Re-releasing The Trout Turbine Into The Wild  

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Greentech Media has a report on some emerging examples of biomimicry, particularly a device that echos Viktor Schauberger's "Trout Turbine" - Water Companies Taking Cue From Nature.

The Vortex Generator is probably one of the few high-tech products inspired by a trout.

The Generator, a large funnel-like device created by Sweden's Watreco, purifies water with the same forces a trout uses to stay steady in a rushing stream. Water gets poured in the top of the generator, swirls through an ever-tightening coil of channels, and then spits out the other end fleeced of harmful chemicals and microbes. Water mixed with coffee grounds? Toilet water? It comes out clear.

The impurities are ejected because the swirling action of the draining water causes them to converge into a dense, removeable beam, sort of like how tea leaves bunch together when you swirl a cup fast. A vacuum at the base of the Generator then sucks them out. There are no moving parts and little, if any, external power.

"You either are against it and don't believe it, or you say there might be something in it," says CEO Mats Eliasson.

An Austrian forestry expert named Viktor Schauberger championed ideas about natural water flow in the first few decades of the 20th century, said CTO Curt Hallberg. He was derided as a kook, particularly when he brought up the part about the fish, but his ideas are gaining new currency. (Fish can do this because water rushes into their mouths and swirls out the gills.). Schauberger concocted something called the Trout Turbine and the Vortex Generator sort of evolved from that line of thinking.

PARC, the tech lab spun out from Xerox, has come up with a spiral that can purify water in a similar manner (see Toner Tech Clears Water).

When it comes to water technology, nature appears poised to become a major player. Similar to the Watreco and Parc situation, a group of startups – Novozymes and Aquaporin – are facing off against an industrial giant – Danfoss – in an effort to create a water-purification system based around a synthetic version of a protein called aquaporin.

In nature, aquaporins sit inside channels in biological cells where water, salts and solids pour in. At a particular instant, the aquaporin flips over, ejecting the impurities and allowing fresh water to pass through the cell. Novozymes is working on the protein and Aquaporin the company is building membranes and arrays to hold them. They hope to get workable water-purification units to semiconductor makers by 2011 or so and then may go after the desalination market.

"It needs one fifth of the pressure of reverse osmosis and you get five times the water flow," said Aquaporin CEO Peter Holme Jensen. The picture [below] is an artist's illustration of the protein in action.

Synthetic biology (creating molecules found in nature through synthetic, industrial processes) and biomimicry (industrial design that exploits a design advantage in nature.) are already part of the startup world. Pax Scientific, funded in part by Khosla Ventures, has come up with an energy-efficient PC fan. Cambrios, founded by MIT professor Angela Belcher, has devised semiconductor insulating material based on secretions of bacteria.

But the trend could be particularly promising in water. Why? It's everywhere, even Mars. Natural ways to channel the stuff have evolved over eons. Water purification companies also aren't transforming the molecule. They want to take out added impurities, but they aren't making the stuff or removing atoms. Compare that to the effort to synthetically harness the photosynthesis process.

Third, interest and investment in water technology is growing at a time when synthetic biology and biomimicry are gaining credence (see Investors High on Water and Water-Investment Drought Over?). It wasn't the case five years ago. When venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, an early advocate, would give talks on synthetic biology, a lot of people would raise their eyebrows in incomprehension.

Fourth, commercialization isn't that far off for some of these devices. Watreco, in fact, already sells a version of its generator for making ice.

Another article with a watery theme is this one from Greentech Gazette on the increasing interest in atmospheric water generators (an alternative to desalination plants in regions without access to non-fresh water - Atmospheric Water Generators Rising Like an Uncloudy Day.
When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s we had a dehumidifier that could pull the water out of the humid Midwest summer air and make it reasonably more comfortable. Now manufacturers have upgraded this concept and added all sorts of fancy filtration to it so that the agua is drinkable.

In fact, atmospheric water generators are so hot right now even famed crooner and environmentalist Willie Nelson has jumped on board. Forget that Bio-Willie biofuel stuff and the other ventures the country vocalist has been into. Now, Willie’s making water and money by partnering with Wataire International.

Not only does the atmospheric water generator suck the moisture from the surrounding air, but it also cleans and purifies it with a series of HEPA and carbon filters plus UV light. A company called Xziex has also announced their atmospheric water generator as well.

Seeking to replace some of the bottled water market in the more humid regions of the nation, Xziex is well, pulling water out of thin air and you don’t have to worry about the environmental impact of shipping small plastic bottles of water from Fiji or some other nonsense.

There is another market for atmospheric water generators that a few companies are just now exploring and this is for developing nations. Much of the world as we know it still exists without clean drinking water. Atmospheric water generators may help those in developing nations, outlying areas and places where clean drinking water is prohibitive.

Now couple these atmospheric water generators with a renewable energy source such as a small wind turbine or a few small solar panels and you truly have a sustainable source of clean water.


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