Imagine H2O, a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs turn water challenges into business opportunities, announced the finalists in its third annual prize competition.

Imagine H2O’s prize highlights startup businesses across the spectrum of water solutions. The prize includes $200,000 in cash and in-kind services, as well as acceptance into Imagine H2O’s Accelerator Program, which brings innovative ideas to market through a network of partners, customers and investors. The winner will be announced in late March. The 2011 prize focused on wastewater innovations, and attracted submissions related to wastewater management, water reuse, treatment, resource recovery and energy production.

“Our finalists are promising new businesses that unlock unrealized value in the wastewater sector,” says Scott Bryan, Imagine H2O’s director of operations. “Where others see waste, these entrepreneurs see savings and profit. Commercially viable wastewater solutions will have a critical role in creating a sustainable water future.”

Wastewater typically is defined as water that has been contaminated by human contact, whether residential sewage, agricultural runoff or industrial pollutants. About 90 percent of the wastewater produced around the world goes untreated. Treatment requires multiple steps, a variety of chemical and biological treatments, and a significant amount of energy. The wastewater market is valued at $200 billion per year across the industrial, commercial and residential sectors worldwide.

“Corporations and municipalities around the world have a tremendous need for innovative wastewater solutions,” says Steve Kloos of True North Venture Partners, and a judge for this year’s prize. “It’s encouraging to see the Imagine H2O Prize supporting small businesses that are trying to find innovative ways to sustainably turn waste into profit and savings.”

Imagine H2O’s judging panel, which includes many of the water sector’s leading experts, based its selection of the finalists on market opportunity, customer value proposition, go-to market progress, financial plan and general quality of presentation and pitch. The finalists:

  • Arbsource (Tempe, Ariz.) uses its ARBCell biological reactor system to provide low-cost wastewater treatment for many food and beverage manufacturing companies, which generates up to 70 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional treatment methods.

  • Atlantis Technologies (San Diego) produces and supplies a chemical-free water desalination system for industrial wastewater treatment facilities.

  • Bilexys (Brisbane, Australia) uses a technology that converts wastewater into chemicals that then can be reused in the treatment process, reducing the need to purchase them separately.

  • Nexus eWater (Canberra, Aust-ralia) converts gray water into near-potable water, and recycles its energy for hot water heating.

  • Stanford Nitrogen Group (Palo Alto, Calif.) is pioneering a biological wastewater treatment process that removes nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater to generate renewable energy.

  • Tusaar Inc. (Boulder, Colo.) is developing a unique low-cost technology to remove heavy-metal contaminants from water.

  • Microbio Engineering (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) employs a system that uses CO2 and algae to treat wastewater at a low energy input.

  • New Sky Energy (Boulder, Colo.) uses a chemistry solution that captures CO2 from industrial wastewater and converts it into usable solids that can be incorporated into manufacturing processes, fertilizers and other carbon-intensive uses.

  • Vorsana (Portland, Ore.) offers patented desalination and clarification for wastewater and brine mining.
“This was a competitive process as many of the prize entries set forth compelling financial and technical backgrounds,” says Kate Gasner, Imagine H2O’s prize manager. “In the end, wastewater solutions can’t stand on the technology alone, and must make a clear financial case to customers. The feedback from our judges and mentors will help these entrepreneurs validate their business models and realize new market opportunities.”