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Salt Water Conversion Tech Turns Wastewater into Fresh Water for Arid Farming Region

farmlandThirsty farms in California’s Central Valley will have a new technology on their side that will convert drainage water into fresh water for irrigation.

The Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the country, is funding a pilot project that will use New Sky Energy’s salt/CO2 conversion process that will convert high salinity drainage water into fresh water for irrigation and “clean” chemicals that can be sold to help subsidize the new plant’s costs.

The $3.2-million project includes a demonstration drainage water treatment facility that will be built in Central Valley. The first phase is projected to break ground in the second half of 2010. When fully deployed, the plant will desalinate approximately 240,000 gallons of drainage water per day and convert approximately five tons of waste brine salts into carbon-neutral and carbon-negative chemicals such as acid, caustic soda and solid carbonates like limestone and soda ash. The project will also capture approximately 2.8 tons of CO2 daily.

Westlands will work with New Sky Energy and its  joint venture partner Ag Water – New Sky to build and deploy the water treatment plant. Ag Water – New Sky will provide the reverse osmosis desalination equipment, while New Sky will supply its carbon-negative electrochemical technology to process the waste brine stream generated by desalination.

New Sky will process salts extracted from drainage water to capture CO2 from the air, producing several clean chemicals, which can be sold to subsidize the desalinization plant costs.

In addition to providing fresh water for the more than 600,000 acres of farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties and eliminating drainage water pollution, the project is also expected to eliminate the potential danger posed by salts building up in the soil, which can impact plant roots, preventing crop growth and reducing yields, according to the partnership.

Another novel wastewater demo project is underway in Hopewell, Va., where algae will help clean river water at the Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility. The project also yields an associated by-product. It produces bio fuel and green coal from the algae residue.

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3 thoughts on “Salt Water Conversion Tech Turns Wastewater into Fresh Water for Arid Farming Region

  1. I believe that this is a possible solution to California’s water problems. This is the kind of thinking that we need to use to solve this problem; to take what appears to be insolvable problem and turn it into an asset. I believe this project is the same one I read about recently. It is being done on Red Rock Ranch owned by John Diener. He is a progressive farmer that shares a similar philosophy as I do to try to reduce our impacts; to recognize the limitation of our resources and to seek solutions that are not only cost effective, but are sustainable and turn lemons into lemonade.
    Did some math about this project. Whereas it seems expensive, it is actually cheaper than the plan to by-pass the Delta!!
    Assumptions: -$32 Million dollars plant costs
    -5% interest costs for “bond” (actually, this is high for government bonds)
    -240,000 gallons per day is 251 ac-ft per year
    Therefore: – costs per ac-ft of clean water is $636. This is about the same as what is being used for the proposed Delta by-pass costs and what agricultural water costs in the Westside area
    Important Notes:
    – This is “agricultural grade” water, not potable water. Just like the Delta by-pass proposals and the current costs, this extra purification cost is not included.
    – This cost does not include any of the values for the “by-products”, which would reduce the costs
    – As this is a small demonstration project. The costs will fall as the technology is main-streamed and scaled-up
    – This does not include operating and maintainenece costs (because these are unknown) but then neither do the cost estimates for the Delta by-pass
    – This does not include energy costs (because these are unknown) but then neither do the cost estimates for the Delta by-pass
    – The water used in this project is much “dirtier” than other water (ocean, water under the LA basin, reused water, etc.).
    To my thinking, this solves the long-term problems we face with water in California, the biggest of which is demand has simply exceeded the fresh water capacity of the state. Add to that the environmental and water quality problems and we quickly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue to do what we have always done. We need to break out of the mind-set and seek new, long-term, sustainable solutions. I think we should spend money and resources solving the problems instead of ”kicking the can down the road” and ignoring the fact that the can is falling apart.

  2. Thanks Russ for an intelligent and detailed analysis. The potential for New Sky’s technology is even greater than you’ve outlined here. The value of the carbon neutral and carbon negative products produced from the Central Valley’s waste brine easily exceeds the cost of desalination in our financial models. We project that this will allow us to sell clean water back to Westlands at a price that is palatable to farmers and a fraction of the desalination cost, thus creating a new source of clean water for the Central Valley. Our goal is to aim one waste stream (desalination brine) at another (CO2) and take them both out, creating clean jobs at the same time. We thank Westlands for having the vision to support the project. Deane Little, New Sky Energy

  3. The missing piece of information is the source, cost and Carbon footprint of the energy required to power the New Sky process. Nowhere does it seem to be detailed.

    There are lots of conventional processes that can do everything that NewSky and Westlands are proposing to do. But they cost, a lot, in terms of energy and Carbon.

    $3.2M for 240,000 gallons per day is the capital cost. What is the operating cost in terms of energy, dollars and Carbon.

    240,000 gallons per day seems a small amount of water for 600,000 acres of vegetable growing land.

    Finally, the article makes the assertion that the salinity problem is due to irrigation with imported saline water. In my reading, the vast majority of salinity problems, especially those rectified with drainage, have been caused by man’s over use of pure irrigation water causing the water table to rise and bringing underground salt up to the surface. What evidence is there that the current salinity problems are not man made and that better irrigation practices are the answer rather than fighting mother nature to remove upwelling salinity caused by our poor irrigation practices.

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