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Refreshing Ideas

Entrepreneurs take on the world's growing demand for pure water.

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This story appears in the January 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Imagine your town has just been visited by a massive natural disaster. There's no electricity, and the water system is contaminated with sewage. What are you going to drink? At the six day disaster preparedness exercise called Strong Angel III, held last August in San Diego, the answer for the event's 800 participants was purified seawater from Aqua Genesis LLC. The 3-year-old Las Vegas company's desalination device can be powered by geothermal heat, so it will work even if the power grid goes down.

The easy-to-maintain device, which has few moving parts, is the brainchild of tire heir Doug Firestone, 56, and Ronald Newcomb, 53, who's also director of operations at the Center for Advanced Water Technologies at San Diego State University. Last fall, the entrepreneurs were in the process of securing roughly $4 million in private financing to build the first full-scale plant using their device, known as the Delta-T, in California's Imperial County. They plan to operate their own plants and sell water to municipalities around the Southwest, a market that Newcomb estimates at $1 billion. "We tried to estimate the potential size of our company," Newcomb says. "But the numbers became so big, we just stopped."

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