A Swedish company has launched the OrbSys recycling shower — a new kind of shower that saves up to 90% of the water and 80% of the energy consumed by a normal shower. The shower achieves such huge savings by being a closed-loop, recirculating system, much in the same way that astronauts aboard the International Space Station re-use their waste water. In a world that’s rapidly running out of fresh water and consuming more energy than it should, the OrbSys Shower is an innovation that we should pay heed to. Even if you don’t care about the environment, the OrbSys can (apparently) save you more than $ 1000 per year in water and energy costs.
The OrbSys shower, devised by Orbital Systems in Sweden, is essentially an advanced real-time water filtration system packaged as a recycling shower. You turn the shower on, start bathing, but instead of the waste water running directly into your house’s drainage pipes it enters the special (patented) OrbSys filtration system. We don’t have a whole lot of details on what actually happens inside the OrbSys black box — instead, all we have is a rather impressive list of specs. The OrbSys shower removes more than 99.9% of contaminants, and actually pumps out cleaner water than the water entering your house from the main water supply. The process is capable of retaining most of the heat in the water, resulting in huge energy savings. The system can operate in real time at up to 24 liters (6.3 gallons) per minute — more than enough to sustain a strong, invigorating flow of water (your shower at home probably uses around 15 liters per minute).
While Orbital Systems refuses to tell us how the system actually works, we can infer some interesting tidbits from its patent application, WO2013095278 A1 “Device and method for purifying and recycling shower water.” In short, the patent application describes a system that has a pre-filter (for larger contaminants such as hair, dirt, sand) and a primary filtration device that consists of a nano-ceramic filter, probably fashioned out of alumina (aluminium oxide). A nano-ceramic filter looks like a traditional pleated filter, but the pores are so small that they can trap viruses and other minuscule contaminants. The patent also describes a water quality sensor, pump, heating element, flow meter, water reservoir, and other components that you would expect to find in a recirculating shower.
All told, the OrbSys shower can reduce water consumption by 90% — it sounds like 100% of the water is fully re-used during the shower, but after the shower it is released into your house’s sewer pipes. It also reduces energy consumption by 80%, due to only having to heat a few liters of water per person (rather than 100+ liters for a 10-minute shower). Due to efficacy of the filtration system, which elevates the water above drinking-quality, you could even argue that an OrbSys shower is more hygienic. There are other recirculating showers on the market, but apparently the OrbSys is better because the flow rate is higher and more stable.
Orbital Systems claims that all of these benefits work out to a saving of more than $ 1000 per year, per person, though I find that hard to believe. There is no way that 365 hot showers cost $ 1000, unless you’re paying more than a dollar per kilowatt-hour. At a more reasonable rate of 15 cents per kWh, hot showers might cost $ 200 per year per person. As far as the cost of the actual OrbSys system, the company says the shower pays for itself after two years — but that’s presumably based on that crazy $ 1000-per-year figure. There’s no word of an actual price on the Orbital Systems website, but it’s probably on the order of $ 5,000 or more.
The big picture here is two-fold. On the one hand, a high-quality recirculating shower would be a nice creature comfort for astronauts (and yes, Orbital Systems has talked to NASA about its shower design). Here on Earth, though, the OrbSys shower could have a massive impact on our environmental footprint: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, in the US alone, showering consumes trillion gallons of water per year. This water needs to come from somewhere, and it must be cleaned before it re-enters the water system — all of which costs money and energy. Not to mention, if the US could reduce its use of fresh water, there are some places in the world that could really do with our leftovers.
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