There are enormous benefits with osmotic power, namely that it's the cleanest, most reliable source of renewable energy on the planet, it is always available and more cost-effective than solar or wind power, has a small ecological footprint and it recycles natures resources (seawater or wastewater).

What is osmotic power?

Tom Rooney | Energy Recovery

What is osmotic power? How does it work?

Osmotic Power or Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO) is a burgeoning renewable energy source (RES) that converts the pressure differential between water with high salinity and water with lower or no salinity into hydraulic pressure. This hydraulic pressure can be used to drive a turbine that produces electrical energy. Osmotic power can occur naturally where a river meets the sea or by bringing together two manmade sources from processing plants (like a wastewater treatment or desalination facility).  Energy Recovery’s PX technology works in unison with next-generation PRO membranes to cost-effectively enable stable, reliable, environmentally friendly energy production anywhere that both freshwater and saltwater are available. PX Pressure Exchanger devices are an essential component of an osmotic power plant, maintaining high osmotic pressure in the system by recycling the water pressure with extremely high efficiency.

There are enormous benefits with osmotic power, namely that it’s the cleanest, most reliable source of renewable energy on the planet, it is always available and more cost-effective than solar or wind power, has a small ecological footprint and it recycles natures resources (seawater or wastewater).

Why is Energy Recovery focusing on osmotic power?

Osmotic power has truly come of age now, but it’s impossible to do efficiently without Energy Recovery technology. Our sweet spot is where high fluid and high-pressure flows exist simultaneously.  Whether it’s reverse osmosis desalination, midstream processing in oil and gas, or osmotic power, our energy recovery technologies take this otherwise wasted pressure and capture it for further use – in a closed loop pressurized process or transforming that energy into electrical power.  Energy Recovery has always been on the cusp of innovation, and osmotic power is certainly the innovative renewable energy source of the future.

What does Energy Recovery technology do to facilitate osmotic power?

Osmotic power has great potential, but it’s only economically feasible if you reduce the cost of creating it. Energy Recovery’s PX devices reduce energy use, allowing osmotic power plants to produce renewable energy.  By recycling the energy typically wasted as part of the reject stream, the PX devices—which operate at 98 percent efficiency—reduce energy use by up to 60 percent, helping to make desalination an affordable solution to global water scarcity. Energy Recovery’s flagship, game-changing technology functions on a similar principle in osmotic power processes. PX technology increases the energy output and reduces the energy consumed during the osmotic power generation process — ensuring the net-positive production of electricity.

What applications do you believe are the best suited to use osmotic power?

Seventy percent of the earth's surface is covered with water, 97 percent of which is saltwater. The revolutionary process of Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO) is created by mixing of seawater and freshwater and the resulting osmotic power serves as both a renewable and consistent source of electricity. While still the in the early stages, the best estimates of global production potential of osmotic power exceed 1,600 terawatt hours, or the equivalent of half of Europe’s entire energy demand. 

Osmotic power is the process of converting the pressure differential between water with high salinity and water with lower or no salinity into hydraulic pressure. This hydraulic pressure can be used to drive a turbine that produces electrical energy.

There are two primary methodologies for osmotic power:
A) natural occurrence's globally where river water meets the sea OR
B) bringing together two man made water sources from processing plants

Both methods are viable but one produces more power than the other method. Method A:  Seawater averages 40 grams of salt/ liter + River Water provides less power than Method B:  Brine (from desalination) averages 60 grams of salt/ liter + treated water. The higher the salinity, the more power can be generated.

How long has Energy Recovery been working with osmotic power and where do you see it going next?

Energy Recovery has been a pioneer in this industry development, including owning patents for osmotic power as well as piloting the technology since 2009. As you know from our latest release with Korea-based GS E&C Corporation, massive engineering companies are exploring their own potential with this renewable energy source and finding their own points of entry. Because of its ability to be online, providing power 24 hours a day (compared to solar and wind for example) and the existing availability of water stream resources, osmotic power is likely to become the next global growth area for alternative energy.

Do you think osmotic power is a viable alternative energy for the future? 

There are estimates that the global potential for osmotic power could generate on upwards of 1700 Terawatt hours of energy per year.  More reliable than other renewable energy sources, osmotic power provides base load energy storage and use. Energy Recovery PX’s are well-known world-wide for their availability and high efficiencies which work to osmotic power’s advantage.  We are confident in our technology’s ability to perform for constant output.  Our PX devices are so reliable, they’ve been in use in sea water reverse osmosis plants (desalination) for over ten years – which is one of the main reasons GS Engineering & Construction Corporation (GS E&C Corp) chose our energy recovery devices over the competition. Driving down the operating cost of an osmotic power plant, using Energy Recovery technology, makes osmotic a viable alternative energy source.

Can you tell us a bit about Energy Recovery --- who you are and what you do?

Energy Recovery is a global clean tech company who’s technology harnesses massive amounts of untapped fluid energy from water, oil & gas and chemical industries that would otherwise be wasted, reducing overall operating costs and carbon emissions. Energy Recovery technology has the ability to “close the loop” on wasted pressure from fluid, turning liabilities into assets. The untapped energy creates business value and helps implement sustainable innovations on a large scale and across industries.

With more than 15,000 Energy Recovery devices installed      worldwide, Energy Recovery holds 90 percent market share in the desalination industry. The company’s clean technologies have cut 14 billion kilowatt hours of energy every year and produce more than 12 billion liters of clean water every day.  Energy Recovery has been a major energy efficiency leader in key desalination plants globally for decades, saving $1.4 billion in energy cost to its clients. Recently, Energy Recovery devices were selected for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, saving the plant $12 million in energy costs per year and providing 50 million gallons of water per day. 

Does Energy Recovery have any other new developments in the alternative energy field that you would like to talk about?

We are currently focusing on the uptick of the desalination industry around the world, as it is growing tremendously in places like China and the Middle East, but also in California and other parts of the US.

Energy recovery technologies developed and applied in desalination are now being tested and adapted for the oil & gas industry. High pressure used during the amine gas sweetening process is now being captured and reused, eliminating energy loss and thereby reducing the costs associated with natural gas production, up to 70%. The development of this type of technology can go a long way in helping the industry reduce is carbon emissions. Global industries like mining, chemical processing and other high-fluid flow processes are tremendous growth opportunities for energy recovery devices and will continue to be part of the company’s growth strategy.


Thomas S. Rooney, Jr., Chief Executive Officer

Tom Rooney was named the Chief Executive Officer of Energy Recovery in February of 2011, and was subsequently elected to the board of directors of Energy Recovery in June of 2011. Mr. Rooney brings more than 30 years of experience in leading global companies through strategic transformations while helping them to capitalize on new market opportunities. Prior to joining Energy Recovery, Mr. Rooney was the CEO of SPG Solar, and prior to that he was the CEO of Insituform Technologies (now known as Aegion Corporation).

In addition to his role as the CEO of Energy Recovery, Mr. Rooney serves on the boards of FilterPure and the International Centre for Democratic Transition (‘ICDT’).  Filterpure is a non-profit organization based in the Dominican Republic which manufactures products designed to provide safe drinking water to the at-risk populations of the developing world.  The ICDT is an international NGO based in Budapest, Hungary.  Mr. Rooney also serves, or has served, on a number of for-profit, public and private corporate boards in the water, hi-tech and renewable energy industries in both the United States and China.

Mr. Rooney holds a Bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Cornell University and an MBA, with a specialization in Finance, from the University of Chicago.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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