Hydrovolts, Halopure and WaterTectonics See Big Opportunities in Water

2/22/11Follow @curtwoodward

Quite a few Seattle-area companies are tackling some ambitious projects that are all about water. I’m talking about clean drinking water, industrial water treatment, and innovative hydropower. Insights on all of that had people taking notes and asking plenty of questions at a cleantech confab Friday.

The event was organized through the Washington Clean Technology Alliance and hosted at the UBS offices in downtown Seattle. The three companies on hand each deal with a different facet of the world’s most vital resource, so you might think they don’t have much in common. But they all see big business opportunities in the years ahead.

Seattle-based Hydrovolts is headed by affable hydropower entrepreneur Burt Hamner. The company focuses on pairing next-generation hydroelectric systems with an ancient technology: canal systems.

Hydrovolts‘ products are small-scale turbines that bob below the surface in a canal or other waterway and create electricity as the water passes by.

Traditional hydropower, which the Pacific Northwest has a lot of experience with, needs dams and big reservoirs to generate enough speed in huge electric turbines.

But Hamner says his in-line turbines can now generate power from much slower flows because of recent advances in generator technology. He says that’s leading to the potential for the first broad adoption of smaller, in-stream hydropower devices.

“I can’t tell you what the growth rate is, because no one’s ever done it,” Hamner says.

Depending on the water conditions, Hydrovolts’ system can generate up to 25 kilowatts, which Hamner says is enough to power several U.S. homes or something closer to an entire village in the developing world.

Hydrovolts’ first customer is a company building hydropower projects in northern India, where Hamner sees potential for hundreds of turbines in just one 14-mile Ganges River canal.

Everett, WA-based WaterTectonics is a 12-year-old family business that is suddenly making some big moves in the oil and gas sector.

The company started out as a response to strong stormwater treatment regulations in Washington state, focusing its business on construction sites. When the construction sector tanked a few years ago, WaterTectonics sought other industries that might need its systems for purifying wastewater.

It’s paying off. After two pilot projects in the petroleum sector in 2008, WaterTectonics caught the eye of a little $18-billion-a-year oil-services firm called Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) and recently struck a deal to begin treating some of the company’s industrial water, with expectations for 20 systems this year.

“We went from just a good business to something that was recognized by a Fortune 500 company as something that was ready for commercialization,” sys T.J. Mothersbaugh, the company’s industrial sales manager.

WaterTectonics uses something called electrocoagulation to get the gunk out of industrial water. Pressurized water passes through a tank where electricity is applied, separating contaminants into a sludge that can be filtered away.

It’s actually an old technology—Mothersbaugh says it’s been around for many years, but hasn’t been used on large scales for industry very much until now.

Also on hand at Friday’s panel discussion was Halosource, a company that Xconomy readers will remember from its $80 million IPO in London last fall.

The Bothell, WA-based maker of water-purification technology is continuing a focus on worldwide markets for its drinking water purification technology, with recent deals to supply other companies in India and Brazil.

Halosource’s headline product is Halopure, which uses low-cost cartridges of treated plastic beads to kill viruses and bacteria in water that cause millions of people in poor countries to get sick.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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