The R&D Tax Credit Aspects of Recycled Water
This article will discuss innovation and
new technologies in the recycled water industry. It is one
of a five part Water Tap series including Water
Analytics, Water Recycling, Desalination,
Advanced Water Technologies, and The U.S. and
Singapore Water Tap Comparison.
Water purification provides a partial
solution to the growing, world-wide water shortage issue. The
problem is a large one. Inadequate water sanitation
directly affects 2.5 billion people across the globe whom are
exposed to serious and often deadly water-borne
diseases. What’s more, is the effects are not limited to
health concerns. Farmers are less productive, crop
production is curtailed and manufacturing companies suffer
from inadequate access to safe, clean water. Imagine the
economic effects from one-third of the world’s population not
having access to the most important resource on earth.
Indeed, the consequences are far-flung.
As worldwide awareness of the issue spreads, innovative
thinkers are turning to purification technologies for a
practical solution. Large, underutilized water sources
exist across the globe. Salty groundwater, impaired rivers,
and post-consumer, reclaimed waters provide an abundant,
untapped, potential source of suitable, fresh water.
While technologies for purifying and recycling these resources
exist, substantial innovation is necessary to make them
cost-effective so they can be brought to market on a large,
global scale. Federal and state R&D tax credits are
available to support the efforts.
The Research &
Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and
Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13%
of eligible spending for new and improved products and
processes. Qualified research must meet the following four
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost
of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated
with developing a patent. On December 18, 2014,
President Obama signed the bill extending the R&D tax
credit for the 2014 year.
- New or improved products,
processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Water recycling involves a process by which
water can be used more than one time before being returned to
the natural water cycle . Typically, water utilities use
engineered technologies to speed up or mimic the natural process. For example,
wastewater discharge from communities alongside rivers
upstream often becomes the drinking water for other
communities downstream. First, however, the wastewater
must be filtered and treated in the recycling process.
This involves innovative water recycling technologies which
are often repeated several times before reaching the final end
user downstream. Aside from this, however, recycled
water is most commonly used for non-potable (not for drinking)
purposes, such as agriculture, landscape, public parks and
golf course irrigation. It is also used to replenish
groundwater sources or create and enhance wetlands. The
potential benefits from recycled water are enormous. If
the technology can be made cost effective it could potentially
solve many global health and economic issues.
The visual below demonstrates one way in which water recycling
is typically utilized:
The Global Water
The lack of access to clean, sanitized
water is large global issue. Worldwide, 780 million
people do not have access to an improved water source (one
that is protected from outside contamination, usually fecal
matter). In very poor countries, people often walk several
miles to fetch water from a dirty well or stream. Others
who are not so fortunate collect mud from ponds which have
been trod by animals and other people. Many more obtain
their drinking water from improved but still inadequate and
microbiologically unsafe sources. As a result, about
6,000 of these people die every day – most of them
children. Another 2.5 billion people lack access to
adequate sanitation. Because of this, an
additional 280,000 people die every year from preventable
cases of diarrhea. These issues however are not inevitable.
Providing clean, safe, drinking water on a global scale would
provide many universal benefits. Water sanitation has
the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease
burden and 6.3% of all deaths. Investments in better water
could mean 170,000 total fewer deaths a year while basic
sanitation would cut 80,000 deaths, mostly from infectious
The benefits of providing accessible, sanitized water
world-wide substantially outweigh the costs.
Universal access to basic drinking water would cost $14
billion a year until 2030 but would yield estimated benefits
of about $52 billion, or about $4 for every $1 spent,
according to a recent study by Reuters . According to a
similar study by Reuters, building toilets to eliminate
outside defecation in rural areas would cost $13 billion a
year until 2030 but give benefits of $84 billion, a return of
$6 for every $1 spent.
Water and sanitation have long been U.N. priorities. In the
past 25 years, more than two billion people of a world
population now totaling about 7.3 billion have gained access
to better water and almost two billion to sanitation.
Still, the world has a long way to go before the potential
benefits from clean, safe water can be fully realized.
Innovative water recycling technologies will contribute
significantly to the efforts. Some of these technologies
are described below.
Water Purification and
There are various different uses for
recycled water. Potable, reused water is used for drinking.
Non-potable reused water is used for irrigation and industrial
purposes. Direct, reused water is put directly into pipelines
through systems. Indirect, reused water is delivered in a way
that blends it with other supplies on its way to its
destination (such as the downstream wastewater example).
There are different methods for purification. Many times
a combination of two or more methods is used to treat the
water in stages (As described in the diagram below).
Four leading purification technologies commonly used in these
In general terms, water purification plants of various types
take in water of various levels of lower quality and convert
them to water of various levels of higher quality for the uses
described above. Systems are designed principally around the
water sources used, the intended use of purified water and the
costs involved to install and maintain, the technologies.
While many of these technologies have been identified,
substantial innovation is necessary to make them cost
effective to generate sanitized water on a large scale.
- Reverse osmosis method -
one of the more prevalent methods for purification. This
process forces pure water under pressure out of the source
and into a high concentration through a specialized
- Microfiltration method -
used mostly in pre-treatment to remove pathogens without
the use of chemicals which may not work on many of those
pathogens. Here water is put under pressure through a
semi-permeable filter. Pathogens and particles are not
small enough to pass through the filter, while water moves
on to further treatment.
- Ultraviolent light method –
here the light is commonly used as a disinfectant as water
flows through tubes. UV treatment leaves nothing extra in
water, sometimes requiring additives to be used in
- Carbon filter methods -
uses pellets, powders or grains of activated carbon to
trap contaminants and metals to purify water for drinking.
Carbon filters of this sort are abundant and easy to use.
Water from Sewage
Water from sewage systems contains
sediments and waste that needs to be filtered and removed
before moving on to the refinery for additional filtering
processes. Once enough filtering has been completed, the water can be made suitable
for potable and non-potable uses. One example of a new
and advanced wastewater treatment system is the Janicki Omni
Processor from Janicki Bioenergy of Sedro-Woolley, WA. Funded
by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2013, at a cost of
$1.5 million, the Omni Processor takes in sewage andeffectively boils it, in order to create
potable drinking water. Even more astonishing is the
plant’s ability to cycle waste back into the system in order
to power itself, which sustains the power requirements for the
Another company that is creating
innovations to treat sewage while capturing more benefits than
just water is Pilus Energy of Cincinnati, Ohio. Pilus'
technology creates water and electricity from sewage while
also generating Methane and a compound called Isoprene, which
is used to create synthetic rubber. Pilus hopes to
create socially rippling effects as a result of the savings
and innovative re-use of the bi- products involved in the
process. Other innovators around the world are
making substantial progress as well.
Singapore has been developing innovative water recycling
technologies. Their NEWater treatment plant comprises one of
Singapore's four principal water "taps" in its four tap
program and fits into our own 5 water tap series as part of
this article. NEWater closes the loop on the traditional water
cycle, aiming to take in water of any quality and output water
of various better qualities -- either to the sea or to further
refineries -- to be made suitable for drinking. NEWater makes
up 30% of Singapore's total water production, and the country
is aiming higher, hoping to achieve 55% of water demand
through the program.
Greywater is generally any water that is
discharged from sinks, showers, and washing machines
(Typically grey in appearance, hence the name). Greywater that
is treated is usually still rich in nutrients, allowing for
suitable applications in irrigation. By capturing and
targeting grey water utilities may be able to also capture
nutrients and other helpful products while lowering the burden
on and simplifying the processes of other treatment plants.
Water from Existing
Systems and Reclaimed Industrial Wastewater
Water can also be produced from heating and
cooling systems as a result of energy generation. As
water condenses on or inside the equipment, it can be captured
and refined for use. These sorts of systems can be innovated
to create multiple products at once, as described below with
Boston, Massachusetts' Cambrian Innovation and their EcoVolt
system. One of the leading innovations that is being
developed involves the design and implementation of machines
that take in wastewater and non-potable water and generate
more than just waste. Wastewater from industrial
processes can be captured and reclaimed. This water can then
be filtered and recycled back into the industrial process that
used it or purified and sent to local reservoirs for other use
such as potable purification.
Cambrian Innovations' Ecovolt does just this - Cambrian
deploys their modular Ecovolt systems to capture and use
wastewater to generate biogas energy while purifying the
water. The Ecovolt unit is contained within an ISO 40-foot
container and easily deployable as a turn-key asset in
treating industrial wastewater for recycling while generating
biogas electricity at the same time. Some other
innovators recycle water using more simplistic but nonetheless
Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish textile
company that supplies water filters to worm infested areas and
mosquito-killing plastic tarps to refugee camps, has come up
with a new invention meant to purify dangerous water for drinking
purposes. The invention is called Lifestraw, a plastic tube
with seven filters. The filters include graduated meshes
with holes as fine as 6 microns (a human hair is 50 to 100
microns), followed by resin impregnated with iodine and
activated carbon. It is typically worn around the neck and is
practical for those who live in regions were large scale
purification technologies are non-existent. Lifestraw filters
out at least 99.99 percent of parasites and bacteria, the
cause of most fatal cases of diarrhea .
Queensland Australia Advanced Water Management Centre:
The University of Queensland's Advanced
Water Management Centre has a water recycling research program
that investigates recovery of wastewater, storm water and
drinking water. The centre has a few major research
initiatives, including a strategic 5-year collaboration
between the university Veolia Water , Australia and
Seqwater. The collaboration seeks to research and improve
advanced water treatment plants producing purified recycled
water. It has a budget above $3 million.
University of Missouri Water
A researcher at the University of
Missouri has created a horizontal loop geothermal system for
agricultural heating and cooling uses. The project is
partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Most Geothermal
systems require deeply dug vertical holes for their piping
loops, but horizontal loop systems are 30% less expensive to
install. The energy savings costs of replacing propane heaters
for livestock brooding houses and similar agricultural
structures would be 70% to 90%.
Rice University - Houston,
Rice University has studied three gas
reservoirs created by Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) and has
identified contaminants, potential hazards and made
recommendations for treatment in order to reuse that water.
Hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons of water per
well, and capturing the waste water for storage or sending it
into the ground is not sustainable in the long term,
especially through existing and potentially harmful chemical
treatments for waste well water.
Washington Water Research Center (SWWRC):
Supported by The National Institutes
for Water Resources and Washington State University, the
SWWRC's mission is to oversee and conduct water-related
research, foster education and training, and act as a hub for
the academic community to publish information to managers of
water resources across the nation.
Worldwide water shortage is a large global issue.
Recycled water technologies provide a partial solution.
Nonetheless innovative technology must be developed and
brought to market in order to make the technology practical on
a large global scale. Federal and State research and
development tax credits are available to support this end.