Water Treatment: Waste Not, Want Not

By November 28, 2007Innovation

By dint of a prominent link at the Drudge Report, this story about converting sewage to drinking water got a lot of attention by bloggers. The “ick” factor, we’re sure.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

All the better for that manned mission to Mars.

In any case, we were reminded of a recent interview in The Financial Times with Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric. It’s a very interesting interview heavy with a discussion of energy needs, but this answer from Immelt is relevant ot the world’s rising demand for potable water.

FT: What other parts of the infrastructure business would you like to pick out as an example of a growth field?

JI: Water treatment is a big and expanding area for us. We get about $2.5bn a year in sales from this sector now. I’d be very disappointed if it is not $5bn-$10bn in the next 5-10 years. We’ve made a number of acquisitions in this field and would be interested to look at more, such as in membrane technology [for cleaning up water supplies through filtering or osmosis technologies]. We are setting up a new research centre in Singapore – where there is a lot of expertise in this field – to examine new applications in these disciplines. Water is just the kind of business that suits GE to be in. It’s a global field with a lot of potential in the emerging economies. There’s a great deal of commercial and government focus to improve countries’ capability to provide a safer and more cost-effective water supply.

A large portion of GE’s website is devoted to water treatment technologies.

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