NB’s hidden desalination company

Access to fresh water may not be a problem for most of New Brunswick, but the province does house a company that could help desert-dry countries around the world deal with their water issues.

CANDESAL is based in Fredericton and for years has quietly worked to desalinate the brackish waters produced by the Alberta oilsands. Using reverse osmosis, they’ve taken the salty brine and made 90 per cent of it good for reintegration into the environment or ready for reuse.

The company is an operating division of Atlantic Nuclear Services Inc. It was established in 2004 when ANS Technologies licensed the CANDESAL technology for sea water desalination.

The technology uses the leftover waste heat from a nuclear plant to increase the temperature of water waiting to be desalinated.

This quickens the desalination process, since warm water goes through reverse osmosis faster than cold water, CANDESAL president Keith Scott said. The radioactive energy itself is not used.

It’s this idea that has CANDESAL in the running for an international project contract. Jordan, an up-and-coming country in the world of nuclear power, put out a request for nuclear plant submissions about two years ago, with a request that desalination play a part in the system. CANDESAL partnered with one of the bidders, playing a relatively small part in the big picture, but contributing its technology of nuclear desalination.

Jordan is now evaluating the tenders, Scott said. A decision is expected next year, however, if the proposal is chosen, it would still be another six or seven years before the idea becomes a reality.

Scott said that while there are many places around the world turning to desalinated water to quench their national thirst, he said that it would not be realistic to imagine that New Brunswick could reap a profit by marketing desalinated Fundy water. The exorbitant transportation expense makes it cost prohibitive and Scott said the company is better suited to sell its technology.

In the past, the company has also worked with Egypt to evaluate its desalination setup and look for ways to improve its reverse osmosis process.

But the company also deals with water purification and has filtration units selling at Sears. There are even some plastic water bottles containing their product, Scott said.

The technology is designed to be able to handle ocean water and thus desalination could potentially be used in coastal communities dealing with wells that have been infiltrated with sea water.

However, while the company theoretically has the technology to supply potable water, Scott said there is not really a pressing need in Eastern Canada. Instead, the company’s future seems rooted in industrial remediation, such as their long-standing employment in Alberta, Scott said.

The World Congress on Desalination and Water Reuse will be held in Australia Sunday through Sept. 9, and the theme centres on sustainability. Since the last world congress in Dubai in 2009, the International Desalination Association estimates that more than a thousand desalination plants have sprung up around the world. For many, the next step beyond finding out how to do it, is making the system cost-efficient, which is perhaps why this year’s congress theme focuses on sustainability.

Previously published in the Telegraph-Journal; Sept 1, 2011