NanoH2O Pours On $15M for Cleaner Water Tech

Membranes that take less energy to clean water — that’s the idea behind Los Angeles-based startup NanoH2O’s technology, and why the company was able to announce a round of $15 million from Oak Investment Partners and Khosla Ventures. NanoH2O, which raised $5 million last year from Khosla Ventures, makes nanoengineered reverse osmosis membranes for desalination that are more productive and use less energy than traditional desalination membranes.

That type of innovation was actually one of seven that Christopher Gasson, Editor in Chief of Global Water Intelligence magazine, outlined at the AlwaysOn GoingGreen show on Tuesday. The problem in the past with reverse osmosis is that it’s really energy intensive. And energy means cost. The energy, in the form of electricity, is used mostly to pump the water around and force it, under very high pressure, through the membrane. The Pacific Institute estimates that electricity accounts for 44 percent of the cost of reverse osmosis desalination, by far the single largest expense. NanoH2O says its membrane is much more permeable than prior attempts — which could translate to lower facility-operation costs.

There are reverse osmosis plants in operation all over the world, including Israel, China, Spain and the United States. While most are used for desalination, a new plant recently opened in Orange County, Calif., that treats sewage wastewater before discharging it back into the groundwater.

Investment in water tech in water-scarce regions is already flowing. Israeli water tech startups AqWise and BioPetroClean have both picked up funding recently while Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi’s research and development-oriented university, has made water technology a top priority.

Graph courtesy of the Pacific Institute.
This post was co-reported by Katie Fehrenbacher.