Rapid City company's discovery could revolutionize water purification

A cheaper, more efficient system of removing salt from water would have the potential of solving one of the world's most pressing needs— clean, plentiful drinking water.

A Rapid City-based company has created a technology with the potential to do just that.

Advanced Water Recovery has discovered a chemical process that enables a cheaper and more effective method of desalinization, which is the process of removing salts and other mineral contaminants from water to turn it into clean, drinkable water.

"With our new system, we could theoretically drill an aquifer in the middle of Africa and because our process doesn't require a lot of energy, we could purify the water from that aquifer," said Michael Olson, chief operating officer of Advanced Water Recovery.

Current methods of water purification are too expensive and use too much energy to make a significant dent in the water shortages throughout the world,according to data from the United Nations.

About 783 million people do not have access to clean water, according to the U.N., and up to 90 percent of wastewater in developing countries flows untreated into rivers. About 80 percent of used water worldwide is not collected or treated.

This new technology has the potential to solve that problem.

"We could potentially save the world's water supply," Olson said.

The chemical has a proprietary name as it still being commercialized. It works by inducing super saturation to crystallize dissolved salts and other minerals and make them fall out of the water, Olson said.

The system is designed so the chemical stays in the flow of polluted water while all the contaminants are removed.

"This chemical cleans a flow of water and is recoverable and reusable," Olson said. "That makes it cost-effective and efficient."

In April, Advanced Water Recovery won the 2014 Technology Idol Award at the Global Water Summit in Paris for its breakthrough. The award is given to the most promising desalinization technology and is voted on by the world's leading water-treatment experts.

"This is the first major breakthrough in desalinization technology in decades," Olson said.

The award has raised the company's international profile. China, Singapore, Germany, Israel and Saudi Arabia are some of the countries that have scheduled meetings with Advanced Water Recovery, Olson said.

Advanced Water Recovery began as an affiliated company of the Rapid City-based Shamrock Energy, which operates oil wells in North Dakota. The original goal of Advanced Water Recovery was to figure out a way to clean leftover water that comes out of drilling oil wells, but it grew into something with a much greater impact.

Ocean water has 30,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids, which is basically the salt and mineral content of water. A desalinization plant can purify water that has up to 100,000 ppm.

Water from an oil well averages about 300,000 ppm of TDS, which is far too polluted to use and was impossible to cost-effectively purify before this new technology was created, Olson said.

The chemical was designed after eight years of research. The company now has four patents pending. Advanced Water Recovery will have a commercial demonstration plant built this summer in Newcastle, Pennsylvania.

The plan is to fully commercialize the new technology during the next two years.