A ground-breaking water purification technology is being hailed as ‘the biggest step forward in water treatment in 50 years’. Tim Naughton, chief technical officer at Salinity Solutions, invites water utilities to take part in field trials.

Tim co-founded engineering tech start-up Salinity Solutions to provide a more sustainable, energy-efficient solution for water treatment.

He first co-developed the process with Professor Philip Davies, Head of Water Technology Research at Aston University. The pair then moved on to the University of Birmingham, where the spinout company was created in 2021.

In a world where 80% of wastewater is released untreated, Tim is passionate about his new process. He explains: “It uses a revolutionary new method of treating water called batch process reverse-osmosis. Reverse osmosis allows water to be purified by using pressure to push it through a semi-permeable membrane.

“Batch process RO improves the efficiency using a pressure exchanger and recirculating the feedwater over the membrane. Using this method, we can desalinate, concentrate or purify water to very high recovery rates in a way that is at least 50% more efficient than traditional RO systems.”

The system saves energy by varying pressure over time, reducing the average pressure of the process. As well as using 50% less energy than other methods, it typically purifies more than 95% of the wastewater. Tim adds: “Compared to other reverse osmosis (RO) technologies, it is also more compact and mobile.

“Our technology offers a more energy-efficient and higher recovery (i.e., less waste) to treating municipal wastewater, providing a substantial cost-saving for water utility companies, particularly in the current climate of rising energy prices.

“Although the demand for freshwater is on the increase, the world’s supply is steadily decreasing. Only 0.5% of the earth’s water is in the form of available fresh water and sources such as groundwater artesian wells are increasingly contaminated, so our technology could really help by treating wastewater and brackish water, providing a more viable and effective solution for water utility companies.”

Professor Davies now acts as one of Salinity’s advisers, and believes the process is a major step forward in water treatment. He hopes that it will have an impact “in every corner of the globe, across every layer of society”.

As well as treating municipal wastewater, other applications include providing ultrapure water for healthcare, retrieving valuable deposits from large industrial processes, phosphate and other nutrient removal from groundwater, and providing rural drinking water.

Tim says: “So far, we have identified more than 20 sectors where it can be used. The technology is patented and we have an exclusive worldwide licence.”

Salinity has run successful field trials with eco-technology company Cornish Lithium, and the company raised over £1.5m from private sources and two rounds of funding on Crowdcube, where it smashed its fundraising target. The University of Birmingham is an investor and shareholder, and the two parties continue to work closely together.

Salinity aims to carry out more trials as Tim explains: “We are currently negotiating a field trial opportunity with a European municipal wastewater treatment company and discussing licencing deals with two Pan-European engineering companies for industrial wastewater treatment.”

So, when will the technology be widely available for commercial use?

Tim says, “Salinity’s products are currently at Technology Readiness Level 8 (i.e., the systems are complete and qualified) and are commercially viable. We are currently running field trials across a number of sectors including high-value mineral extraction, municipal wastewater and food processing and are due to start another field trial in April with a European automotive parts manufacturer. For each customer the core technology is the same, it is just optimised for their specific required application e.g., scale/recovery rate/energy consumption.

“We would like to hear from water utility companies interested in participating in a field trial to demonstrate the energy savings and water quality improvements that our technology can deliver.”

Contact [email protected] for details.

Published by Water Industry Journal Wednesday, 08 March 2023