Oasys’ Award Winning Desalination Technology
In several previous articles, we looked at the top-20 engineering, procurement and construction contractors for desalination plants constructed between the years 2000 to 2011. Of that list, only one company seemed like a viable pure-play investment in desalination. While the technology has been in operation for over a decade now, new disruptive desalination technologies are being backed by venture capital funding. One such example is Oasys Water.
About Oasys Water
Boston Massachusetts based Oasys Water is on a mission to deliver innovative technology to clean the world’s most difficult waters. Founded in 2009, Oasys uses a “forward osmosis” water desalination technology that was developed out of Yale University. The Company has taken in $13.5 million so far from firms such as Flagship Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The Oasys Board of Directors includes the Chairman and a Partner of Flagship Ventures along with Chinese entrepreneur Dr. Junyuan Gu who has extensive experience working for the Chinese government. The Company is moving into the Chinese market with a solution for the rapidly growing Chinese power industry. Oasys anticipates that over the next five years, nearly 50% of bookings will be from Asia. China is also one of the fastest-growing markets in desalination and plans to double its capacity by 2015. In April, Oasys Water was named the 2014 Water Technology Company of the Year by Global Water Intelligence and a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer. Oasys was also honored as a World Economic Forum 2014 Technology Pioneer.
Forward Osmosis Technology
Oasys claims that this is the first membrane-based solution that is capable of treating water with salt concentrations up to five times higher than seawater. The Membrane Brine Concentrator (MBC) system is designed to transform high salinity wastewater ranging from 5 to 15% dissolved solids into fresh, drinking quality water.
The system can achieve up to 85% water recovery. The MBC system uses forward osmosis as opposed to the more commonly used reverse osmosis technology, the differences which are highlighted by Oasys as follows:
The process of osmosis uses a semi-permeable barrier (or membrane) that water diffuses across. Water flows through the membrane from a lower concentration to a higher concentration to achieve equilibrium on both sides. Osmosis and forward osmosis are the same thing. Misunderstanding occurs when people confuse forward osmosis and reverse osmosis.
Reverse osmosis (RO) uses a similar semi-permeable barrier, but instead of allowing osmosis to naturally occur, the opposite is done, as force is needed. To overcome osmotic pressure, hydraulic pressure is applied to forcefully push water through the membrane, leaving salt behind. That’s the major difference between reverse osmosis (RO) and forward osmosis (FO)- RO requires artificial force while FO uses natural osmosis.
In addition to being less energy-intensive, the MBC system requires lower capital costs since there are no high-pressure components or exotic metals. This also leads to a low maintenance system that experiences significantly reduced downtime.
While desalination is one application for Oasys’ MBC system, the company is also targeting power generation wastewater and the energy industry, in particular, the now popular method of extracting further oil from previously exhausted wells called “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing. On average, four million gallons of water are used to fracture a single shale gas well. The cost of sourcing, treating, and disposing of this water ranges from 10-25% of the total cost of oil and gas production. A single Oasys system can treat water from 12 fracking wells at a cost of $3-4 a barrel which is typically less than using trucks to transport the water to underground facilities, not to mention less energy-intensive and environmentally friendly. Oasys plans to target the $36 billion hydraulic fracturing market that has grown exponentially in recent years, especially in the United States. National Oilwell Varco (NYSE:NOV), a $30 billion provider of equipment and components for oil and gas drilling, is the exclusive licensee for Oasys MBC technology in global upstream oil and gas for produced water treatment.
As noted in previous articles here and here, there seem to be hardly any publicly traded pure play desalination companies to invest in. NanoH2O was a private desalination company we highlighted about a year ago which was acquired by LG Chem in June of this year. Oasys, however, may provide public investors with a pure play opportunity to invest in desalination. According to a January 2014 article by Bloomberg, Oasys may seek to raise $20 million to $25 million this year or next with plans to access public markets in two to three years.
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