a leading developer of advanced catalyst materials, high-performance electrode
systems, and related process chemistries for portable power and clean-tech applications,
today filed for a U.S. patent on a water purification process that serves as
a more energy-efficient alternative to desalination methods now commonly used
to help meet growing water needs around the world.
From left to right: Saltwater, Clouded/Settled Organic Solutes, Fresh Water. Source, QuantumSphere, Inc. 2009
QuantumSphere intends to commercialize the forward osmosis technology to address
the challenge of growing demand for potable water. According to Lux Research,
the world's water needs are expected to grow 40 percent by 2030, and today's
stressed water resources and systems are unsustainable. Water cultivation systems
are expected to see market growth from $522 billion in 2007 to nearly $1 trillion
The forward osmosis process developed by QuantumSphere uses certain organic
solutions to separate water from salt water or polluted water in an osmotic
purification process. The company has constructed a prototype system that can
purify several gallons of water a day for demonstration purposes and intends
to scale the process with large development partners to serve large-scale municipal
The QuantumSphere process will provide an alternative to thermal desalination
and reverse osmosis desalination processes that require more energy than the
forward osmosis process it has developed.
"Today, most high-volume thermal desalination is conducted at complex
plants in the Middle East, where an inexpensive oil supply makes it more practical
than most other parts of the world," said Subra Iyer, principal technologist
for QuantumSphere. "The reverse osmosis process also requires tremendous
amounts of energy for desalination. The forward osmosis process we've developed
can purify water at less than 3,000 kWh per acre foot, which is approximately
70% cheaper than the energy cost of traditional reverse osmosis processes. QuantumSphere
has developed a prototype that is scalable and can eventually be used to supply
fresh drinking water to large populations located near virtually any water source.
The company is seeking development partners to further refine and scale the
process to make it a commercially viable large-scale process for seawater desalination."
Forward osmosis using QuantumSphere's proprietary process can also purify brackish
and polluted water. The process uses a semi-permeable membrane to separate water
from salt water into a special organic solution across the membrane. The diluted
organic solution is then warmed to cause the specially formulated organic solute
to drop out, leaving only fresh drinking water after a final purification step
through activated charcoal.
QuantumSphere will successively build larger prototypes to accelerate the water
purification rate of forward osmosis to 1,000 gallons a day and then 10,000
gallons a day, the latter being sufficient to supply a hotel or a seaside resort.
Within three years, the company will address larger engineering challenges to
bring the rate up to a million gallons a day, or enough to supply a small municipality.