How to Invest in Clean Abundant Water

The water industry is a dysfunctional train wreck with a business model that could have been invented in Pyongyang, said Christopher Gasson, Editor in Chief of Global Water Intelligence magazine, at the AlwaysOn GoingGreen show on Tuesday. (OK, we’re awake now). That might not be a great thing for the planet at the moment, but its makes for a lot of opportunities for startups with innovative technology, as well as investors that want to fund a very nascent market.

But with so many water needs — drinking, agriculture, manufacturing, energy production, waste management — how do you find ways to fund possible innovations? Here’s some tips from Gasson, who moderated an AlwaysOn GoingGreen panel made up by Virgin Green Fund Partner Anup jacob, Miox CEO Carlos Perea, and the CTO Siemens Water Technology Joe Zuback.

1). Scalable solar desalination: There’s a lot of sun in places where fresh water is needed, and using the heat of the sun to power desalinaiton is a natural fit. We need solar clean water solutions that are low cost and can be scaled up.

2). Cheap clean water for agriculture: We need low-cost means of dealing with salinity in the agricultural system. In irrigated lands, particularly in arid areas, salinity can threaten soil and crop production. Finding a low cost way to offer better solutions to irrigate crop lands and keep salinity low is needed.

3). Lower energy salt separation: Desalinating water with less energy. There are a variety of ways that companies are working on this, such as: nano-engineered membranes, reverse osmosis membranes, mimicking the filter processes of the kidneys and mangroves, and working with chemical substances like clathrate hydrates and methane hydrates.

4). Value In Wastewater: We need to find more value in brine or wastewater.

5). Sludge Management: While innovations to clean wastewater are starting to emerge, the leftover sludge is one of the forgotten parts. The sludge tends to go to landfill and is expensive to deal with. We need to turn it into energy, and more efficiently and cost effectively use it.

6). Real-time water quality monitoring: There are a lot of technologies that look at parts of the water supply chain on a certain schedule. But we need advanced, real-time, smart monitoring systems that can, say, send a message to a cell phone that there’s an agent or unknown substance in the water supply.

7). Distribution solutions for drinking and wastewater: Water is expensive and difficult to move around. Investing in infrastructure and distribution will be needed. Former oil baron T. Boone Pickens knows this — he owns more water than any other individual in the country, through rights to the Ogallala aquifer under the same land he is putting wind turbines on. And Pickens is working to get a deal to transport both his wind and water over to Dallas.