If it's good enough for Navy Seals, it's good enough for guests at luxury hotels.
Singapore has installed a water purification system on the from Global Water Group in Dallas that will process 2,500 gallons worth of waste water and effluent streams – i.e., sewage – a day and turn it into drinking water. The system, which is located in the newly created village off Pulau Seringat on the coastal island of Sentosa, has been tested and will begin delivering water later this month.
If all goes well, the country may install more of the modular purification units in Pulau Seringat and elsewhere, according to Global Water.
Water recycling: That's a term you should probably get used to. It is somewhat self-explanatory. Waste water gets treated so that it can be consumed again. At a basic level, it involves taking gray water – or water that's been used in showers or to wash hands – and filtering it to a degree where it can be used for irrigation. Companies in Japan and Australia, for instance, sell toilets with sinks above the tap: Water used to wash your hands gets routed to the tank to flush the toilet instead of being swirled straight into the sewage system (see video here, along with a DIY bidet).
More advanced systems take infected waste water and clean it. At the University of Illinois, for instance, Mark Shannon, is developing a new type of water purification system that will convert sewage into re-useable water, methane and a sludge of minerals that can be sold to manufacturers or brick makers.
"If you can show people they can make money from purifying water, they will beat a path to your door," he said in an interview earlier this year.
Singapore is one of the most advanced nations when it comes to water recycling. It already has a program on the mainland, called NEWater, for reintroducing waste water into the stream for human consumption. The country imports around half of its water from Malaysia and wants to reduce any dependency.
Make no mistake: The global water crisis is real. Australia, China and parts of North America have been hit hard by prolonged droughts. El Paso, Texas has invested in a desalination system to clean salts out of its groundwater. If a 6.8 earthquake knocks out the canals in central California, getting fresh water to L.A. and San Francisco (and keeping sea water out) will be a problem within hours.
Water conservation techniques can help, but they won't provide a complete answer. Even if humans reduce consumption by 60 percent and agriculture and industry reduced water consumption by 20 percent each, the world's water supply would have to grow by 30 percent to meet demand by 2030. Desalination, meanwhile, is expensive and desalination plants take years to build. Hence, water recycling. Another technique: Atmospheric Water Systems harvests moisture from the air for water coolers. General Electric and Siemens have scooped up various water companies in the last few years while IBM has made water one of the main pillars of its green strategy.
The World Water Council, meanwhile, states that 97 percent of the 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water on the Earth – the same amount the planet had a few billion years ago – is salty. Frozen water accounts for 2.25 percent. Only about 0.75 percent consists of readily accessible groundwater or freshwater.
"The whole concept of recycled water is going to happen. It is inevitable," said Spike Narayan, functional manager, science & technology at IBM's Almaden Research Center earlier this year. "We need to figure out inexpensive ways to do it."
So what does Global Water do? It has a three-stage cleaning process. It first filters out parasites and solids with membranes. The membranes snare anything wider than a micron. Hazardous chemicals are removed in a second stage. The third stage involves treating the water with ultraviolet light to kill microbes. Israel's Atlantium similarly uses microbes to kill microbes.
Global Water initially invented the system for the U.S. military for Special Forces teams. Some systems have been set up for special events and on oil rigs. This is the first large-scale, persistent system for the company.