Cost Effective Seawater Desalination with FICP Element Arrays

EPA Contract Number: EPD13043
Title: Cost Effective Seawater Desalination with FICP Element Arrays
Investigators: Frudakis, Tony
Small Business: Okeanos Technologies, LLC
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: II
Project Period: July 29, 2013 through July 28, 2015 (Extended to July 28, 2016)
Project Amount: $292,350
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2013) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Drinking Water Treatment and Monitoring


Lack of fresh water hinders economic development, devastates human health, leads to environmental degradation and foments political instability. We obtain our water from limited and unevenly distributed surface and underground freshwater sources. Over withdrawal from these quasi-renewable sources causes myriad environmental, economic, political and human health problems. In the developing world, we see the proliferation of waterborne disease, more than 80 countries, harboring one-half of the world's population, are experiencing acute water shortages, with approximately 80 percent of all disease and 30 percent of annual mortality in these countries directly related to unsafe drinking water. The developed world already is spending 5 percent of its dirty grid energy draining, cleaning and transporting water from centralized sources, contributing to atmospheric as well as water pollution. Rights pertaining to these sources already are spoken for and as populations grow, demand for water rights will increase. With dwindling supplies, we can expect skyrocketing water costs and dampening of economic development. Geopolitically, our impending water woes take on frightening proportions. DOD experts project that, by 2050, more than one-third of the globe could be embroiled in wars ultimately rooted in access/control of freshwater resources.

There are other sources of water, such as the renewable and vast brackish continental reserves (slightly salty), and of course the ocean. However, existing desalination technologies are decades old, rely on brute-force and are cost-inefficient, requiring massive hydraulic pressures, electrical currents or heat sources derived ultimately from the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels. High operational, capital and infrastructure­related costs tie these energy-greedy technologies to expensive centralized water distribution models, which is at the root of why these technologies are not adopted to solve these problems. An innovative technology for energy-efficient desalination could solve this adoption problem and change our current trajectory, not only by reducing operational costs, but by helping to change the water distribution model. Not tethered to the electrical grid or existing water distribution infrastructures, an energy-efficient desalination technology could operate via a distributive model from expansive brackish or seawater sources - essentially enabling clean, cheap and plentiful water for everyone, anywhere.

Okeanos Technologies believes that a breakthrough in desalination efficiency and cost will require taking the problem from the macroscale, where volumes of water are pushed with brute force through large cylinders and membranes, to the micro, even the nanoscale, where the physics are more elegant and efficient. Okeanos Technologies is developing an innovative clean-energy microdevice called the WaterChip™, which uses microchannels, micro/nanoelectrodes and a novel physical process to desalinate water immensely more efficiently than current technologies. Okeanos Technologies¬í basic functional elements employ an electrochemical phenomena only observable in nanoscale called Faradaic Ion Concentration Polarization (FICP). Through the establishment of a passive, yet powerful ion exclusion zone, FICP enables desalination in a manner that is reliant on ultra-efficient electron transfer kinetics (rather than inefficient ionic transfer kinetics, like most existing technologies). Massively paralleled, Okeanos Technologies' WaterChips™ will comprise systems providing substantial water flows at greater than 10-fold operational savings, with concomitant additional capital (infrastructure) savings. The extreme energy efficiency will enable off-grid operations such that desalination can take place where it is needed, no longer tied to today¬ís dirty and environmentally destructive centralized fresh aquifer distribution infrastructures, and will contribute towards alleviation of impending environmental, economic, political and human health-related crises.

Supplemental Keywords:

Desalination, drinking water monitoring, drinking water treatment, electrodialysis, ion concentration polarization, reverse osmosis, SBIR

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report

  • SBIR Phase I:

    Cost Effective Seawater Desalination with ICP Element Arrays  | Final Report