Voltea's 'Simple' Technology Helps to Ease Water Stress
- By Michiel Lensink
- Sep 28, 2010
If all the water in the world would fit in a bottle of one liter, only half a teaspoon of it would be fit for consumption as drinking water. The rest would be too saline, polluted, or frozen.
According to a recent study by McKinsey, “growing competition for scarce water resources is a growing business risk, a major economic threat, and a challenge for the sustainability of communities and the ecosystems upon which they rely. It is an issue that has serious implications for the stability of countries in which businesses operate, and for industries whose value chains are exposed to water scarcity.”
Voltea, an Anglo-Dutch company operating out of the Netherlands has recently launched a new technology to desalinate water that might mitigate future water stress.
The technology is based on a very simple principle. When salt dissolves in water it forms positive and negative ions. The technology uses two electrodes with a small voltage across them that draw these ions out of the water and temporarily store them on the electrodes until they can be discharged to the drain. This technology is especially effective for the desalination of brackish water.
One of the major issues of desalinating water is the high consumption of energy. Voltea’s technology uses less than half the energy compared to incumbent technologies. In addition, the technology is much more efficient when it comes to conserving the water. Many of the current technologies discard as much as half of the incoming water to produce fresh water while the Voltea technology has an efficiency of up to 95 percent. This is especially important in areas where water is already scarce.
Applications for the technology range from desalination of groundwater, industrial applications to water softening for domestic appliances. The company provides both small- and large-scale systems; its standard industrial system can produce up to 10 m3 per hour.
At the Global Water Summit held in Paris in April, Voltea won the Water Technology Idol competition. The competition involved the presentation of five new water technologies that, according to an expert panel, have made the biggest claims to change the world of water over the past year. Voltea also was ranked Europe’s third most creative company by CNBC magazine in July.
Voltea has spun-out of the Unilever R&D department in 2006 and is being backed by Unilever Ventures and Pentair, a manufacturer of domestic and commercial water filtration systems. In August, Voltea completed an additional €3.6m financing round to support the commercial roll-out of CapDI. The funding was led by Rabo Ventures, the venture capital arm of Rabobank and included existing investor Pentair Inc. The company, headquartered in London, bases its operations in Leiden, the Netherlands. Voltea has more than 20 employees.
About the Author
Michiel Lensink, CEO, Voltea, has 13 years of experience leading water technology start ups. He founded Filtrix and was later managing director of Norit Filtrix. He developed a new range of decentralized water filtration systems based on membrane technology. He earned an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and a master's degree in physics from Delft University of Technology.