The good news is that a viable technology already exists, and it’s so cost effective that it can often return the investment on equipment installation in a matter of months. The emerging hero of the dry times ahead? Ozone. This simple, safe, easily produced variation of the common oxygen molecule can single-handedly solve the challenges of onsite water recycling, and it does the job better and more cheaply than traditional water purification systems.
A proven track record
Commercial poultry processors were the first to get on board with ozone recycling technology. Many of these companies have switched to systems built by a Kansas-based company called American Water Purification, Inc. (AWPI.biz). Because poultry processors use millions of gallons of water per month, the switch to ozone has saved in excess of $1 million per year at a single facility. The technology is so efficient–even at lower usage volumes–that other industries are now turning their attention to it, from industrial operations to construction companies, from office buildings to retail housing developments.
Evolving beyond “chlorine consciousness”
One of the most common chemical components used in older water recycling and purification technologies is chlorine, which solves some problems and creates others. In its purest form, chlorine is a deadly gas, which explains its ability to kill germs (ozone does a much better job, but we’ll get to that), but this also creates a drawback: when we use chlorine to poison germs in water, then drink the water (or process food with it), we poison ourselves. Chlorine is a proven carcinogen.
International markets are paying plenty of attention to this danger. In early 2010, Russia imposed a ban on poultry meat treated with chlorine, a process commonly used in the United States. Other nations will likely follow Russia’s example.
We’re so accustomed to the idea of using chlorine in our water that we’ve conditioned ourselves to overlook its dangers. The fact that there was no alternative also tied our hands. Now there is an alternative.
Ozone: a harmless alternative
Ozone kills more pathogens than chlorine, does it faster*, and carries none of the chemical risks of chlorine. Here’s how: the oxygen we breathe is a molecule made up of two oxygen atoms–hence the chemical designation “O2.” The ozone molecule is very similar, but carries a third oxygen atom–hence the chemical designation “O3.” The third atom wants to break apart from the other two, and it’s this instability that gives ozone the power to kill germs. Bacteria are built to absorb normal oxygen molecules, and are perfectly happy to absorb ozone instead. When they do this, the ozone does what it already wanted to do–it gives off the extra oxygen atom and produces a burst of energy at the microscopic level, and as the molecule flies apart, so does the bacteria. The only byproduct from this reaction is harmless oxygen, free of toxins and carcinogens. The simple mechanics of this process make it unlikely that bacteria will mutate into resistant strains. (This is another drawback of chlorine; germs have been known to evolve into poison resistant strains, and when this happens, that particular poison stops working, and researchers have to figure out a new way to kill the resulting “super germ” or use even higher levels of chlorine.)
Unlike chlorine, which has to be stored in corrosion-resistant containers, ozone is created onsite just before use. It has a half-life that’s measured in minutes, and any ozone gas that is accidentally released into the environment quickly turns into harmless O2, as opposed more stable, toxic gases like those associated with chlorine.
Solving problems small and large
Ozone systems also leap the other water purification hurtles, like the removal of iron, suspended solids and odor-causing agents.
Unlike fossil fuels, water has no substitute. The early adoption of super-efficient recovery and recycling systems will be soon be a critical issue for many businesses. With the emergence of onsite ozone recycling systems that can be affordably installed and operated, we can all look forward to healthier, more affordable water … and just when the world needs it most.
*Ozone kills germs 3,000 times faster than chlorine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ozone is the most effective primary disinfectant available for drinking water. And when it kills germs, the only chemical it gives off is oxygen, which we can always use more of.
Wynn Ponder is a freelance writer who covers health, science, industrial and marketing topics and owner of Wichita marketing firm Ponder:Connect.