Globally, water demand is threatening to dangerously outpace supply, while in the US, dry states such as Texas and California are suffering from shortages and the future forebodes more suffering. For the North American shale boom, the lack of water is suffocating. Amid this doom and gloom, a water revolution emerges, led by energy industry figures who realized the endless potential of tapping into new water sources and processing them with advanced desalination technology that, for the first time ever, is economically feasible.
The water revolution is here, according to Stanley Weiner, CEO of STW Resources-a Texas-based company that has the exclusive North American license for Dutch-developed next generation Salttech desalination technology.
In an interview with James Stafford Oilprice.com, Weiner discusses:
- The new technology behind the water revolution
- How communities in Texas can be spared drought
- Advancements that finally make desalination commercially viable
- How it’s already working-and where
- How we can turn toilet water into tap water
- What it means for the oil and gas industry
- How vital water is to energy independence
- How much oil and gas companies can save with new desalination systems
- The next phase of the water revolution
- Why everyone can finally benefit from conservation
James Stafford: A global study warns that by 2030 demand for water will outstrip supply by 40%. What are we facing in the US alone?
Stanley Weiner: The situation can only be described as extremely urgent. We’re looking at continual drought and predictions of a new ‘mega drought’ for Texas. The current drought started in 2010, and it’s still in play. In the meantime, we’re seeing a lot of new people moving into Texas, as well as industry, and they all need water that they don’t have.
California is running out of water. A NASA scientist has recently warned that California has only about one year’s worth of water left in storage, while its groundwater is rapidly depleting. According to scientists, 40% of the state is undergoing an ‘exceptional drought’-the most severe it has seen in 1,200 years. Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown issued the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions. It sounds apocalyptic because it is, even if we don’t feel it immediately.
And a dry California is a disaster for the entire US. California is our breadbasket-where more than one-third of our vegetables come from and some two-thirds of our fruits. What it means immediately is higher food prices across the US. It’s not enough anymore to think that if you don’t live in a dry state you won’t be affected. The water crisis affects us all in many ways. Parts of Oklahoma are hard hit by drought. Drought conditions have intensified in Nevada and Utah, and Arizona is facing a similar problem to California-it’s growing thirstier by the day.
Water is behind every single sector of our economy and our way of life. It’s more valuable than oil because at the end of the day, there is no oil without water. It’s important that everyone understands that finding a solution for our growing water crisis is hands-down the most important endeavor of our time-from both a human and an industrial standpoint.
James Stafford: Ok, so where do we stand today in terms of new technology that can address urgent water supply issues on a global level?
Stanley Weiner: Until recently, new technology that could realistically address urgent issues of water supply around the world had been relegated to the realm of science fiction. Even though the technology has existed and was continually advanced, it was unfeasible on a commercial scale-until now.
So what we’re seeing today is a breakthrough that is far more significant than the technological advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that ushered in the shale revolution. Today, we can provide a solution to droughts; we can provide dry communities with more drinking water than they ever could have imagined-and we can prop up the shale boom by providing drillers with more sources of water, ultimately leading to America’s energy independence. We can also economically recycle the water they use in the process.
James Stafford: What you’re describing is no less than a water revolution, then?
Stanley Weiner: Absolutely. This is a revolution, and it’s only just emerging, so we can expect a lot of technological advancements along the way to make desalination even more efficient and cost-effective. But there is no turning back now.
On the desalination front, Netherlands-based Salttech has developed breakthrough technology called Salttech DyVaR, for which STW has the exclusive license in North America. Salttech is a think tank with brilliant engineers and scientists who are always asking how they can make it better. After such a long time trying to bring feasible desalination technology to the world, this is finally the game changer.
Everything is connected to everything else-that’s the first message to be heard loud and clear from this emerging ‘water revolution’. Tighter environmental regulations have expanded the market for companies that encompass not only the use of ‘green’ technology, but also of ‘blue’, or clean water technology. But there’s a third color here that is just as important, and we’ll call it black, which means it has to make sense economically. Until now, desalination technology has been too expensive, with projects operating in the red, rendering them economically unfeasible on a commercial scale. ‘Blue’ technologies have also until now not been ‘green’ enough to make sense for the environment.
James Stafford: Ok, so first take us through what this next-generation desalination technology is capable of …
Stanley Weiner: First off, this is largely mobile technology, so it’s easy to set up in all kinds of venues and to move around, which also contributes to cost-effectiveness, but it can also be a fixed facility situation. What it does is this: It takes dirty water and turns it into potable water using vaporization. It can clean up the oil industry’s frack flowback water and the dirty water produced by oilfields, and it can also desalinate ocean water.
James Stafford: And how does it work, exactly? There has been a lot of talk lately about thermal distillation using Dynamic Vapor Recompression (DVR), but for the layman, what does this mean?
Stanley Weiner: OK, yes, DVR is a key aspect of the Salttech desalination system. DVR is a new type of mechanical vapor recompression-which is the process of evaporating water at moderate temperatures through the use of a vacuum and then condensing it in a higher-pressure chamber. The heat of condensation is transmitted to the influent stream through a heat exchanger. All of this requires very little energy compared to conventional process that rely on “flash distillation” and large amounts of energy. Where the term “dynamic” comes into play in the DVR is in relation to the use of a cyclone during the evaporation process. This cyclone separates the crystallized salts from the brine by centrifugal force.
James Stafford: On a ‘green’ level, how is this new generation technology different? What makes it actually ‘green’?
Stanley Weiner: The key aspect of this technology is what we call zero liquid discharge (ZLD). All these ‘permanent’ desalination plants that are being put up around the world-including nine just in Texas and one in Carlsbad, California-are harming the fragile ecosystem of our oceans and waterways. They can’t process more than 35-50% of the water in the desalination process, and what they don’t