What do you get when you combine the natural movement of the ocean with desalination technology? Freshwater without the need for electricity. It’s automatic, environmentally friendly and delivered via a company called Oneka.
Desalination is nothing new. However, adoption has been slow due to cost, the need for desalination plants and the copious amounts of energy required to drive the process. Additionally, it’s never been a realistic option for small communities, especially those in remote locations.
Considering the droughts and water shortages, specifically across the western U.S., being able to tap into the vast quantity of ocean water is a likely necessity for the future in order to meet the needs of communities. But, for it to be usable, the salt needs to be filtered out. Although the technology has been around a long time, there hasn’t been a breakthrough that has really put the process into the mainstream menu of options.
“The Oneka desalination system does not require external energy, fuel or solar panels; only waves of decent height for the production of drinking water,” the company said. “Compared with the traditional diesel desalination system — which has a high cost — you can save up to 70% of your total bill by choosing Oneka for your drinking water consumption.”
Small but mighty Snowflake
As a result, Oneka is simplifying the process with an enclosed system, called Snowflake, which sits on the surface of the water like an oversized buoy. As the waves move the device, it uses the hydropower to drive the onboard desalination mechanism. This makes it energy efficient since it doesn’t need an external power supply.
The Snowflakes are placed between one-tenth of a mile and two miles offshore. This allows the units to be placed outside protective reefs if necessary. They reach a depth of around 35 feet. The system does require wave movement, but the waves only need to reach between three and 10 feet in height. Snowflakes are protected against the high winds and waves caused by hurricanes and are expected to last around 15 years in the marine environment.
Oneka desalination produces clean energy without carbon emissions. The company explains that it does have a byproduct, however it’s a natural material produced from filtering the salt out of the water, resulting in brine.
“Brine is the water released from the buoy that has captured salt ions from desalination,” said the company. “The Oneka system releases a brine with a salinity that is only slightly (± 30%) higher than that of the ocean. In addition, since each buoy has its own water inlet and outlet, the discharge is distributed over a large area and is rapidly diluted, thus not affecting the ocean’s salinity and the marine ecosystem.”
Plus it doesn’t require land space, in contrast to desalination plants. This allows the land to remain intact, reducing deforestation and urban development, especially along the sensitive coastlines.
The future of desalination
As a partial solution for the freshwater crisis, desalination is particularly effective in coastal communities, whether the water is funneled to residential homes, businesses, resorts or to serve the needs of remote islands that otherwise have to have water shipped in. The technology turns a readily available and regional resource into an option for providing fresh drinking water. Each buoy is delivered completely assembled and ready to produce up to 10,000 liters of drinking water per week. The systems require minimal maintenance so they can be placed and put to work quickly.
In addition to a compact, all-inclusive design, the Oneka water buoys are scalable to meet growing needs. It’s a fast and convenient way to adjust the clean water output with the hassles of urban planning committees. Instead of months and years of preparation and building, such as in the case of desalination plants, there is no infrastructure to consider. Simply add additional buoys as the needs of the community grows.
The innovative design is catching the eye of those looking for viable desalination processes. Snowflake was recently awarded a $729,000 grant as a prize for winning the Waves to Water grand prize from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It’s a system that holds the potential solution for addressing crisis response following natural disasters and in planning for the ongoing challenges presented by climate change.
Although Snowflake is newly launched, the Quebec-based company is already looking towards future innovations with the Icecube product class, which is intended for small commercial uses, emergency disaster response and low-population communities. The system focuses on convenient shipping and installation with minimal tools. Oneka can also serve the needs of tourist locations and a variety of community sizes.
“Projects consisting of several Iceberg units will be able to supply more than one million liters per day (1000 m3/day) of freshwater with arrays of several buoys that will produce 30 to 50 m3 each,” they said.
Also on the horizon is a system intended to provide water for high-consuming industries and cities with populations over 100,000 people.
Images via Oneka