by Lucia Maffei
At the end of the movie The Big Short, viewers are informed that Michael Burry – the man who predicted the 2008 worldwide financial crisis years before anyone else – is now focused on investing in one commodity: water.
Nowadays, the signals that water is becoming increasingly valuable are evident even to people without Micheal’s outstanding forecast skills. Think of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where contaminated water spread neurotoxins throughout an entire city. Think of the drought in California, where Governor Jerry Brown was forced to announce his state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions in 2015.
In a world where saving water is becoming increasingly important, a startup that just graduated from the MIT delta v program is trying to bring something to the table. Infinite Cooling is not addressing the crisis of potable water: instead, they’re trying to save and recycle water that goes into power plants.
Power plants, huge industrial facilities that generate electricity, are the biggest users of water in the U.S., Infinite Cooling co-founder Maher Damak explained in an interview. Power plants use water to cool down the facility. The price for using water to cool down extremely hot areas is that part of the water evaporates into the atmosphere and is typically wasted.
“By using our technology to capture that vapor, we can save huge amounts of water and really have an impact on the water crisis that’s happening, for example, in California,” Damak said. Essentially, the company wants to enable power plants to produce the same amount of power while using less water, co-founder Karim Khalil added.
Damak and Khalil, two Ph.D. students of mechanical engineering at MIT, started working on efficient systems to capture foam to produce drinking water in remote areas four years ago. By constantly narrowing down the problem they were trying to solve, they developed a water-capture device that can be retrofitted to an existing cooling tower on an operating power plant. The technology uses electric fields to charge the water and control its course; the charged water can, therefore, be prevented from “escaping” and redirected to a collector.
Khalil added that the device, which looks like a dome-shaped mesh, will be placed on top of the cooling towers of power plants. The size of the device may vary depending on the size of the cooling tower diameter, which falls in the ballpark of 20 feet.
Currently, Damak and Khalil have formed Infinite Cooling as a legal entity and placed third at the Beantown Throwdown – a Boston area’s multi-school student company pitch – last week. They said they will start working full-time on the venture after their graduation in December. The company will be based in Boston to remain close to MIT.