Cet article fait partie des 112 cas de l’économie bleue.

Cet article fait partie d’une liste de 112 innovations qui façonnent l’économie bleue. Il s’inscrit dans le cadre d’un vaste effort de Gunter Pauli pour stimuler l’esprit d’entreprise, la compétitivité et l’emploi dans les logiciels libres. Pour plus d’informations sur l’origine de ZERI.

Ces articles ont été recherchés, écrits par Gunter Pauli et mis à jour et traduits par les équipes de l’économie bleue ainsi que la communauté.

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Cas 1 : Vortex

Dec 27, 2021 | 112 Innovations, Energy, Water

The market

The global water treatment and drinking water production market represents one of the most secure investments ever made. Water commodities are essential to society and industry. The availability of clean water is under increasing pressure as the population grows and per capita consumption continues to rise. Water used to be free, a common good. In recent decades, water has become a profitable business with a secure cash flow and increasing costs to the consumer. Before, water was free, a common good. Over the past few decades, water has become a profitable business with a secure cash flow and increasing costs to the consumer.

The global water and wastewater treatment market exceeded $200 billion in 2009. China leads this market with an estimated annual growth of 17%. Wastewater treatment is valued at $40 billion with more than 13,000 companies worldwide, through long-term service contracts. Until now, the water treatment model has included sedimentation and oxidation, i.e. settling of solids and pumping of air, and subsequent chemical treatment.

The annual volume of chemicals used to treat water in the United States exceeds 10 million tons. As the global demand for water increases, so does the demand for chemicals.

Bottled water consumption has grown an average of 12% per year over the past decade, with estimated sales of $22 billion. One of the fastest growing niches in this quest to expand drinking water supplies is the conversion of salt water and gray water to drinking water through reverse osmosis. Capital spending on this technology exceeds $2.2 billion annually, but is expected to increase another 50% over the next four years. Aguas de Barcelona (Spain), part of the GDF Suez Group (France), is planning the largest installation of its kind, investing over $1 billion, freeing Barcelona from a chronic water shortage.


It is in the context of the global water market that we must evaluate the arrival of a simple and extraordinary innovation: the vortex. The vortex has the ability to dramatically increase the efficiency of water treatment, reducing costs while creating local jobs. This natural phenomenon could one day replace chemicals and membranes as well as disrupt the current cash flow of traditional, seemingly safe suppliers. The vortex technology platform is inspired by the observation that dirty water purifies itself like a flowing river. The continuous swirling motion forces air in and out of the water, discouraging and stimulating beneficial microorganisms.

Two Swedish inventors, development engineer Curt Hallberg and his colleague Morten Oveson, translated their observations into a mathematical model and then created a simple device that mimics the movement of water in a vortex with predictable results. They went on to create Watreco AB based in Malmö. Watreco AB was voted Swedish GreenTech Company of the Year 2009. This company is more than green – it is changing the business model of water. Recently, Curt also founded Vortex Innovations, a research group that works collaboratively to find “blue solutions.

The power of the vortex lies in the predictability of the laws of physics, where the air particles are pulled towards the center, from where the air is sucked out. The energy source for this process can be simply gravity, which is guaranteed to power the device 24 hours a day! There are no more chemicals, no more membranes and the energy consumption is minimal.

The first cash flow

The inventors realized a wide range of applications for their vortex device and looked for the first obvious use on the market near them, which was quickly identified as ice making. The handmade vortex generator has achieved beneficial results: energy savings and crystal clear ice. Water contains air, dissolved in micron-sized bubbles. The vortex removes this air, and since air acts as an insulator, the resulting airless water freezes more quickly. The air-free ice is clear and cracks much less easily. When applied to ice hockey rinks, under-ice advertising signs remain visible throughout the season, increasing advertising revenues. Since there is no air in the ice, aerobic bacteria that normally thrive in ice such as E. coli and Salmonella cannot survive. Most major Scandinavian rinks have since adopted this technology, resulting in a return on investment in months, not years.

The second niche that has generated cash flow for Watreco AB is the golf course. A golf course can require upwards of three million liters of water per day. To save water, surfactants are added to the water so that it penetrates the turf faster and evaporates less. If the water has been pre-treated by the vortex machine, no chemicals are needed, reducing water requirements by 20 to 30%. This is a case where the vortex makes chemicals unnecessary. A third market niche is the removal of algae from stable water bodies, including swimming pools, which are usually treated with chemicals such as chlorine.

The opportunity

Although field hockey rinks and golf courses are niche markets, the experience gained in these sectors has prepared Curt Hallberg and his team for growing markets, including industrial water treatment and desalination. Test units of the vortex machine in the Canary Islands have demonstrated that its treatment of salt water again allows for the removal of air, which then eliminates the problem of biofilms. Biofilms grow on the membranes, reducing their efficiency. This requires the reverse osmosis desalination plant to be shut down every two weeks to chemically remove the biofilms. This increases maintenance costs (through an additional chemical requirement) and reduces the efficiency of the plant (since shutdown periods require backup) as well as the additional capital requirement for replacement membranes (since the life of a membrane is reduced). If there is no air in the water, aerobic bacteria are excluded. If a vortex but no chemicals are used, the life of the membrane increases. In fact, the energy cost of a cubic meter of drinking water could be reduced from 2.4 to 1.0 kilowatt per hour.

These are just a few of the vortex applications that have been realized, but more are expected to be revealed soon. However, what we know today confirms that vortex technology can reduce operating costs, save energy, eliminate chemicals and generate a better return on existing investments. The challenge for traditional industries is that successful integration of vortexing into existing facilities requires a new core competency: fluid dynamics. It’s now up to General Electric, Siemens and Nitto Denko to take us out of the box. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs around the world can create a new competitive model that generates local jobs around the world.

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