-Treatment, describes improved methods of treating wastewater through membranes incorporating anti-biofouling copolymers. This anti-biofouling membrane can treat surface water and wastewater with high solubility content, giving it great industrial applications, while being capable of being renewed when washed with water. The patent application was filed by inventors at the Chung Yuan Christian University in Tao-Yuan, Taiwan.

Reverse osmosis techniques, which represents a type of filtration where solvent is drawn away from contaminants, are also described in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140090970, titled System for Decontaminating Water and Generating Water Vapor. Assigned to Verno Holdings, LLC, of Las Vegas, NV, this patent application describes an electronic system utilizing a multitude of sensors to control the vaporization and desalination of water to provide drinking water while using less energy than previous systems. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140076812, filed under the title Water Purification Systems and Methods, protects another solar-powered method of providing filtered water from untreated sources. This system, invented by Kevin Munro of Auburn, WA, not only treats water through a solar-powered heat exchanger, it can also generate electricity through a steam-powered turbine generator.



Other Patented Technologies in Water Treatment

Estimates on the amount of water on Earth which is salty, and therefore must be treated for most uses, reach as high as 97.5 percent. Today, we noticed a few issued patents protecting systems specifically designed to use seawater in water purification processes, which many other filtration systems cannot achieve well because of the high amount of dissolved minerals. U.S. Patent No. 8696870, titled Device for Desalinating Sea Water by Ambient-Temperature Spraying, protects an advanced method of vaporizing seawater to aid in purification processes. This system, patented by a trio of French inventors, creates water droplets of a much smaller size, only 5 microns instead of 100 microns in diameter. U.S. Patent No. 8685250, entitled System and Method for Using Carbon Dioxide Sequestered from Seawater in the Remineralization of Process Water, describes methods of remineralizing water for better drinkability after desalination. The patent was assigned to Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Co. of Changwon, South Korea. It protects a system that conditions desalinated seawater by adding carbon dioxide removed from the water during desalination, providing its own sustainable method for conditioning drinking water.

Higher rates of water recovery return are always favored in water purification systems. According to the description included in U.S. Patent No. 8679347, issued under the title Multi-Use High Water Recovery System, the system protected by this patent can achieve water recovery rates approaching 99 percent. The incredible length of Claim 1 in this patent establishes this system, invented by Riad Al-Samadi of Burlington, CA, as a complex one, the membrane-based purification system is capable of treating surface water, wastewater from municipal and industrial sources as well as groundwater.

From U.S. Patent No. 8679347, issued under the title “Multi-Use High Water Recovery System.”

Environmentally friendly means of improving water purification are again featured in U.S. Patent No. 8647477, titled High-Efficiency Thermal-Energy-Driven Water Purification System. It protects a method of desalinating various water sources through a system that uses humidified gas to aid water condensation, and can be powered by alternative means, such as solar energy. This technology was developed through a partnership between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, and the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.


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