Chemical-free desalination and fracking – a viable solution?

Atlantis Technologies has announced a new, low-cost technology that eliminates the use of chemicals for fracking

Among the many environmental issues related to fracking – a process in which high pressure water is injected into the ground to drill for and extract resources such as oil and gas – are the amount of water required and the serious chemicals used in it.

Atlantis Technologies, a southern California start-up company, recently announced it had created “a low-cost, chemical-free desalination system that can remove salt from oil, gas, mining, and industrial waste water.”

With the lowering water table around the world, the availability of water is becoming more and more crucial. Using millions of gallons of fresh water for the fracking process simply makes no sense. And add to that the issue of chemicals in the water, which have the real potential to contaminate any nearby water sources, and the issue becomes even more complex. Atlantis may have found a solution.

This fascinating technology is called radial deionization.  Water passes between two oppositely charged super capacitors, which attract charged ions, then the ions pass through a charge-specific membrane and are adsorbed onto the surface of the electrode. When the capacitors have filled with ions, the system reverses the polarity, discharging and removing the ions.

Funding for this promising technology came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was originally meant to create a super capacitor to desalinate ocean water into drinking water for the troops.

Atlantis is “going after the 1 trillion gallons of salty wastewater in United States and North America” from the oil and gas industry, said CEO Pat Curran. With the current boom in shale gas and market growth at 14 percent a year, it’s expected to be worth $1.6 billion in five years.

Although still in development, Atlantis has built a full-scale, functional unit, for which patents have already been filed, the senior team assembled, and letters of intent collected from Aera Energy (heavy oil), PERC Water (municipal wastewater), Filterboxx (oil sands in Calgary), and EPRI. It’s not hiding behind closed doors anymore!

The real benefits of this new technology include:

  • an operating expense 40 to 70 percent less than existing technologies such as reverse osmosis
  • the ability to recover up to 95 percent of the water, depending upon salinity level
  • low energy usage
  • It can remove some particulates than other systems cannot, such as organics, certain chemicals, sulfate, and silica, “a big problem in oil sands,” said Curran.

A finalist in the 2011 Imagine H2O Competition, Atlantis and this new technology are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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