Removing Toxic Metals from Water

The U.S. water market is $95 billion ($425 billion globally). Of that $95 billion, $24 billion is spent on industrial wastewater purification and recovery.

Innovative water technology startup Crystal Clear Technologies has developed a novel approach to separate out toxic contaminants such as arsenic, copper, uranium and selenium. The technology is specifically relevant to industrial smelters, power plants and mining operations.

“We’re the first company doing this kind of approach,” says James Harris, CEO of Crystal Clear Technologies.

The company uses a low-cost biopolymer with absorbents called Chitosan to separate out contaminants. It works as a sponge that binds to specific toxic elements. At the core of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company’s technology is bifunctional ligands, which bind to toxic metals on the order of eight times more effectively than existing reverse-osmosis systems.

Alberta has over 1.0 trillion barrels of oil reserves,
only recoverable with massive amounts of water.
(Photo: NASA)

The original technology was developed at the University of Oregon. Crystal Clear has used a variety of Small Business Innovation Research Grants funds over the past several years to refine and perfect the technology.

Today two methods are used to filter out unwanted contaminants: flocculation and reverse osmosis. The predominant approach today is RO. But it typically has greater energy costs and there’s a disposal problem, with residue left over. Crystal Clear’s technology has a much smaller byproduct of sludge by comparison to flocculation and RO.

In terms of cost, here’s how the technologies stack up. Flocculation costs about $.80 per 1,000 gallons of water and reverse osmosis costs $.58 per 1,000 gallons, according to data from Crystal Clear. The company’s approach with Chitosan costs $.03 to $0.15 per 1,000 gallons.

Some mining operations using RO run at $150 per 1,000 liters. Crystal Clear claims it can deliver the same purification at $25 per 1,000 liters. Over the next six to nine months, Harris says the company is going to be focusing on scaling its system and experimenting with other elements like lead and selenium.

In terms of how the filtration system can be paired with renewable energy sources like solar or wind, Harris says any of those systems could be used to drive the pumps and filtration process. The company is in the process of a fundraising round for the next phase of its operations. By Lee Bruno

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