PFA-free H2O

Innovative California company taps Houston area for purified water projects

A California tech company is planning on rolling out a handful of atmospheric water generation projects near Houston. Photo via skyh2o.com

Houstonians are used to filtering their water, but few really ponder why they’re doing it.

“Most people, when they think about water stress, they think about water scarcity, like what you see happening in Northern Africa or maybe the Southern U.S.,” says Alexander von Welczeck, chairman, president and CEO of SkyH2O. “A bigger, creeping issue, particularly in the industrialized world, is water toxicity.”

Some Houston tap water contains “forever chemicals” that can be toxic, as some reports have found. In fact, says von Welczeck, water toxicity is a problem across the Gulf Coast. That’s why the California-based businessman has identified Houston as the first region to benefit from SkyH2O’s technology.

The company will break ground on its first SkyH2O Station in the first quarter of 2024 in Dickinson, strategically placed between Houston and Galveston. That will be followed by another in Angleton. Eventually, says von Welczeck, there will be eight SkyH2O stations in the greater Houston area.

Von Welczek describes a SkyH2O Station as bearing a resemblance to “a big, modern gas station, but as opposed to gas, the primary product is fresh, healthy water.” With everything from charging stations for electric vehicles to a farmers market-style set-up of sustainable food, the stations will indeed be like a futuristic gas station.

Water will be distributed both in recyclable packaging for smaller businesses and homes, and in bulk to fill water tankers for ranches and other larger customers. Von Welczeck foresees, for example, Galveston cruise ships filling up with a supply of water at that station.

But where will this fresh, clean water come from? SkyH2O uses atmospheric water generation, or AWG, systems to pull humidity from the air and turn it into potable water. The higher the humidity, the more water can be produced.

“Obviously in and around Houston, we have tremendous humidity,” von Welczeck says.

This is all done using the Maximus 4260, the latest and greatest of the company’s AWG systems. The machine is rated to produce 10,500 litres of fresh, potable water a day. It produces net zero water, meaning that it doesn’t come from any existing water resource.

What comes out initially is a semi-distilled, purified water. The next step is further filtering it and adding minerals to make the product potable for customers. Von Welczeck says that SkyH2O’s water meets the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s water standards.

The serial entrepreneur has been working in the climate tech space since 2002 and has a proven track record. Von Welczeck says that he sold his company, Solar Power Partners, to NRG in 2010.

“From my perspective, most everything in climate technology, whether it's clean energy, recycling, even food and water, they're all interrelated,” he says.

After opening around 20 Texas locations, von Welczeck has his sights set on covering the entire Gulf Coast. After that, he hopes to expand to Mediterranean Europe, particularly water-strapped islands. He’s even in discussions with potential clients in the Middle East. But Houston will be the first to taste SkyH2O’s potentially globe-altering water.

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A View From HETI

The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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