Only 2.5 % of the water in the world is not salty and nearly two thirds of that water is frozen in glaciers. 20% of the remaining water is inaccessible to humans and three quarters of the 80% isn’t captured from floods and monsoons. That means that the available freshwater for human use is less than 1% of all the water on the planet.
Available freshwater is insufficient to meet current or future global demand. As a result, humanity and the natural environment face a severe and worsening freshwater crisis. This crisis takes many forms, including depleted aquifers and reservoirs, reduced ability to grow food and sustain economies, mass migration, geopolitical disruption, desertification and ecosystem collapse.
This decade, between one and two billion people every year will face year-round water scarcity and an inability to produce sufficient food or meet domestic, industrial and environmental water needs. During this same time-frame, possibly two-thirds of the total global population could face partial water scarcity at some time.
A growing number of regions around the world are experiencing acute and chronic water crises: the American West; parts of Central and South America; Australia; the Middle East; parts of Africa, Asia, Europe and India; and numerous islands and island nations.
At the root of the global water crisis is the fact that demand for clean freshwater exceeds the annual replenished baseline supply, regardless of drought. By 2025, between one and two billion people will face year round water scarcity and an inability to produce sufficient food or meet domestic, industrial and environmental water needs. During this same time-frame, possibly two-thirds of the total global population could be facing partial water scarcity. Accelerated Climate Change only makes the situation worse.
However, there is no actual shortage of water; oceans cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface and contain more than 96% of the water on Earth. There are also abundant inland sources of water, including brine aquifers, agricultural runoff and industrial waste water. Combined, these inland sources of salt-water constitute approximately 1% of the water on the planet; there is more than 12 times as much easily accessed inland brine on earth as there is easily accessed fresh water. What the world lacks is a technology to convert these sources into distilled water with an environmentally friendly solution.
Numerous technologies desalinate ocean water, or process and treat other sources of salt water to provide fresh water. However, most of these technologies as presently deployed, are incapable of treating salt-water in a way that is cost-effective and environmentally sustainable. Existing approaches to desalination present a number of issues; including extremely high capital investment, high operating costs and exorbitant energy use. The lack of scalability, the disposal of fouled toxic membranes, as well as the continuous disposal of large volumes of concentrated brine back into the ocean represents an unsustainable solution for the creation of freshwater. Furthermore, reverse osmosis is nearly impossible to accomplish in an inland environment due to the lack of a treatment option for the effluent stream. The world needs a smarter approach to sustainably produce clean freshwater.
The Solution; Sustainable Water Farming
Global Water Farms, Inc. (GWF) creates new water via the solar-powered “Zero Liquid Discharge – Aided Evaporation Condensation (ZLD-AEC) Water Farm.”
GWF’s system is efficient, modular and scalable. The multi-patented system is a low temperature thermal desalination process that is powered by renewable solar energy (75%) and backed up with clean natural gas to augment short winter days or long periods of bad weather. Global Water Farm’s technology produces no effluent waste stream and is a true Zero Liquid Discharge system. The technology is based on a turbocharged hydrologic cycle and is the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable desalination system on the market. Each Water Farm consist of a salt brine tank, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) collectors, molten salt heat storage, and steam powered equipment.
The GWF desalination unit is the heart of our water farm concept for cultivating freshwater from salt water. The modular construction system allows users to produce more water as the water farm expands.
The Company has received two patents, has one patent pending and is completing patent applications for 4 additional technologies. GWF has a fully operational prototype and is about to break ground on its first full-scale system on 641 acres of company-owned land east of the Salton Sea, in Riverside County, CA.
Each unit covers 1.25 acres and produces a minimum 1 acre foot of distilled water per day (326000 gallons or 1233 cubic meters). It is comprised of an insulated tank, a mechanical room and a rooftop array of parabolic solar troughs. The system inputs brackish, brine or sea water from aquifers or piped in sea water. The system produces distilled water, a dry inert mineral salt cake and electricity.
The roof surface of each unit is covered with parabolic solar troughs that capture solar radiation that shines on the building. The energy is stored in a proprietary modular molten salt tank system to provide 24/7 steam to power the desalination process. The solar system is backed up by a high efficiency gas boiler to bridge periods of inclement weather or the shorter days of winter. The solar troughs operate with a new optimized design that improves the efficiency of GWF’s parabolic trough system. These innovations will allow GWF to reach energy storage temperatures of 450C, a major breakthrough for CSP.
The GWF desalination process also recaptures process heat and recycles it back in to the system or uses it for downstream processes in the system. The system is designed to conserve or recycle every calorie of heat possible.
The combined heat is used to do three things: (1) heat the water in the tank, (2) generate mechanical power, (3) dry brine syrup in to dry salt crystals.
When the system reaches its operational steady state, water in the tank will achieve a syrup like consistency due to the hyper concentration of salt in the water. As new source water (high PPM of TDS) enters the system and desalinated water (<20 PPM of TDS) leaves the system, the salt remains in solution in the tank. This creates a concentrated brine syrup in the tank. The syrup portion of the tank is drawn down to maintain the balance with the amount of produced distilled water.
Both the proprietary way in which heat is introduced into the salt-water and the manner in which saturated air is created produces air with a very high moisture content. The air has the highest moisture carrying capacity achievable without boiling water. The saturated air is then condensed into distilled water in a proprietary cooling plenum system.
As the distilled water is removed from the brine, the resulting brine mixture becomes more concentrated as the salt that’s left behind becomes a greater proportion of the liquid in the tank. This concentration is monitored to allow the brine to reach a level of concentration just below precipitation of crystalline salt. At that point, a proportional volume of the brine syrup is removed from the distillation tank and sent to a crystallizer to produce a dry salt and remove the final volume of water vapor as steam.
By creating two products from the source water stream, GWF has created a desalination technology that is environmentally friendly and has Zero Liquid Discharge.
Steam generates all the power needed to operate the system and that system can be configured to create additional power that can be supplied to local micro-grids or to the conventional electrical grid as a backup in high stress system events. Multiple units can create micro-grids or provide an option to sell electricity to the grid. During winter months or periods of inclement weather, power can be generated by a back-up gas-powered steam boiler that maintains full water and power production 24/7. Water Farm units are designed to work “off-grid” as water and power generating utility systems.
Each Water Farm unit has an equipment room that houses all of the system machinery and controls. The desalination process is controlled by an on-site Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and every Water Farm (i.e., collection of individual “units”) is monitored by a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) network, which collects information from the PLCs controlling each cell and unit in the farm. The SCADA network allows for predictive maintenance on all components in a Water Farm and also tracks energy output, energy consumption and water production. The SCADA network is located off-site at a central data collection facility capable of monitoring water farms around the world.
GWF aims to first establish a strong presence in the Western U.S. and then compete for market share globally. The company has identified Southern California and the Permian Basin in Western Texas and Southeastern New Mexico as its initial points of entry. There are three primary reasons for the early focus on these areas;
(1) Agricultural, municipal, industrial and environmental water needs are pressing
(2) Early adopters are in need of new sources of clean freshwater and new methods for treating degraded waters
(3) Vast reserves of unusable salt-water sources in the regions present significant opportunities for GWF.
Throughout West Texas and the entire American Southwest there are salt accumulation problems in soils, surface water bodies and aquifers, as well as significant brine disposal challenges. These sources contain many millions of acre feet of unusable, but easily accessible salt-water.
The volume of the shallow brine aquifer underlying the San Joaquin Valley has been conservatively estimated to hold at least several million acre feet of brine water. The Salton Sea / Coachella Valley / Imperial Valley regions similarly have brine aquifers with several million acre feet. The Salton Sea is a reservoir capable of holding 7.5 million acre feet of ocean water which will become the key to solving the long term water needs of the American west.
In Texas and New Mexico, the Permian Basin generates in excess of 2.5m AF/yr of produced water which needs to be treated, recycled and disposed of. This produced water represents a major market opportunity for GWF. Generally, 50% of produced water is recycled and the rest is injected into deep disposal wells. Oil and Gas produced water is source water to GWF and we can treat it for less than current disposal costs. Produced water in the Permian Basin is a special opportunity for GWF technology because the water is a by-product of drilling for oil and it can be pre-treated before being distilled and sold as a resource.
GWF has expressions of interest from a number of entities in the United States and abroad regarding Water Farm projects. These projects are contingent upon the pilot meeting performance parameters. GWF has a signed purchase and installation order for three (3) Water Farm units for a farm in Imperial Valley and is having ongoing discussions with a Native Tribe to address water supply issues on their reservation. These agreements are conditioned on the successful operation of the GWF pilot facility. GWF continues to engage other early adopters to develop the first commercial projects that the company will pursue post-pilot.
GWF will generally service three distinct markets. The most likely success will be the entry market for municipal water because utilities cannot allow users to run out of water under any circumstance and municipal water can be sold for a higher price per acre foot (AF). It also needs to be much lower in total dissolved solids (TDS) which favors GWF’s desalination technology.
Agricultural markets offer the potential of using distilled water to both extend available supplies of irrigation water and to blend crop specific water. The continuing mega-drought has increased the urgency for farmers to find alternative supplies of freshwater to replace a lack of runoff in the western water supply.
The industrial market represents a wide band of potential opportunities. The oil and gas industry, the computer chip industry, food service/processing and ultra-pure water needs in the medical sector. All these industries have processes that depend on pure/low TDS water. Whether it’s the Oil and Gas industry’s need to dispose of produced water or the electronics industry’s need for ultra-pure water, they all need clean water to operate or meet regulatory requirements.
The era of cheap and easily accessible clean water in the Western U.S. and across the globe is over. Supplies are over-subscribed, surface and groundwater reservoirs frequently run low, drought has further reduced traditional water sources while failing to meet current demand. Climate change is exacerbating the supply-demand imbalance and long-term needs, under even the best of scenarios, will be difficult to achieve.
Water pricing increased during recent drought conditions in some sectors by 10 to 20x. There are numerous estimates of future pricing, but with status quo approaches to water production and management, two trends are undisputed: prices will rise and municipal, agricultural and industrial interests will pay whatever it takes to ensure access to water. Water is not a choice; it is a necessity.
As a start-up, Global Water Farms is entering a market place occupied by several large successful companies building conventional desalination technologies. Current RFPs for new water are limited by a structure that only considers existing technologies. This has created an opportunity for both a new desalination process and a company to advance that model. Large companies have large staffs to support their organizations which results in high overhead. Their ponderous bureaucracies tend to stifle innovation within their organizations making them unable to quickly react to new conditions or opportunities.
GWF believes being a small company is an asset when bringing new technology to market. A streamlined methodology allows fast proofing and acceptance of new concepts that advance the project. A small staff allows a small company to husband its resources and devote them to the task at hand. A growing small company needs to have a strategy for scaling the growth of the company that allows it to remain lean and forward focused.
GWF and its modular approach to desalination is a complete paradigm shift in the production of desalinated water. Global Water Farms builds only one model of its desalination system and relies on system scaling to achieve user required water volumes. Using system scaling, additional units can be added to the water farm at any time to increase water deliveries within as little as 6 months. The 5 month building cycle allows multiple crews to reduce delivery times for new units by increasing unit starts. This approach allows GWF to fulfill critical need, short term need, long term needs and long term forecasted needs in a planned manner that only requires capital as capacity is expanded.
The water farm concept allows GWF to build and scale water production at remote sites that can be pre-approved to facilitate demand build out. When a water farm is built on what is generally considered to be wasteland, it can cover large tracts of undeveloped land and complete the permit process on the whole site without having to build all the units immediately. This creates a site for multiple end users to purchase additional new water on an as needed basis at a shared location. Water farm units will be UL and CSA listed – this will eliminate the need for continual system certification by local building authorities and allow the permitting process to be limited to only construction of the building.
The large companies are building RO or MED systems that can take as long as 25 years from start to completion. This necessitates forecasting plant capacity 25 years into the future. It is almost impossible to accurately target user demand that far in advance. Building RO or MED systems to meet capacity 25 years into the future means building systems that far exceed capacity at 25 years or systems that will have no room to grow after facility completion. The up-front design and permitting path for RO and MED require capital outlay from the beginning of the planning stage. More importantly, these systems also require capital deployment to build facilities that may have already met their capacity or will not reach their capacity for a generation after completion.
Siting for RO and MED facilities is constrained to coastal locations because of the need to access ocean water and dispose of hyper-saline waste effluent. However, these systems are not able to rely on solar energy generation to operate their systems because of the consistent presence of coastal marine layer clouds. Another downside to the use of desalination or renewable energy systems along the coasts is the high cost of coastal property. Coastal siting also encounters much higher push back from environmental interests and urban planners.
Global Water Farms’ universal siting ability allows water farms to be built far from urban centers over brine groundwater aquifers or in some instances, to even develop a strategy to import sea water to remote sites. These areas can be desert, sparsely populated basin and range basins or remote oil fields. The only constants required is the presence of unusable salt water, an abundance of sunlight and availability of propane or natural gas.
Global Water Farms’ ability to convert salted source water into two value streams gives the system a positive environmental footprint because there is no waste product and the system is powered by renewable energy (75%). We are creating two environmentally friendly products; pure water and inert dry salt and monetizing both products. The GWF desalination process creates distilled water and dry salt. GWF will use this salt stream as a structural filling for its construction salt block system. The conversion of the salt waste stream into a raw good material will create an entirely new type of construction component; a structural salt core block that will replace one of the worst climate change offenders – the cement cinderblock. Every ton of cement cinderblocks produced releases a ton of carbon emissions and every ton of cement cinderblocks that GWF replaces with salt construction blocks will earn a carbon credit.
For more information regarding GWF technology please contact [email protected]