Consol Energy announced recently that it has made an initial investment of $500,000 in Epiphany Solar Water Systems, a New Castle company that has invented the world’s first concentrated solar powered water purification system.
Epiphany Solar Water Systems (SWS) began in 2005 when Tom Joseph and Henry Wandrie first conceived of a simple and inexpensive method of distilling water with concentrated solar energy. After receiving seed funding from Innovation Works (a PA Ben Franklin Technology Partner) in 2009, a team of experts was secured to undergo the project. Now Epiphany is gearing up for its pilot test which is set to begin in July with initial results expected in early fall. One of Consol’s Marcellus gas well locations in Greene County will serve as the site to pilot test this solar powered water purification system.
Epiphany’s technology will purify wastewater left over from natural gas extraction. The purification separates out the contaminating salt and metals. The contaminants can be recovered, repurposed, and made suitable for other industrial and consumer use. The process is expected to reduce the costs of fracking and to curb waste by more than 90 percent.
Wastewater disposal has been a concern within the hydraulic fracturing industry because of the large amounts of water used for natural gas extraction—drilling a well in the Marcellus Shale using hydraulic fracturing requires 3 million to 5 million gallons of water, compared to 1 million gallons for conventional wells. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about one-third of the water pumped into the ground as part of the process of releasing natural gas returns to the surface as flowback and contains metals, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and other dangerous contaminants.
Epiphany’s technology offers a solution to this dilemma. According to Epiphany’s website, the operation of the system is simple: Dirty water passes into the distillation unit and instantly vaporizes due to the intense heat focused on the distillation unit. During the vaporization process, any dissolved solids (e.g. heavy metals) separate, and living organisms (e.g. bacteria) are killed due the intense heat. The water vapor (now void or any impurities) continues to pass through the distillation unit. As the steam reaches colder stages it begins to condense back down into distilled water. From the output of the distillation unit then comes freshly distillated water, safe for consumption. The distillation process involves bio-filtration units designed by PMC Biotec, a company based in Exton, Pa. Epiphany selected PMC Biotech of Exton, PA, as its technology partner for the Consol Energy pilot project. PMC provides biological conversion technology that is an important component of Epiphany’s water remediation process.
There could be other benefits to the successful implementation of Epiphany’s system. The company hopes the technology will have implications for water consumption in the rest of the world. According to the World Health Organization, more than 2 billion people in the world live without access to adequate clean water, and that number is expected to more than double by 2025.
As rapidly developing countries like India and China are adding millions to the ranks of the middle class each year, their existing water and power infrastructure struggles to keep pace. Epiphany Solar Water Systems has developed a concentrated solar powered (CSP) system that answers the water and energy problem with a solution that can provide clean water from contaminated or sea water in volumes from 100 to 100,000 gallons per day (GPD) economically and reliably.