27 Oct 2009

Sustainable desalination is NOT an oxymoron

Addendum: Israel is NOT the president of New Water LLC. [update post coming]

New Water LLC has a patented a "biodesal" technology (process, really) that puts salt-tolerant trees in floating greenhouses. As the trees suck in seawater from their roots, they transpire water vapor from their leaves. This water can be gathered and used.

According to Noah Israel (New Water's president), their demo 40x90 foot [330m^2] platform will produce 5,000 gallons [18,900 ltrs] of water/day, based on land-based greenhouse experiments that produce up to 3,000 gallons a day. New Water LLC has plans to scale up to 5, 10 and even 20 million gallon/day installations. The 20mgd installation would cover 4 acres of sea. More importantly, this water would have an all-in cost that's less than one-tenth of the current $1,000+/af for desal that uses oil (instead of trees and light) to run the reverse osmosis.

Noah Israel is looking for angel investors. If you are interested, contact him.

Bottom Line: Necessity is the mother of invention, and water shortages are surely driving that process. (Of course, we could just raise prices, but that would be too easy!)


  1. I have a huge number of technical and commercial questions but really liked the post.

    Here are a couple of the questions.

    1. Where do the trees get nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers in order to grow? How much oil is needed to make these fertilizers?
    2. How do you recover the transpired water and get it to users? How much does this cost?
    3. To supply a reasonable sized city, like San Francisco, how many trees do you need and where do you put them?

  2. One poor angel here, but I'd give him $100 or so, and much much more if I could. This sounds like a great idea.

  3. The scaling looks funny to me.

    If 40' by 90' produces 3000 gallons per day, I think you need 550 acres (almost a sguare mile) to get 200 mgd. Could still be a good plan.

  4. In answer to the scaling issue is it is Volumetrically exponential.5 million gallons would cover less than 2 acres.

  5. Questions

    Where would you propose putting the floating gardens? Mangroves are incredibly invasive and keeping them from getting started in most of the suitable locations introduce the risk of escape from containment.

    Not a lot of coastal areas suitable for your floating islands would welcome the disruption of the view.

    Not real sure that a land based alternative would not be a better solution. Aside from the aesthetics, the construction of your boat would have a lot of displacement to compensate for the above water biomass not to mention the superstructure. Sheathing with plastic, which photodegrades pretty fast would not seem feasible and the weight of glass would be too heavy.

    I do like the idea of using mangroves if you find a way to deal with resulting biomass.

  6. Noah,

    Extracting 5 million gallons per day over an area of only two acres would be taking 7.5 feet of water from the surface each day.

    Sorry but it seems impossible to me. Does the sun even have that much energy if the conversion were 100%?


  7. There are numerous obstacles for any source of "new" water in coastal areas - whether more traditional desal or this foresdesal. Disrupting the views of coastal dwellers with forest probably won't meet the same kind of outcry as oil derricks or wind farms. And there could be added benefit of more trees sucking the co2 out of the air. *unless I have missed some crucial understanding of the biochemical and magical processes involved in this thing.

  8. I am the owner of New Water Aquaculture LLC. You can get most, if not all, of your questions answered at our website www.newwateraquaculture.com

    We are small but we have been doing our work slowly and methodically. We work with major universities to provide independent validation of our test results. Thanks


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