The WaterSide - Panning for Gold among New Water Treatment Patents
By Mike Henley
Fool’s or 24-karat gold? Within the context of water treatment, the first choice is, well, “foolish”, while the second option is desired, since 24 karat is considered the purest form of gold and of great value.
In the context of the water R&D world, those in the know are aiming to find the next 24-karat invention that could transform either the whole water business or niches within it.
The desired outcome is to find a transformative technology that will revolutionize water purification as we know it. This is what technologies such as ion exchange and reverse osmosis accomplished after their invention. Additionally, another pursuit by researchers is to take existing technologies and to improve them so that they become more effective and valuable.
In either case, such intellectual property is highly valued and almost always becomes the subject of a patent filing to protect the technology for the inventor(s) and/or the company or organization they work for.
For years, we have published patent summaries. Our subjects have included new inventions and follow-on filings about work to enhance an existing treatment technology. For the most part, our coverage has followed issued patents that are germane to high-purity and industrial water and wastewater applications. But we have also strayed outside of that space into other areas—partly because new treatment technologies have a way of expanding applications and might ultimately find application within the areas associated with high-purity and industrial water treatment.
Our primary reason for following patents is to provide useful information for our readers. A second purpose is to stay current about technology trends and to become aware of potential “game-changing” technical developments.
It is important to note that patents can indeed become “golden” for the inventors and the assignee companies. Examples abound. In the reverse osmosis realm, FilmTec is considered one of the early leaders and today is an important part of Dow Chemical’s water business. Within the electrodeionization segment, Ionpure (Evoqua) is considered one of the pioneers. These are just two of many examples.
Certainly, it is the desire of R&D departments to find the next impactful water treatment technology. So when one thinks about the present state of high-purity and industrial water and wastewater, what are some new technologies that would be useful for endusers? Based on attending many conferences, here are some ideas that would be worthwhile developments:
- For semiconductors—particle measuring technologies that reliably monitor down to and even below 10-nanometers.
- For pharmaceuticals/life sciences—reliable on-line instruments to measure bacteria and viruses in water.
- For boilers—treatment chemistries that effectively combat scaling and corrosion, but are environmentally benign.
- For membrane systems—improved energy efficiencies and chlorine-resistant reverse osmosis membrane systems.
While patents can give insights about technology developments, so can reports on research work at universities and water research hubs.
For example, this month we published two news briefs about interesting research that may one day become practical.
One news brief looked at work by a University of Manchester research team led by Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo, PhD. This group has examined the use of graphene-based membranes to produce heavy water, a form of high-purity water needed for nuclear power plants. Their work has shown promise, so one day this graphene-based technology could become the next go-to approach for producing heavy water.
Can carbon dioxide (CO2) one day replace conventional filters? Another news item briefly examined studies by researchers under the direction of Orest Shardt, PhD, of the Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick (Ireland) on the use of CO2 in water treatment. More research needs to occur, but work so far shows promise—particularly where a CO2-based treatment could use one-thousand times less energy than conventional approaches for separating suspended particles in water.
So in closing, patents offer insight into technology trends. Research by universities and water hubs also provide guidance as to the next big developments within the water business that could lead to that prized golden nugget so deeply prized by prospectors and those seeking “golden water”.
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