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terça-feira, 26 de maio de 2015

USA TODAY: Nanotech companies trying to fight California's drought

(Photo: Marco della Cava, USA TODAY)
NAPA, Calif. – Cakebread Cellars makes wine the old-fashioned way, employing experts to use their eyes, nose and palate to produce coveted Napa Valley nectar.
But at the root of such success is water, which in California is fast becoming as precious as a rareCabernet Sauvignon. That's why behind the scenes here, high-tech tools are helping this cutting-edge winery maximize water through yet another drought.
"Technology gives us a much clearer picture of what's going on with our water usage," says Toby Halkovich, Cakebread's director of vineyard operations, as he clips a handheld leaf porometer to a grape leaf to monitor its moisture content. "The more accurate our information, the less water we waste."
When California Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1 issued an unprecedented statewide mandate to cut water use 25% by December, he targeted commercial and residential properties because the state's $45 billion agriculture business was too vital to disrupt.
But agriculture gulps down 80% of annual water consumption, so it stands to reason that the biggest savings won't come from a ripped up residential lawns but rather, from reduced use of water by agriculture and large industrial operations.
A 'River Closed' sign is posted on the Truckee River
A 'River Closed' sign is posted on the Truckee River which has dried
up because of lack of water at Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Calif. 
(Photo: Michael Nelson, European Pressphoto Agency)
Technology is poised to assist on both fronts. From nanotech to biotech, a range of companies is leveraging scientific leaps to profit from the preservation of what is inarguably the planet's most precious resource.
Boston-based Cambrian Innovation has seen a spike in California inquiries for EcoVolt, a self-contained system that uses electrically active microbes to both purify wastewater and generate energy-producing methane gas. EcoVolt is aimed at food and beverage companies, and is in use by a few California wineries and breweries.
"Just like solar helps companies generate their own power, we're aiming to help them reuse their water plus make power," says Cambrian CEO Matthew Silver. EcoVolt has helped Lagunitas Brewery in the Bay Area cut its water footprint by 50% and reduce electricity usage by 16%, he says.
"To make a bottle of beer, you use seven bottles of water," says Silver. "Place a bioreactor filled with microbes on your site and you can see (financial) payback in less than three years."
Also operating on the micro level is Dais Analytic of Tampa, whose nanotech membranes are able to purify wastewater "not on a parts-per-million rate, but parts-per-billion," says CEO Tim Tangredi.
The company's patented polymer technology is able to transfer water from one side of a barrier to another on a molecular level. At present, the system is leveraged for reducing the carbon footprint of commercial air conditioning systems. But Dais is seeking partners in California to push its water purification system, which it claims is more cost-effective than the $1 billion desalination plant operating in Carlsbad, Calif.
"Anytime you need to generate more water you also need to use more energy and vice versa, and we're trying to break that cycle," says Tangredi. "California's drought is driven by a changing climate and population growth. They'll need more water, but we're saying they can reuse what they already have."
One of the biggest enemies of agricultural water use is evaporation, which is where Ambient Water comes in. The Spokane, Wash., company "harvests water from the atmosphere, turning vapor into liquid through a dehumidifier on steroids," explains CEO Keith White.
From the Model 2500 home version to the Ambient Water 20K, which is aimed at water-intensive oil and gas operations, the technology comes into play agriculturally with greenhouse-based vertical farming.
By enclosing and stacking crops many stories high, "you can have complete climate control and a closed-loop system where you use less water, fewer pesticides and get greater yields," says White. Ambient's device collects the moisture given off by such plants and returns it in liquid form to the growing cycle.
But for farmers who aren't about to overhaul their planting process, one way to instantly reduce water use is to simply know how much they're wasting.
HydroPoint Data Systems of Petaluma, Calif., makes smart water-management solutions that combine high-tech sensors and monitors with AT&T's cloud-based, machine-to-machine data transfer. By factoring in weather data, the system also can adjust watering routines.
"Most watering technology is stupid and doesn't react to the environment," says HydroPoint CEO Chris Spain, adding that his products can even factor in soil moisture levels. "We shouldn't be talking about a 25% reduction in water use, but rather a 95% elimination of wasted water."
HydroPoint clients include Walmart, Ford and California's Caltrans transportation network, and last year saved customers $145 million in water-related expenses, says Spain. He adds: "A four-letter word will help solve our water crisis - data."
Such talk fits right in among the technorati, but increasingly it's also the language spoken here at Cakebread Cellars.
Beyond the leaf moisture meter - which transfers data to company-issued iPad Minis – Cakebread's crops are monitored by underground probes that precisely measure water density and sap flow sensors that indicate which way water is coursing through a vine.
The winery even recently rebuilt its massive parking lot, swapping concrete, which funnels water away to drains, for porous pavers that return rainwater to the natural aquifers below the surface.
"We've put water meters on everything, from our crops to our landscaping," says Bruce Cakebread, who learned the wine trade from his father, company CEO Jack Cakebread, a photographer turned vintner who studied under Ansel Adams.
"At home, it's yellow water in the toilet, and at work it's all about maximizing what we've got through hard work and technology," says the scion. "We're only a small part of a big state, but there's a movement going on."