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Epiphany Solar Water Systems shifts focus to fracking

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
A bioreactor to remove toxic materials from the water used for hydraulic fracking is housed in shipping-style container that can be transported to a well site. The system, which is powered by solar energy collected with a series of dishes, is being tested to reduce the risks posed by transporting truckloads of contaminated water. The water purification system is being developed by Epiphany Solar Water Systems of New Castle, which has received funding from Consol Energy.
Epiphany Solar Water Systems of New Castle has developed a solar-powered water purification system to remove toxic materials from the water used for hydraulic fracking to extract natural gas from Marcellus shale. The system uses a series of dishes to collect solar energy to powers a bioreactor that purifies the water. The system, which has received funding from Consol Energy, aims to reduce the risks posed from transporting truckloads of contaminated water by allowing drillers to process it at the well site.

Tom Joseph is taking a detour to get to his dream of seeing his company's solar-powered water purification systems provide clean water for billions of thirsty people worldwide.

Last summer, Consol Energy Inc. invested $500,000 in Joseph's company, Epiphany Solar Water Systems Inc. in New Castle, to use its water purification systems to treat the toxic water that is a by-product of extracting natural gas from the Marcellus shale.

“Our involvement in the natural gas extraction is a temporary diversion,” Joseph said. “Our plan is to get this division up and running and going strong before we shift our efforts back to water desalinization.”

Epiphany's system uses an 8-foot diameter mirror to collect the sun's energy and heat impure water — such as salt water or fracking water — to a boil. The steam is captured so it can be distilled and solid materials separated.

When used to treat water for the hydraulic fracking process, a separate system known as a bioreactor is employed to capture highly toxic materials, Joseph said.Epiphany Solar was named the 2012 Innovator of the Year by the Pittsburgh Technology Council for its solar-powered water desalinization systems. Joseph received the 2012 Environmental Award from the Carnegie Science Center.

Since September, Consol has tested an Epiphany's system at a gas well in Greene County, Joseph said. He said data collected indicate the system is operating “right on the money.”

In addition to cutting the cost of treating fracking water from about 25 cents a gallon to 5 cents, the on-site system helps protect the environment by eliminating the danger of transporting contaminated water by truck to a disposal site.

The cleaned fracking water can be discharged into rivers or the ground, or reused in drilling operations. Recycling the water is in important in parts of the country such as Oklahoma and Texas, where water for drilling is scarce, Joseph said.

Joseph believes the experience his company will gain by removing toxic materials from water will make it easier to market the systems to countries that do not have adequate access to clean water.

“The fracking water is way dirtier than the sea water we treat to make it drinkable,” Joseph said. “So it will be easier to get potential customers to consider giving us a shot.”

Joseph estimates it will be two to five years before the company refocuses its attention on serving the estimated 2 billion people worldwide who do not have adequate access to clean water.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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