Is eco-friendly water bottler a breakthrough?

A Huntersville company may have the next big thing in bottled water.

Clearwater Manufacturing has created a mini-water-bottling machine no larger than a hotel icemaker. It sanitizes, fills and caps glass and aluminum bottles of water on site for immediate sale and consumption.

The company plans to lease or sell the machine to universities, hospitals, military bases, companies, theme parks and cruise lines.

Called the Boomerang Water Bottling System, it produces six bottles a minute of highly purified water. That's up to 2,800 bottles a day.

"Producing the bottled water in-house eliminates the need for trucks to deliver water, thereby eliminating vehicle emissions," said Colin Van Rooyen, Clearwater's chief operating officer, who calls the machine a "win-win-win."

"The environment wins by eliminating landfill contribution and reducing CO {-2} emissions by 95percent after the first return," he said. "The consumer wins with a convenient, sustainable bottled water product, and the Boomerang machine owner wins with higher profits."

Rooyen and Clearwater President Dan Cedrone said they see theme parks and cafeteria-style settings as perfect for the machines, because bottles can be purchased and returned conveniently.

Users can decorate their bottles with college or corporate logos. Customers could either keep them as mementoes or return them to be washed and used again, Cedrone said.

"The Boomerang name was a natural fit, because the bottles return again and again," said Rooyen, a Davidson resident originally from Zimbabwe.

Clearwater recently won a regional product innovation award from the Charlotte-based Centralina Economic Development Commission for the patent-pending machine.

It's so easy to run that "when I was a kid, I could have operated this," said Cedrone, a Massachusetts native and Huntersville resident.

Clearwater's prototype machine is temporarily at U.S. Bottlers Machinery Co. in south Charlotte, where final technical adjustments will be made. That's where I watched the machine in action last week.

Cedrone pressed the start button, and a row of six bottles was disinfected by a hot water spray, then rinsed and drained.

Incoming FDA-approved municipal tap water was then filtered through a series of sub-micron-level and ultraviolet systems where the bottles were filled.

Finally, special caps were sanitized and pressed onto the passing bottles. At that point, the bottles are be ready to be displayed for sale, and the bottling process begins again.

Clearwater expects to have invested about $3million in the bottling system once five more machines are built in coming months. The company is looking for three to five locations to introduce the machines, Cedrone said.

The Boomerang system is just the latest invention nurtured by Cedrone.

Earlier this decade, he helped design and provide materials to develop an Army medic's idea for a new battlefield tourniquet.

Up to 10,000 of the tourniquets are now produced daily by Composite Resources of Rock Hill.

Cedrone already has passed down his propensity for invention to his 11-year-old daughter, Amy, who came up with a solution for the common malady of kids misplacing a sneaker. Her "Magna Mates" sneakers are kept securely together with built-in magnets. "Next big things" are all in the family.