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What We Read Today 17 February 2015

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A start-up that's solved fracking's dirty problem (Andrew Zaleski, CNBC)  A tiny start-up in Boston is pioneering a revolution in the wastewater treatment industry that could turn it on its head: a forward-osmosis technology to purify the water used in fracking.  The firm, Oasys Water, has 45 patents and 60 full-time employees and $35 million in backing.  The process is a low-cost application of osmosis that produces potable water from brine.  The process involves simply pumping the contaminated water through a system with a semi-permeable membrane boundary.  The process is called forward osmosis and is much less costly than the commonly used high pressure reverse osmosis process that has been used for decades for water purification.  See also next article.


Forward Osmosis: A New Approach to Water Purification and Desalination (James E. Miller and Lindsey R. Evans, Sandia Report)  This 2006 research paper describes the forward osmosis process being applied by Oasys Water (previous article).  Here is part of the abstract:

Fresh, potable water is an essential human need and thus looming water shortages threaten the world’s peace and prosperity. Waste water, brackish water, and seawater have great potential to fill the coming requirements. Unfortunately, the ability to exploit these resources is currently limited in many parts of the world by both the cost of the energy and the investment in equipment required for purification/desalination. Forward (or direct) osmosis is an emerging process for dewatering aqueous streams that might one day help resolve this problem. In FO, water from one solution selectively passes through a membrane to a second solution based solely on the difference in the chemical potential (concentration) of the two solutions. The process is spontaneous, and can be accomplished with very little energy expenditure. Thus, FO can be used, in effect, to exchange one solute for a different solute, specifically chosen for its chemical or physical properties. For desalination applications, the salts in the feed stream could be exchanged for an osmotic agent specifically chosen for its ease of removal, e.g. by precipitation.

 The process works by creating a more concentrated solution of an "osmotic agent" which is easily removed after the contaminated water has been processed by transferring pure water through the membrane from a less concentrated contaminated solution by the osmotic pressure that exists (water flows through the membrane spontaneously from the less concentrated solution (which is the "fracking" or other contaminated water) into the more concentrated solution containing the "osmotic agent".  Agents could be dissolved salts which can then later be easily removed by precipitation of an insoluble salt product with an added chemical.



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