|August 11, 2016|
With new water generators, Carrollton startup can unlock the ocean above your head
|In the blackland prairie of Texas, an ocean is thousands of miles away. But Benjamin Blumenthal, co-founder and chief executive officer of SunToWater Technologies, says we're all standing under the sixth ocean -- the one that's above our heads.|
The Carrollton startup makes an appliance that unlocks that water supply. The company's water generators -- each about the size of a central air conditioning unit -- use air, salt and solar power to produce gallons of drinkable water. They could bring water to rural communities without a municipal water supply, regions stricken by drought or developing countries with water contamination.
But the company will target a higher-end market first: Homeowners with large lawns to water and swimming pools to fill. Blumenthal said SunToWater is focusing on customers in California and Texas, two states that have coped with an unpredictable, and often limited, water supply and the water restrictions and high utility bills that come with it.
Blumenthal said SunToWater's generators appeal to customers who buy home thermostats that track energy use or drive a Tesla. They come with a hefty price tag: $9,000 apiece.
But he said SunToWater will expand into other units, including a large commercial size that could provide water for a construction site or small village. He would also like to manufacture a unit that's less expensive and about the size of a microwave.
He imagines the water generators aiding humanitarian efforts and providing drinkable water during natural disasters or emergencies, such as the water crisis in Flint, Mich.
"It comes down to this: Clean water saves lives," he said. "People living in California understand water shortages and around the world, the need is even greater."
SunToWater's water generator was created by Flextronics, a global manufacturing company with a Plano office, but spun off into the startup for commercialization. Starting in June, SunToWater began taking reservations for residential units. Over 3,000 people have filled out an online form or sent an email to the company indicating interest in buying a unit, Blumenthal said.
The company, which has about 20 employees, has a growing sales team. It will start manufacturing in early 2017 in Texas or California. Blumenthal said he's in discussions with state officials about tax credits for customers similar to those for solar panels.
Much like solar panels, SunToWater's generators can take homes or businesses off the grid. Each unit produces 40 to 100 gallons of drinkable water a day. The water can be stored in a tank for everyday use or as an emergency supply.
The water the units make is pricier than municipal water -- but much cheaper than bottled water. It costs about 8 cents per gallon, compared with $1 to $3 for bottled water.
Blumenthal has seen the value of water firsthand. He was vice president of New York-based Bristol Investment Group, where he raised capital for Energy Brand's Vitaminwater. The startup was later sold to Coca-Cola for about $4.1 billion in cash. He was also CEO of Global Water Supply, a company that builds desalination plants on marine vessels.
Filling a need
In the U.S. , the average family of four uses about 400 gallons per day -- and about 70 percent of that is used indoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
An estimated 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that's contaminated by sewage, according to the World Health Organization. And 748 million people don't have access to improved drinking water.
Businesses and humanitarian agencies have looked for innovative ways to produce clean, affordable water. An Israeli startup called Water-Gen developed a portable water for armed forces and is releasing a civilian version this year. In San Francisco, a startup called Permalution has developed a way to harvest dew droplets from fog and collect them in a storage tank.
But a SunToWater generator is different than other water generators in a few ways: It uses a salt-based element instead of a refrigerant-based system. It runs on solar energy. And it can produce clean water in a climate with low humidity or polluted city.
A global issue
Last year, SunToWater won first place in the 2015 Impact Challenge of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank focused on using technology to address global challenges.
Nicholas Haan, a former United Nations senior economist and Singularity University's managing director of the global solutions program, said SunToWater's home-based units are on the "cutting edge" of the water industry.
Haan said it's amazing to see how technology -- including SunToWater's generators -- is solving some of the world's toughest problems. "It's almost like watching magic," he said.
Water generators made by SuntoWater Technologies â‹use solar power to turn moisture in the air into drinkable water. Each day, the generator can create between 40 and 100 gallons.
Here's how it works:
1. Small fans blow outside air over a salty material inside the unit. The salt absorbs the moisture like a sponge. If the unit is in a desert climate, the fans move faster to move more air over the salty material.
2. The water generator uses the sun's heat -- absorbed by a solar panel -- to bake water out of the salt.
3. The water turns into hot, humid air. That air funnels through a condenser and becomes pure, distilled water in a collection tank. It can be used for drinking, to water the garden or fill the swimming pool.