February 14, 2009

The Boston Globe

Oasys raises $10m for desalination

A Cambridge company developing an economical way to convert saltwater into drinking water said it has finalized $10 million in venture capital funding.

Oasys Water Inc. says it hopes to market a process that reduces by 90 percent the amount of energy needed to convert saltwater, compared with current methods that use reverse osmosis - the filtration of water through a membrane.

The Oasys technique was initially developed by Yale University researchers.

"The major reason why this matters is we're running out of water re sources," said Aaron Mandell, cofounder and chief executive of Oasys, as well as managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, a Cambridge venture capital firm. "If you look at California - they're already losing jobs, and people are moving away, because there's isn't enough water in places like San Diego."

Oasys said the financing was led by venture capital firms Flagship Ventures of Cambridge, Advanced Technology Ventures of Waltham, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson of Menlo Park, Calif. The money will be used to develop a product that Mandell said should be available within 24 months and will be aimed at markets looking to treat between 1,000 and 5,000 cubic meters of water per day. Oasys estimates the cost of treating a cubic meter of water - the equivalent of 262 gallons - will be 30 to 50 cents using its technology, compared with 90 cents to $1 for current methods that rely on electricity-intensive reverse osmosis.

Because electricity prices keep rising, Mandell said, "the cost of doing desalination is actually going up, even though the technology is getting better and more efficient."

While reverse osmosis desalination requires high pressure to force water through a membrane, Oasys says its technique uses forward osmosis, which draws out salt and other substances and uses far less energy.

The technology, which Yale researchers have been working on for eight years, comes at a time when the availability of drinking water has become a major geopolitical issue.

"We have few substitutes for clean, fresh, nonsaline water. Populations are growing too fast in areas of the world where clean water is already scarce," said Scott Torreano, professor of forestry and geology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.