GE Aims to Make Waves

My children are currently raising money for The H2O Project -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money to help make clean water available to thousands of people in Africa. The project hopes to raise funds for the construction of wells, dams, and holding tanks that will spare parents and children from having to either travel miles to collect clean water, or alternatively, drink dirty and polluted water from contaminated sources.

The project got me thinking about the problem of clean water. While it's a huge and tragic problem in Africa and other parts of the world, it's also a looming threat here in the United States. For instance, the Ogallala aquifer -- which sits under the Great Plains and supplies millions of homes, businesses, and farms with fresh water -- is being drained faster than it is being replenished.

All of this suggests that the business of making clean water could very well be a growth industry for the foreseeable future -- which brings me to General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) . Yesterday's Technology Review included an excellent article explaining how the company was teaming up with researchers at Texas Tech to explore the possibility of using wind turbines to power desalination plants.

Desalination has always offered a promising solution to the world's water shortages, but the equipment involved is expensive to operate, and usually powered by a source of energy that is neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly. By marrying wind to the operation of a desalination plant, GE seeks to offer an elegant solution to both problems.

The technology still has some bugs to work out, the biggest being the consistent supply of electricity that desalination facilities need to push ocean water through their membranes, separating fresh water from brine. Wind is intermittent, so it's never been viewed as a viable power option. GE is hoping to get around this problem by creating a desalination plant that can store the electricity created on windy days, then use it to power the facility when breezes taper off.

GE intends to launch the project early next year. It bears watching, because if the company can successfully find a way to combine wind and water to solve one of today's biggest social problems, it could also find itself out in front of a very big -- and profitable -- wave of its own.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich, does not like to either make waves or ride them. Heowns stock in GE. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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10/27/2016 4:00 PM
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