Thursday, February 25, 2010

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to spare

A handful of companies are clustered in a corner of the Arbuckle Cafe in the Graduate School of Business building on Stanford Campus. The subject is water.

Water is the ultimate resource, and more frequently, it is a scarce one. Not content to watch an opportunity go by, a handful of start-ups offer ways to save it, use it for irrigation and clean it up.

Not your dad's sprinkler system
What do you get when you combine 21,000 tracking stations across the continental US, a proprietary model to calculate evaporation rates and an internet-connected water sprinkler controller? According to Scott Meinzen of WeatherTRAK, "A system that lowers water bills, reduces runoff, and pays for itself in 24-36 months." Started in 2001 in Petaluma, WeatherTRAK controllers are being installed in businesses, schools and residential sites across the US.

Low-tech solution targets 600 million farmers in China and India
DripTech is a two-year old start-up homegrown out of the Stanford Design School. Their product is a low-cost drip irrigation system for developing countries. "The market is 600 million farmers in China and India," Danny Gilliland explains, "Our product allows them to double their crop yield by allowing them to plant during the dry season." The key to their system is that it does not require a high-pressure water line, a rare luxury in developing countries.

In a reversal of the usual way global economics works, the US manufactured DripTech's first sale was to 100 greenhouses in China. Their technology is a drip-line that can deliver water 100 feet using only 3 feet of water pressude. Their first in-the-field product test is coming up, the Chinese dry season is fast approaching.

Clean up after yourself
At the stairs Terry Appleberg stands next to pamphlets for APTwater. "We clean contaminated groundwater using ozone and hydrogen peroxide to destroy contaminants," he explains. Customers include industrial firms seeking to clean groundwater that they've polluted.

The night ends, the company reps pack up for the drive home without fanfare. These may not be the rock stars of eweek, but these companies are looking to make a splash where it counts. I'll drink to that.

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