From The Editor | April 24, 2017

Kevin Costner's New Waterworld: Advancing Treatment Technology

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Kevin Costner

It’s not every day that we can draw a direct line from a Hollywood staple to news in the water treatment industry. Recently, however, actor Kevin Costner has changed that.

There was the time that Kim Kardashian found herself under scrutiny for ignoring California’s mandatory water cuts, and the ongoing saga of Tom Selleck’s avocado farm, but these hardly hit utility managers and treatment plant operators where they worked. But the star of 1995’s “Waterworld” is behind a company that is very much focused on innovating treatment technology.

“Kevin loves what we do and how we do it,” said Dr. Eric Hoek, CEO and Founder of Water Planet, a treatment technology company that received its initial investment and founding vision from the actor. “We speak often and he’s always wanting to brainstorm with me on ways we can make our products better and new water treatment problems we can solve.”

Two Water Planet products in particular appear to embody this problem-solving spirit. The first, the IntelliFlux control software, utilizes artificial intelligence to provide a potential 20 percent reduction in operating costs for ultrafiltration (UF) systems.

UF membranes typically go through a backwash process, first filtering water forward to remove suspended solids and then back again to knock them off of the membrane surface. This can result in a significant operating cost in energy and water use. The IntelliFlux software is designed to integrate with SCADA systems and minimize the need for backwashing as well as account for any changes in influent quality.

“IntelliFlux makes sure you are making your water throughput target while minimizing backwashing,” said Hoek. “That optimizes the cost. Moreover, influent water quality fluctuates in many applications. Standard controls are not designed to deal with these fluctuations and, hence, many applications are not presently served by UF technology because they would suffer very high operating costs.”

The company has also approached membrane improvement on a material level. Its PolyCera UF membranes have combined the long-lasting qualities of ceramic membranes with the cost-effectiveness of polymer membranes.

The polymeric material used for the membranes mimics the electronic activity of metal- or metal-oxide-based ceramic membranes, making them hydrophilic and resistant to fouling. They are also chemically- and thermally-tolerant in the way that ceramic membranes are. At the same time, these materials retain the costs of traditional polymer membranes.

“Robust, easy-to-clean PolyCera membranes being optimally maintained will deliver up to 40 percent lower operating costs relative to commodity polymer membranes with conventional controls,” Hoek said. “The cost reduction is even greater relative to ceramics because PolyCera costs so much less to purchase, offering both lower capital and operating costs.”

While the IntelliFlux system has been available for purchase since 2015, PolyCera membranes went on sale last year. They have since seen adoption throughout North America and Asia.

“We have installations for IntelliFlux in the U.S. and Canada,” Hoek said. “PolyCera has been sold throughout North America and in a number of places throughout the Asia-Pacific region. We are looking to break into South America, Europe, and the Middle East throughout 2017 and 2018.”

While Costner is not involved in the day-to-day operations at Water Planet, he is represented by a business partner on the company’s board. He did not have a hand in designing any of the innovative technology, but it appears to fit his goals of advancing water treatment technology.

Image credit: "IMG_0499.JPG" Jimmy Steele © 2006 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/