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Equipment at a brewery. Credit: FTGallo / Wikipedia.

 

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Equipment at a brewery. Credit: FTGallo / Wikipedia.

 

University of Colorado Boulder engineers have developed an innovative bio-manufacturing process that uses a biological organism cultivated in brewery wastewater to create the carbon-based materials needed to make energy storage cells.

This unique pairing of breweries and batteries could set up a win-win opportunity by reducing expensive wastewater treatment costs for beer makers while providing manufacturers with a more cost-effective means of creating renewable, naturally-derived fuel cell technologies.

“Breweries use about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced,” said Tyler Huggins, a graduate student in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and lead author of the new study. “And they can’t just dump it into the sewer because it requires extra filtration.”

The process of converting biological materials, or biomass, such as timber into carbon-based battery electrodes is currently used in some energy industry sectors. But, naturally-occurring biomass is inherently limited by its short supply, impact during extraction and intrinsic chemical makeup, rendering it expensive and difficult to optimize.

However, the CU Boulder researchers utilize the unsurpassed efficiency of biological systems to produce sophisticated structures and unique chemistries by cultivating a fast-growing fungus, Neurospora crassa, in the sugar-rich wastewater produced by a similarly fast-growing Colorado industry: breweries.

“The wastewater is ideal for our fungus to flourish in, so we are happy to take it,” said Huggins.

By cultivating their feedstock in wastewater, the researchers were able to better dictate the fungus’s chemical and physical processes from the start. They thereby created one of the most efficient naturally-derived lithium-ion battery electrodes known to date while cleaning the wastewater in the process.

The findings were published recently in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials & Interfaces.

If the process were applied on a large scale, breweries could potentially reduce their municipal wastewater costs significantly while manufacturers would gain access to a cost-effective incubating medium for advanced battery technology components.

“The novelty of our process is changing the manufacturing process from top-down to bottom-up,” said Zhiyong Jason Ren, an associate professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the new study. “We’re biodesigning the materials right from the start.”

Huggins and study co-author Justin Whiteley, also of CU Boulder, have filed a patent on the process and created Emergy, a Boulder-based company aimed at commercializing the technology.

“We see large potential for scaling because there’s nothing required in this process that isn’t already available,” said Huggins.

The researchers have partnered with Avery Brewing in Boulder in order to explore a larger pilot program for the technology. Huggins and Whiteley recently competed in the finals of a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored startup incubator competition at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois.

“This research speaks to the spirit of entrepreneurship at CU Boulder,” said Ren, who plans to continue experimenting with the mechanisms and properties of the fungus growth within the wastewater. “It’s great to see students succeeding and creating what has the potential to be a transformative technology. Energy storage represents a big opportunity for the state of Colorado and beyond.”cu-boulder-maxresdefault

Explore further: Researchers use wastewater treatment to capture CO2, produce energy

More information: Tyler M. Huggins et al. Controlled Growth of Nanostructured Biotemplates with Cobalt and Nitrogen Codoping as a Binderless Lithium-Ion Battery Anode, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b09300

fracking-happening-1Oil and gas operations in the United States produce about 21 billion barrels of wastewater per year. The saltiness of the water and the organic contaminants it contains have traditionally made treatment difficult and expensive.

 

 

Engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder have invented a simpler process that can simultaneously remove both salts and  from the wastewater, all while producing additional energy. The new technique, which relies on a microbe-powered battery, was recently published in thejournal Environmental Science Water Research & Technology as the cover story.

“The beauty of the technology is that it tackles two different problems in one single system,” said Zhiyong Jason Ren, a CU-Boulder associate professor of environmental and sustainability engineering and senior author of the paper. “The problems become mutually beneficial in our system—they complement each other—and the process produces energy rather than just consumes it.”

The new treatment technology, called microbial capacitive desalination, is like a battery in its basic form, said Casey Forrestal, a CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher who is the lead author of the paper and working to commercialize the technology. “Instead of the traditional battery, which uses chemicals to generate the electrical current, we use microbes to generate an electrical current that can then be used for desalination.” cu-desal-cell-microbio-c2ee21737f-f1

This microbial electro-chemical approach takes advantage of the fact that the contaminants found in the wastewater contain energy-rich hydrocarbons, the same compounds that make up and. The microbes used in the treatment process eat the hydrocarbons and release their embedded energy. The energy is then used to create a positively charged electrode on one side of the cell and a negatively charged electrode on the other, essentially setting up a battery.

Because salt dissolves into positively and negatively charged ions in water, the cell is then able to remove the salt in the wastewater by attracting the charged ions onto the high-surface-area electrodes, where they adhere.

Not only does the system allow the salt to be removed from the wastewater, but it also creates additional energy that could be used on site to run equipment, the researchers said.

“Right now have to spend energy to treat the wastewater,” Ren said. “We are able to treat it without energy consumption; rather we extract energy out of it.”

Some oil and gas wastewater is currently being treated and reused in the field, but that treatment process typically requires multiple steps—sometimes up to a dozen—and an input of that may come from diesel generators.

Because of the difficulty and expense, wastewater is often disposed of by injecting it deep underground. The need to dispose of wastewater has increased in recent years as the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has boomed. Fracking refers to the process of injecting a slurry of water, sand and chemicals into wells to increase the amount of oil and natural gas produced by the well.

Injection wells that handle wastewater from fracking operations can cause earthquakes in the region, according to past research by CU-Boulder scientists and others.cu-boulder-maxresdefault

The demand for water for fracking operations also has caused concern among people worried about scarce water resources, especially in arid regions of the country. Finding water to buy for fracking operations in the West, for example, has become increasingly challenging and expensive for oil and gas companies.

Ren and Forrestal’s microbial capacitive desalination cell offers the possibility that water could be more economically treated on site and reused for fracking.

To try to turn the technology into a commercial reality, Ren and Forrestal have co-founded a startup company called BioElectric Inc. In order to determine if the technology offers a viable solution for oil and gas companies, the pair first has to show they can scale up the work they’ve been doing in the lab to a size that would be useful in the field.

The cost to scale up the technology also needs to be competitive with what oil and gas companies are paying now to buy water to use for fracking, Forrestal said. There also is some movement in state legislatures to require oil and gas companies to reuse wastewater, which could make BioElectric’s product more appealing even at a higher price, the researchers said.

mit-gradiantcorp-071715-2MIT – Toward Cheaper Water Treatment for Oil & Gas Operations

MIT spinout makes treating, recycling highly contaminated oilfield water more economical

0629_NEWT-log-lg-310x310Also Read: Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment or NEWT: Transforming the Economics of Water Treatment: Rice, ASU, Yale, UTEP win $18.5 Million NSF Engineering Research Center

 

 

 

Explore further: New contaminants found in oil and gas wastewater

More information: “Microbial capacitive desalination for integrated organic matter and salt removal and energy production from unconventional natural gas produced water.” Environ. Sci.: Water Res. Technol., 2015,1, 47-55 DOI: 10.1039/C4EW00050A

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Genesis Nanotechnology ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
YouTube Video: Genesis Nanotechnology Nano Enabled Water Treatment; Quantum Dots from Coal & More

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Researchers create perfect nanoscrolls from graphene’s imperfect form.

Water filters of the future may be made from billions of tiny, graphene-based nanoscrolls. Each scroll, made by rolling up a single, atom-thick layer of graphene, could be tailored to trap specific molecules and pollutants in its tightly wound folds. Billions of these scrolls, stacked layer by layer, may produce a lightweight, durable, and highly selective water purification membrane.

But there’s a catch: Graphene does not come cheap. The material’s exceptional mechanical and chemical properties are due to its very regular, hexagonal structure, which resembles microscopic chicken wire. Scientists take great pains in keeping graphene in its pure, unblemished form, using processes that are expensive and time-consuming, and that severely limit graphene’s practical uses.

Seeking an alternative, a team from MIT and Harvard University is looking to graphene oxide — graphene’s much cheaper, imperfect form. Graphene oxide is graphene that is also covered with oxygen and hydrogen groups. The material is essentially what graphene becomes if it’s left to sit out in open air. The team fabricated nanoscrolls made from graphene oxide flakes and was able to control the dimensions of each nanoscroll, using both low- and high-frequency ultrasonic techniques. The scrolls have mechanical properties that are similar to graphene, and they can be made at a fraction of the cost, the researchers say.

“If you really want to make an engineering structure, at this point it’s not practical to use graphene,” says Itai Stein, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Graphene oxide is two to four orders of magnitude cheaper, and with our technique, we can tune the dimensions of these architectures and open a window to industry.”

Stein says graphene oxide nanoscrolls could also be used as ultralight chemical sensors, drug delivery vehicles, and hydrogen storage platforms, in addition to water filters. Stein and Carlo Amadei, a graduate student at Harvard University, have published their results in the journalNanoscale.

Getting away from crumpled graphene

The team’s paper originally grew out of an MIT class, 2.675 (Micro/Nano Engineering), taught by Rohit Karnik, associate professor of mechanical engineering. As part of their final project, Stein and Amadei teamed up to design nanoscrolls from graphene oxide. Amadei, as a member of Professor Chad Vecitis’ lab at Harvard University, had been working with graphene oxide for water purification applications, while Stein was experimenting with carbon nanotubes and other nanoscale architectures, as part of a group led by Brian Wardle, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

The researchers’ graphene nano scroll research originated in this MIT classes 2.674 and 2.675 (Micro/Nano Engineering Laboratory).

Video: Department of Mechanical Engineering

“Our initial idea was to make nanoscrolls for molecular adsorption,” Amadei says. “Compared to carbon nanotubes, which are closed structures, nanoscrolls are open spirals, so you have all this surface area available to manipulate.”

“And you can tune the separation of a nanoscroll’s layers, and do all sorts of neat things with graphene oxide that you can’t really do with nanotubes and graphene itself,” Stein adds.

When they looked at what had been done previously in this field, the students found that scientists had successfully produced nanoscrolls from graphene, though with very complicated processes to keep the material pure. A few groups had tried doing the same with graphene oxide, but their attempts were literally deflated.

“What was out there in the literature was more like crumpled graphene,” Stein says. “You can’t really see the conical nature. It’s not really clear what was made.”

Collapsing bubbles

Stein and Amadei first used a common technique called the Hummers’ method to separate graphite flakes into individual layers of graphene oxide. They then placed the graphene oxide flakes in solution and stimulated the flakes to curl into scrolls, using two similar approaches: a low-frequency tip-sonicator, and a high-frequency custom reactor.

The tip-sonicator is a probe made of piezoelectric material that shakes at a low, 20Hz frequency when voltage is applied. When placed in a solution, the tip-sonicator produces sound waves that stir up the surroundings, creating bubbles in the solution.

Similarly, the group’s reactor contains a piezoelectric component that is connected to a circuit. As voltage is applied, the reactor shakes — at a higher, 390 Hz frequency compared with the tip-sonicator — creating bubbles in the solution within the reactor.

Stein and Amadei applied both techniques to solutions of graphene oxide flakes and observed similar effects: The bubbles that were created in solution eventually collapsed, releasing energy that caused the flakes to spontaneously curl into scrolls. The researchers found they could tune the dimensions of the scrolls by varying the treatment duration and the frequency of the ultrasonic waves. Higher frequencies and shorter treatments did not lead to significant damage of the graphene oxide flakes and produced larger scrolls, while low frequencies and longer treatment times tended to cleave flakes apart and create smaller scrolls.

While the group’s initial experiments turned a relatively low number of flakes — about 10 percent — into scrolls, Stein says both techniques may be optimized to produce higher yields. If they can be scaled up, he says the techniques can be compatible with existing industrial processes, particularly for water purification.

“If you can make this in large scales and it’s cheap, you could make huge bulk samples of filters and throw them out in the water to remove all sorts of contaminants,” Stein says.

This work was supported, in part, by the Department of Defense through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) fellowship program.

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California Ground Water Shortage 033016 GettyImages-468519400.0.0California Ground Water Shortage 033016 GettyImages-468519400.0.0water 061715 california-getty

Some of the world’s most important farming regions rely on freshwater from large underground aquifers that have filled up slowly over thousands of years. Think of the Central Valley aquifer system in California. Or the Indus basin in Pakistan and India. This groundwater is particularly valuable when rain is scarce or during droughts.

But that groundwater may not last forever. Data from NASA’s Grace satellites suggests that 13 of the world’s 37 biggest aquifers are being seriously depleted by irrigation and other uses much faster than they can be recharged by rain or runoff. And, disturbingly, we don’t even know how much water is left in these basins. That’s according to a 2015 paper in Water Resources Research.

The map below gives an overview. There were 21 major groundwater basins — in red, orange, and yellow — that lost water faster than they could be recharged between 2003 and 2013. The 16 major aquifers in blue, by contrast, gained water during that period. Click to enlarge:

World WAter Short Map 033016 uci_news_image_download

(UC Irvine/NASA)

The researchers found that 13 basins around the world — fully one-third of the total — appeared to be in serious trouble.

Eight aquifer systems could be categorized as “overstressed”: that is, there’s hardly any natural recharge to offset the water being consumed. In the direst state was the Arabian aquifer system beneath Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which provides water for 60 million people and is being depleted by irrigation for agriculture. Also in bad shape were the Indus Basin that straddles India and Pakistan and the Murzuq-Djado Basin in Africa.

Another five aquifer systems were categorized as “extremely” or “highly” stressed — they’re being replenished by some rainwater, but not nearly enough to offset withdrawals. That list includes the aquifers underneath California’s Central Valley. During California’s recent brutal, five-year drought, many farmers compensated for the lack of surface water by pumping groundwater at increasing rates. (There are few regulations around this, though California’s legislature recently passed laws that will gradually regulate groundwater withdrawals.)

The result? The basins beneath the Central Valley are being depleted, and the ground is actually sinking, which in turn means these aquifers will be able to store less water in the future. Farmers are losing a crucial buffer against both this drought, if it persists, and future droughts.

The big question: How soon until these aquifers run dry?

Here’s the other troubling bit: It’s unclear exactly when some of these stressed aquifers might be completely depleted — no one knows for sure how much water they actually contain.

In a companion paper in Water Resources Research, the researchers took stock of how little we know about these basins. In the highly stressed Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, for instance, estimates of when the system will be fully drained run anywhere from 10 years to 21,000 years. In order to get better measurements, researchers would have to drill down through many rock layers to measure how much water is there — a difficult task, but not impossible.

“We don’t actually know how much is stored in each of these aquifers. Estimates of remaining storage might vary from decades to millennia,” said Alexandra Richey, a graduate student at UC Irvine and lead author on both papers, in a press release. “In a water-scarce society, we can no longer tolerate this level of uncertainty, especially since groundwater is disappearing so rapidly.”

The researchers note that we should figure this out if we want to manage these aquifers properly — and make sure they last for many years to come. Hundreds of millions of people now rely on aquifers that are rapidly being depleted. And once they’re gone, they can’t easily be refilled.

Further reading

— Saudi Arabia squandered its groundwater and agriculture collapsed. The rest of the world should take note.

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NSF supports national efforts to bolster water security and supply.
Credit and Larger Version

Today, at the White House Water Summit, the National Science Foundation (NSF) joins other federal agencies to emphasize its commitment to a sustainable water future.March 22, 2016

Access to affordable clean water is vital for energy generation, food cultivation and basic life support. With drought pressure and population demands, water is an increasingly precious resource.

The California drought and Flint water emergency show some of the consequences of clean water shortages. Low-cost, low-energy technologies for both water quality testing and water treatment must be developed to overcome economic barriers and secure America’s future.

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NSF supports national efforts to bolster water security and supply by investing in fundamental science and engineering research.

“Routine and reliable access to safe drinking water is one of the greatest achievements in human history, thanks to science and engineering research,” said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for Engineering. “To ensure this accessibility continues, contributions from all research areas — from engineering and physical sciences to the biological and social sciences — are essential. As such, NSF is uniquely positioned to advance water innovations.”

For decades, NSF has funded researchers across disciplines to investigate fundamental water questions and propose novel solutions to challenges.

Despite the importance of water to life on Earth, major gaps exist in our understanding of water availability, quality and dynamics, as well as the impact of human activity and a changing climate on the water system. These gaps must be filled in order to create new concepts for water desalination, purification, reuse and treatments.

Water report60_l“To take on the most urgent challenge facing the world today, NSF and our partner agencies are funding researchers to explore interactions between the water system and land-use changes, the built environment, ecosystem functions and services, and climate change through place-based research and integrative models,” said Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences. “Through these activities, we are enabling a new interdisciplinary paradigm in water research.”

NSF-funded demonstrations at today’s White House event:

  • An interactive augmented reality sandbox exhibit to help teach the public about watersheds, lake sciences, and environmental stewardship.
    • The project, led by NSF-funded researcher Louise H. Kellogg, is a collaboration between university scientists and pubic science centers. Partners include University of California, the Davis W. M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Sciences, the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, the Lawrence Hall of Science, ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center, and Audience Viewpoints.
  • A novel technology that uses sound waves to isolate and remove particles from fluids.
    • Jason Dionne of FloDesign Sonics Inc. is supported by the NSF Small Business Innovation Research program to commercialize the technology, which offers a potentially more efficient and environmentally benign method to purify water.
  • The launch of two “smart markets” for water leasing in the country: for groundwater trading in western Nebraska, and for surface-water trading in central Washington State.
    • Mammoth Trading is creating smart markets to automate the process of checking complex regulatory rules for trading and to generate the highest economic gains among participants. By monetizing the value of conserved water, water leases generate a potential new revenue for water users and reward innovation in water use at the farm level. Mammoth Trading’s markets will be available in over 500,000 acres of irrigated farmland. Mammoth Trading grew out of NSF-funded research, which was commercialized through the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program.
  • A book series and curriculum to teach children about the water cycle.
    • NSF supports 25 Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) projects across the country and in Antarctica to study ecological processes. The LTER network enables these sites to serve as local and regional “schoolyards” to promote understanding of environmental processes among K-12 students. One outreach tool they employ is the LTER Schoolyard Series, which includes hands-on activity guides and integrates with federal and state science standards.

New NSF investments announced today:

  • $20 million to support cutting-edge water-research projects through the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program.
    • Research teams will apply a systems-based, highly integrated approach to determine when and where the impacts of extreme events cascade through the combined social-ecological system. An integrated model of the watershed will be used to test management scenarios and identify strategies for maintaining infrastructure, environmental health and drinking water quality in the face of extreme weather events.
  • $2 million to educate technicians for high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economythrough the NSF Advanced Technology Educationprogram.
    • A project to enhance marine and environmental science education at the five minority-serving community colleges of the Pacific Islands.
      • American Samoa Community College, the College of Micronesia — FSM, the College of the Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas College and Palau Community College will receive support for curriculum development, faculty professional development, internships and field experiences for students, and strengthened scientific infrastructure. Robert Richmond of University of Hawaii, Honolulu is the award’s primary investigator.
    • A college course to increase student engagement and learning around the Hoosick Falls water crisis.
      • The Village of Hoosick Falls in New York recently discovered unsafe concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid in its public water system. With NSF support, an interdisciplinary group of scientists led byDavid Bond of Bennington College will develop a course to train students in the effective use of science and technology related to water safety.
  • Two workshops planned on new water technologies and systems to give new meaning to the word “wastewater.”
    • Wastewater treatment plants are not only vital to the protection of human health and the environment, but also present opportunities to recover energy and other valuable resources — creating a world-class water infrastructure while reducing the costs to run it. Recognizing this, NSF, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the Water Environment Research Foundation, are developing a National Water Resource Recovery Test Bed Facility network and directory to connect researchers, new technology providers and other innovators in the water-resource recovery industry with test facilities appropriate for their needs. NSF is planning two workshops, in May and June 2016, to support the development of appropriate metrics and structure possibilities for the network.
  • A new Nanotechnology Signature Initiative on water sustainability through nanotechnology.
    • Federal agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative will support a new initiative to focus on applying the unique properties of materials that occur at the nanoscale to increase water availability, improve water delivery and use efficiency, and enable next-generation water-monitoring systems. Participating agencies include the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NSF and the Department of Agriculture.
  •  A new video series to broaden awareness.
    • The series will build on the popular 2013Sustainability: Water episodes to explore how cutting-edge science and engineering research can transform how the country understands, designs and uses water resources and technologies. The videos will be produced by NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBCUniversal News Group, and will be shared in classrooms and with the public across a variety of platforms in the fall of 2016. The four-part series will promote public awareness of:
      • Water resources, the variability of these resources, and water infrastructure designs and needs.
      • Water conservation in rural and urban settings.
      • Water treatment, including purification and desalination techniques.
      • Water quality issues, including salinization and control.
  • Innovative solutions from community college students at the nexus of food-water-energy.
    • NSF and the American Association of Community Colleges have chosen 10 finalists in the second annual Community College Innovation Challenge, which calls on students enrolled in community colleges to propose innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based solutions to perplexing, real-world problems.

Significant ongoing NSF investments:

  • Engineering Research Centers for responsible water use.
    • The Engineering Research Center for Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure(ReNUWIt), a research partnership among University of California, Berkeley, Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State University and Stanford University, is facilitating the improvement of the nation’s existing urban water systems through the development of innovative water technologies, management tools and systems-level analysis. This year, ReNUWIt will help advance urban water governance by releasing a set of decision-support tools that will allow utilities to quantify regional urban water resiliency and sustainability; promote the diversification of urban water supply portfolios by enabling virtual trading in regions with shared water resources; and support integrated management of water reuse and stormwater recharge systems.
    • The Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems(NEWT), led by Rice University in partnership with Arizona State University, the University of Texas at El Paso and Yale University, is enabling off-grid drinking water. The NEWT Nanosystems ERC is pursuing high-performance and easy-to-deploy water treatment systems that can turn both wastewater and seawater into clean drinking water. The modular treatment systems, which will need less energy and fewer chemicals, will safely enlist the selective properties of reusable engineered nanomaterials to provide clean water at any location or scale.
  • Ongoing grants to study the food-energy-water nexus.
    • NSF has funded 17 grants, totaling $1.2 million, to support workshops on the interactions of food, energy and water, or FEW. Additionally, $6.4 million will supplement existing grants, enabling scientists to conduct additional research.
  • Ongoing grants to study water sustainability and climate.
    • NSF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture have made three sets of awards, the latest totaling $25 million, in the joint Water Sustainability and Climate program. The funding fosters research on how Earth’s water system is linked with climate change, land use and ecosystems.
  • Special report on clean water technologies.
    • Beyond the White House, NSF-funded clean water-related research activities are happening now across the country. Engineers improve lives every day by imagining and creating innovative new technologies and tools. Today, NSF launches a new special report on future engineering solutions for clean water: NSF.gov/water.

Watch the White House Water Summit live atWhiteHouse.gov/live.

Join the conversation online with the hashtag#WHWaterSummit.

-NSF-

Program Contacts

JoAnn Slama Lighty, NSF, (703) 292-5382, jlighty@nsf.gov
Thomas Torgersen, NSF, (703) 292-8549, ttorgers@nsf.gov

Related Websites
Sustainability: Water: https://www.nbclearn.com/sustainability-water
NSF special report: Cleaner water, clearer future:http://www.nsf.gov/water
New grants foster research on food, energy and water: a linked system: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=135642
NSF and NIFA award $25 million in grants for study of water sustainability and climate:http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132501
On World Water Day, scientists peer into rivers to answer water availability questions:http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=137901

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A new type of graphene-based filter could be the key to managing the global water crisis, a study has revealed. The new graphene filter, which has been developed by Monash University and the University of Kentucky, allows water and other liquids to be filtered nine times faster than the current leading commercial filter.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, lack of access to safe, clean water is the biggest risk to society over the coming decade. Yet some of these risks could be mitigated by the development of this filter, which is so strong and stable that it can be used for extended periods in the harshest corrosive environments, and with less maintenance than other filters on the market.

The research team was led by Associate Professor Mainak Majumder from Monash University. Associate Professor Majumder said the key to making their filter was developing a viscous form of oxide that could be spread very thinly with a blade.

“This technique creates a uniform arrangement in the graphene, and that evenness gives our filter special properties,” Associate Prof Majumder said.

This technique allows the filters to be produced much faster and in larger sizes, which is critical for developing commercial applications. The graphene-based filter could be used to filter chemicals, viruses, or bacteria from a range of liquids. It could be used to purify water, dairy products or wine, or in the production of pharmaceuticals.

This is the first time that a graphene filter has been able to be produced on an industrial scale – a problem that has plagued the scientific community for years.

Research team member and PhD candidate, Abozar Akbari, said scientists had known for years that graphene filters had impressive qualities, but in the past they had been difficult and expensive to produce.

“It’s been a race to see who could develop this technology first, because until now graphene-based could only be used on a small scale in the lab,” Mr Akbari said.

Graphene is a lattice of carbon atoms so thin it’s considered to be two-dimensional. It has been hailed as a “wonder-material” because of its incredible performance characteristics and range of potential applications.

The team’s new filter can filter out anything bigger than one nanometre, which is about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The research has gathered interest from a number of companies in the United States and the Asia Pacific, the largest and fastest-growing markets for nano-filtration technologies.

The team’s research was supported by industry partner Ionic Industries, as well as a number of Australian Research Council grants.

Ionic Industries’ CEO, Mark Muzzin, said the next step was to get the patented graphene-based filter on the market.

“We are currently developing ways to test how the filter fares against particular contaminants that are of interest to our customers” Mr Muzzin said.

Co-author of the research and Director of the Center for Membrane Science, Professor Dibakar Bhattacharyya, from the University of Kentucky, said: “The ability to control the thickness of the filter and attain a sharper cut-off in separation, and the use of only water as the casting solvent, is a commercial breakthrough.”

Explore further: Graphene’s love affair with water

More information: Abozar Akbari et al. Large-area graphene-based nanofiltration membranes by shear alignment of discotic nematic liquid crystals of graphene oxide, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10891

jeffrey-grossman-mitWith the intensifying drought in California, the state has accelerated the construction of desalination plants. Yet due to high construction and operating costs, as well as environmental concerns, we’re not likely to see reclaimed seawater represent more than a small fraction of America’s clean water reserves for some time to come. Aside from other costs, the immense amounts of energy required to make clean water from seawater continues to make desalination a niche solution in most parts of the world.

When Jeffrey Grossman, a professor at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), began looking into whether new materials might reduce the cost of desalination, he was surprised to find how little research and development money was being applied to the problem.

“A billion people around the world lack regular access to clean , and that’s expected to more than double in the next 25 years,” Grossman says. “Desalinated water costs five to 10 times more than regular municipal water, yet we’re not investing nearly enough money into research. If we don’t have clean energy we’re in serious trouble, but if we don’t have water we die.”

At the Grossman Group, which explores the development of new materials to address clean energy and water problems, a possible solution may be at hand. Grossman’s lab has demonstrated strong results showing that new made from could greatly improve the energy efficiency of desalination plants while potentially reducing other costs as well.

Graphene, which results from slicing off an atom-thick layer of graphite, is increasingly emerging as something of a wonder material. The Grossman Group, for example, is also looking into using it as a cheaper alternative to silicon for making solar cells.

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“It’s never been a more exciting time to be a materials scientist,” says Grossman. “When you look at clean tech or water filtration, you find that the energy conversion bottleneck stems from the material. We can now design materials pretty much all the way down to the scale of the atom in almost any way we want, tailoring materials in ways that were previously impossible. There’s a convergence emerging in which we are facing enormously pressing problems that can only be solved by developing .”

Graphene filters: Up to 50 percent less energy

First isolated in 2003, graphene has different electrical, optical, and mechanical properties than graphite. “It’s stronger than steel, and it has unique sieving properties,” Grossman says. At only an atom thick, there’s far less friction loss when you push seawater through a perforated graphene filter compared with the polyamide plastic filters that have been used for the last 50 years, he says.

“We have shown that perforated graphene filters can handle the water pressures of desalination plants while offering hundreds of times better permeability,” Grossman explains. “The process of pumping seawater through filters represents about half the operating costs of a desalination plant. With graphene, we could use up to 50 percent less energy.”

Another advantage is that graphene filters don’t become fouled with bio-growth at nearly the rate that occurs with polyamide filters. Desalination plants often run at reduced efficiency due to the need to frequently clean the filters. In addition, the chlorine used to clean the filters reduces the structural integrity of the polyamide, requiring frequent replacement. By comparison, graphene is resistant to the damaging effects of chlorine.

According to Grossman, you could easily replace polyamide filters with graphene filters in existing plants. Like polyamide filters, graphene filters can be mounted on robust polysulfone supports, which have larger holes that sieve out particulates.

“We have shown that perforated graphene filters can handle the water pressures of desalination plants while offering hundreds of times better permeability,” Grossman explains. “The process of pumping seawater through filters represents about half the operating costs of a desalination plant. With graphene, we could use up to 50 percent less energy.”

Another advantage is that graphene filters don’t become fouled with bio-growth at nearly the rate that occurs with polyamide filters. Desalination plants often run at reduced efficiency due to the need to frequently clean the filters. In addition, the chlorine used to clean the filters reduces the structural integrity of the polyamide, requiring frequent replacement. By comparison, graphene is resistant to the damaging effects of chlorine.

According to Grossman, you could easily replace polyamide filters with graphene filters in existing plants. Like polyamide filters, graphene filters can be mounted on robust polysulfone supports, which have larger holes that sieve out particulates.

Yet, significant challenges remain in bringing down costs. The Grossman Group has made good progress in creating high volumes of graphene at a reasonably low cost. A more serious challenge, however, is cost-effectively poking uniform holes in the graphene in a highly scalable manner.

“A typical plant has tens of thousands of membranes, configured in two-meter long tubes, each of which has 40 square meters of rolled up active membrane,” Grossman says. “We have to match that volume at the same cost, or it’s a nonstarter.”

Making graphene on the cheap

The traditional way to make graphene—since its first isolation in 2003, mind you—is to peel it off with adhesive. “You literally take a piece of Scotch Tape to graphite and you peel,” Grossman explains. “If you keep doing this, you eventually wind up with a single layer. The problem is it would take forever to peel off enough graphene for a desalination plant.”

Another approach is to “grow” graphene by applying super-hot gases to copper foil. “Growing graphene provides the best quality, which is why the semiconductor industry is interested in it,” Grossman says. The process, however, is very expensive and energy-intensive.

Instead, the Grossman Group is using a much more affordable chemical approach, which produces sufficient quality for creating desalination membranes. “Fortunately, our application doesn’t require the best quality,” says Grossman. “With the chemical technique, we put graphite in a solution, and apply low temperature chemistry to break apart the entire chunk of graphite into sheets. We can get lots of graphene very cheaply and quickly.”

Creating pores that block salt but let water molecules pass is a steeper challenge. The reason desalination is possible in the first place is that when diffused in water, salt ions bond with water molecules, thereby creating a larger entity. But the difference in size compared to a free water molecule is still frustratingly small.

“The challenge is to find the sweet spot of about 0.8 nanometers,” Grossman says. “If your pores are at 1.5 nm, then both the water and salt will pass through. If they’re half a nanometer, then nothing gets through.”

A 0.8 nm hole is “smaller than we’ve ever been able to make in a controllable way with any other material,” Grossman says. “And we need to do this over a very large area very consistently and cheaply.”

The Grossman Group is pursuing three techniques to make nanoporous graphene membranes, all of which use chemical and thermal energy rather than mechanical processes. “If you tried to use lithography, it would take years,” Grossman says. “Our first approach involves making the holes too big, and then carefully filling them in. Another tries to make them exactly the right size, and the third involves starting with a material without holes and then carefully ripping it apart.”

The chemical technique for making graphene actually produces graphene oxide, which is considered undesirable for semiconductors, but is fine for filters. As a result, the researchers were able to avoid the difficult step of removing the oxygen from the graphene oxide. In fact, they found a way to use the oxygen to their advantage.

“By controlling the way the oxygen is bonded to the graphene sheet, we can use chemical and thermal energy to drill the holes with the help of the oxygen,” Grossman says.

First target: Brackish water

As the Grossman Group continues to work on the challenge of manufacturing and perforating graphene sheets, Grossman is looking to leverage other benefits of graphene filters to help bring the technology to market.

Although graphene should improve efficiency with seawater and the even saltier, dirtier water used in hydraulic fracturing, it will likely debut in plants that clean brackish water, such as found in estuaries. “It turns out that higher permeability even by a factor of two or three would make a bigger difference with brackish water than with seawater,” Grossman says. “You lower the energy consumption in both cases, but more so for brackish water.”

Graphene filters could also enable the construction of smaller, cheaper plants. “With graphene you have more choices in how you operate the plant,” Grossman says. “You could apply the same pressures but get more water out, or you could operate it at lower pressures and get the same amount of water, but at a lower energy cost.”

Grossman notes that it can take years or even decades to site and permit a plant in heavily populated coastal areas. “A lot of effort goes into how you’re going to build the plant and where you’re going to find enough land,” Grossman says. “Having the option to build a smaller plant would be a big advantage.”

Explore further: Nanoporous graphene could outperform best commercial water desalination techniques

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Researchers created pores in a graphene sheet (in purple) and then placed it over a layer of silicon nitride (in blue) that had been punctured by an ion beam. This allows specific hydrated ions, which are surrounded by a shell of water molecules, to pass through.

Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

MIT News Office
October 5, 2015

The surface of a single cell contains hundreds of tiny pores, or ion channels, each of which is a portal for specific ions. Ion channels are typically about 1 nanometer wide; by maintaining the right balance of ions, they keep cells healthy and stable. Like biological channels, graphene pores are selective for certain types of ions.

Now researchers at MIT have created tiny pores in single sheets of graphene that have an array of preferences and characteristics similar to those of ion channels in living cells.

Each graphene pore is less than 2 nanometers wide, making them among the smallest pores through which scientists have ever studied ion flow. Each is also uniquely selective, preferring to transport certain ions over others through the graphene layer.

“What we see is that there is a lot of diversity in the transport properties of these pores, which means there is a lot of potential to tailor these pores to different applications or selectivities,” says Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Karnik says graphene nanopores could be useful as sensors — for instance, detecting ions of mercury, potassium, or fluoride in solution. Such ion-selective membranes may also be useful in mining: In the future, it may be possible to make graphene nanopores capable of sifting out trace amounts of gold ions from other metal ions, like silver and aluminum.

Karnik and former graduate student Tarun Jain, along with Benjamin Rasera, Ricardo Guerrero, Michael Boutilier, and Sean O’Hern from MIT and Juan-Carlos Idrobo from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, publish their results today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Dynamic personality

In living cells, the diversity of ion channels may arise from the size and precise atomic arrangement of the channels, which are slightly smaller than the ions that flow through them.

“When nanopores get smaller than the hydrated size of the ion, then you start to see interesting behavior emerge,” Jain says.

In particular, hydrated ions, or ions in solution, are surrounded by a shell of water molecules that stick to the ion, depending on its electrical charge. Whether a hydrated ion can squeeze through a given ion channel depends on that channel’s size and configuration at the atomic scale.

Karnik reasoned that graphene would be a suitable material in which to create artificial ion channels: A sheet of graphene is an ultrathin lattice of carbon atoms that is one atom thick, so pores in graphene are defined at the atomic scale.

To create pores in graphene, the group used chemical vapor deposition, a process typically used to produce thin films. In graphene, the process naturally creates tiny defects. The researchers used the process to generate nanometer-sized pores in various sheets of graphene, which bore a resemblance to ultrathin Swiss cheese.

The researchers then isolated individual pores by placing each graphene sheet over a layer of silicon nitride that had been punctured by an ion beam, the diameter of which is slightly smaller than the spacing between graphene pores. The group reasoned that any ions flowing through the two-layer setup would have likely passed first through a single graphene pore, and then through the larger silicon nitride hole.

The group measured flows of five different salt ions through several graphene sheet setups by applying a voltage and measuring the current flowing through the pores. The current-voltage measurements varied widely from pore to pore, and from ion to ion, with some pores remaining stable, while others swung back and forth in conductance — an indication that the pores were diverse in their preferences for allowing certain ions through.

“The picture that emerges is that each pore is different and that the pores are dynamic,” Karnik says. “Each pore starts developing its own personality.”

New frontier

Karnik and Jain then developed a model to interpret the measurements, and used it to translate the experiment’s measurements into estimates of pore size. Based on the model, they found that the diameter of many of the pores was below 1 nanometer, which — given the single-atom thickness of graphene  — makes them among the smallest pores through which scientists have studied ion flow.

With the model, the group calculated the effect of various factors on pore behavior, and found that the observed pore behavior was captured by three main characteristics: a pore’s size, its electrical charge, and the position of that charge along a pore’s length.

Knowing this, researchers may one day be able to tailor pores at the nanoscale to create ion-specific membranes for applications such as environmental sensing and trace metal mining.

“It’s kind of a new frontier in membrane technologies, and in understanding transport through these really small pores in ultrathin materials,” Karnik says.

Meni Wanunu, an assistant professor of physics at Northeastern University, says the group’s work with graphene membranes may significantly improve on commercial membranes used for water purification, which require large amounts of pressure to push water through.

“If these were replaced with graphene, since it is so thin, the pressure required to push water through would be among the lowest imaginable, if not the lowest,” says Wanunu, who was not involved in the research. “However, it is only through a fundamental understanding of ion transport that the overall anticipated behaviors of bulk graphene membranes can be drawn. The work here is fundamental, and will surely guide current and future graphene membrane design principles in years to come.”

This research was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Yale Fracking drinking-waterYale researchers have confirmed that hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking” – does not contaminate drinking water. (Photo : Flickr: Konstantin Stepanov)

Yale researchers have confirmed that hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking” – does not contaminate drinking water. The process of extracting natural gas from deep underground wells using water has been given a bad reputation when it comes to the impact it has on water resources but Yale researchers recently disproved this myth in a new study that confirms a previous report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted earlier this year.

After analyzing 64 samples of groundwater collected from private residences in northeastern Pennsylvania, researchers determined that groundwater contamination was more closely related to surface toxins seeping down into the water than from fracking operations seeping upwards. Their findings were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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“We’re not trying to say whether it’s a bad or good thing,” Desiree Plata, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, told News Three in a Skype interview. “We saw there was a correlation between the concentration and the nearest gas well that has had an environmental health and safety violation in the past.”

Researchers also noted that shale underlying the Pennsylvania surface did not cause any organic chemicals to seep into groundwater aquifers. However, these findings may not be applicable to all locations worldwide.

“Geology across the country is very different. So if you’re living over in the New Albany-area shale of Illinois, that might be distinct from living in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania,” Plata explained.

Researchers from Duke University also recently gave people a reason to trust fracking companies. In a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, scientists explained that hydraulic fracturing accounts for less than one percent of water used nationwide for industrial purposes. This suggested that the natural gas extraction processes are far less water-intensive than we previously thought.

It’s hoped that these studies will help people better understand the safety of fracking.

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*** Note to Readers: We at Team GNT™ believe very strongly that “Water Solutions for a thirsty Planet” can be and will be enabled by Nanotechnology. Whether those solutions come in the form of Nano Enabled Membrane Technology, Catalyst-Thermal Technology or (Yet To Be Discovered-Developed Technology) … we expect “Great Things from Small Things”! As such we always appreciate “perspective articles” such has been offered here.

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Blog: “Great Things from Small Things”

*** Re-Posted from “One-Green-Planet” ***

All of terrestrial life depends on freshwater. From densely populated cities to rural communities, farmland and forestland, and domestic and wild animals, all are in need of clean water to sustain them. Miraculously, just a small percentage of the water on earth is actually available as freshwater.

According to the U.S. Geological Service, only about 2.5 percent of all the water on planet earth is freshwater. And only 1.2 percent of that is most easily accessible on the earth’s surface in the form of lakes, rivers, swamps, soil moisture, and permafrost. An additional 30.1 percent exists as groundwater while the majority of this freshwater, 68.7 percent to be exact, is locked up as frozen glaciers and ice caps.

Flickr/ricricciardi
Flickr 
 If you’re reading into the numbers, it would appear that the majority of freshwater is not easily accessible to us for human use. And, unfortunately, many human activities are causing harm to the natural water cycle that’s in place, making freshwater resources even more difficult to access and utilize. Building impervious structures such as buildings and paved roads makes it difficult for precipitation to be absorbed by the land to replenish groundwater resources. We also impact not only the natural flow of water with barriers like dams, but also the composition and safety of water with our pollution. We are often too aggressive in harvesting water from groundwater and surface supplies, depleting underground reserves as well as rivers and lakes.  And our contributions to climate change have impacted precipitation and evaporation rates, making the resource even more unstable and less predictable.

It is in our best interest to treat freshwater supplies with the utmost respect, and yet we’re losing out on this invaluable resource due to our own ignorance and negligence.

So, what can we do to save our water? There are, luckily, a variety of solutions. From education and conservation to emerging technologies, we are hatching up a plethora of solutions to our water woes. One of the strategies that many countries are using is desalination where salt water is essentially converted into freshwater. There’s plenty of salt water on the planet, as we know, so this sounds like a fabulous idea. Or is it?

Getting freshwater From Saltwater – How?

Desalination is a process that converts salt water to freshwater by removing salts and other minerals, leaving behind freshwater, potable water. While there are a variety of methods to accomplish this task, they can be grouped mainly into two types.

The first method, thermal desalination, involves the heating of saline water. Salts are left behind while freshwater is converted to steam and is collected, ultimately to condense back into water that is now saline-free and ready for use in an instance where freshwater is desired.

The second type of desalination involves the use of membranes to separate salt and other minerals from water. Pressure or electric currents may be used to drive saline water through a membrane which acts as a filter. Freshwater ends up on one side of the membrane while saline water stays on the other side as a form of waste.

Of course, these are very, very basic descriptions of some pretty complex and evolving technologies. But they do offer a quick insight into what the process of desalination looks like in most settings around the world. For some individuals, this is the technology used to provide them with clean drinking water.

Where Are Desalination Plants Working Now?

Desalination is a technology that has been around for quite some time and is seeing improved growth around the world in the face of increasing water demands. Since 2003, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Spain have led the world in desalination capacities. As of 2013, there were over 17,000 desalination plants worldwide in roughly 150 countries, providing more than 300 million people with at least some of their daily freshwater needs.

Israel is one successful case-study when it comes to the value of desalination. The nation currently has a quarter of its freshwater needs met through four desalination plants that treat mainly brackish well water (water that is part salt/part fresh). Israel’s desalination plants currently produce 130 million gallons of potable water a year and they are aiming to increase that number to 200 million gallons a year by 2020. While aggressive conservation efforts also helped ease the impact of severe drought, desalination has certainly been an important piece of solving a water crises.

Flickr/roplant
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Singapore is another interesting story when it comes to desalination. The country is currently pushing to improve its desalination capacity in order to gain independence in its freshwater resources. Right now it depends heavily on neighboring Malaysia to import clean water. For Singapore, desalination offers the country the chance to provide citizens freshwater even where saline water sources are much more available, ultimately becoming more independent and self-reliable.

As countries all over the world increase their capacity for desalination plants, drought-stricken areas like the United States southwest are taking note and investing in this technology. In fact, construction on the Western hemisphere’s largest desalination plant is nearly complete in San Diego, California and is expected to open for operation later this year. In the face of severe drought, desalination is becoming a much more appetizing option for this region to put its plentiful access to seawater to good use and to alleviate some of the pressures that developed and agricultural areas are placing on freshwater sources.

Is This The Answer to Water Shortages Worldwide?

Whether or not desalination is the savior for water woes is a complex debate and answers will probably vary depending on who you are asking. You’ll find there are activists, scientists, public agencies, governments, and citizens on both sides of the debate.

Ecological Impact

The first input that comes to mind when you think of desalination is probably the saline water that’s being treated, right? Depending on the source of this saline water, there may be a variety of detrimental impacts to the local ecology to consider when it comes to desalination operations.

Some desalination plants use direct intake methods to gather saline water, meaning they extract water directly from the water column, either from the surface or at greater depths in the ocean. The problem with this extraction method is that, in addition to taking in saltwater that can become a viable freshwater source, a host of marine life is also sucked up in the process. Algae, plankton, jellyfish, fish, and larva of many species can all easily be killed with this direct intake method for harvesting sea water.

Flickr/orinrobertjohn
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The impact of ocean water extraction on local marine life is not well understood, however, experts will note there are a variety of ways to skate around issues like this. One such method is indirect intake where pipes are buried in the substrate and intake water that is actually filtered down through the sand first. Marine life damage is largely eliminated using this method. Physical barriers to intake pipes may also be utilized where screens or meshes are able to keep smaller marine creatures out of the intake pipes. And behavioral deterrents, like bubble screens and strobe lights, are another option to discourage marine animals from swimming too close to intake systems where they become trapped.

Saline water that is being harvested for desalination projects are not the only issue creating ecological impacts for this water treatment system. The output of wastewater is another issue that critics point out when it comes to desalination. Water discharged from desalination plants has a higher level of saline than the body of water it is entering. While some creatures can tolerate change in salinity, others cannot and may be killed on contact. Discharging water that has been heated in the desalination process can also cause temperature spikes and stress to any aquatic life in a close radius. And, the water discharged from desalination operations may also have an altered chemical composition given the added antifouling agents, heavy metals, chlorine, antiscaling chemicals, and cleaning solutions used in the process. All have a potential to detrimentally impact the local ecology surrounding a desalination operation.

Some solutions for wastewater from desalination operations already exist. Because saline water is more likely to sink and move along the ocean bottom, discharging it upward can help promote mixing of wastewater more quickly to disperse salinity and weaken the impacts that concentrated salt levels can cause. Additionally, plants can invest in technology to lessen the amount of chemicals they use in the treatment process, and even attempt to let wastewater evaporate, leaving behind only solid waste for plant operators to dispose of. These may not be perfect solutions, but they are attempts to make desalination operations more friendly to the local ecology.

Energy Requirements

One major difficulty with fully embracing desalination has to do with the major energy inputs the technology requires. Costs attributed to desalination depend largely on energy costs which can and do fluctuate from year to year. Roughly 60 percent of the cost of operating a thermal desalination plant comes from the energy costs to operate the plant, while 36 percent of the cost to run a reverse osmosis plant comes from the energy it uses.

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with desalination plants depend heavily on the type of energy utilized. In an area where fossil fuels are burned to make electricity, emissions associated with desalination will be higher. Additionally, if a desalination plant relies heavily on hydroelectric power, a drought in the area may increase the cost of energy from the electric plant and thus the cost to run the desalination plant.

Money

As with any new and growing technology, there can be an expected higher cost than the conventional way of doing things. Desalination is no exception. Using San Diego County as an example, we can see just how much more expensive desalination is than other methods of providing freshwater. The cost to save an acre-foot of water through conservation and user education around efficiency may fall anywhere between $150 and $,1000. Importing an acre-foot of water may cost somewhere between $875 and $975. Recycling an acre-foot of potable water has a range in cost between $1,200 and $1,800. And providing an acre-foot of freshwater through seawater desalination would cost between $1,800 and $2,800. As local agencies and governments come up against budget cuts and financing difficulties, it may be impossible to justify this technology in the face of cheaper options that provide the same results.

Citizens will see an increase in their water bill as more of their freshwater is sourced from expensive desalination processes. This rise in basic living costs in the face of economic hardship may be difficult to justify, especially for a resource as important as freshwater. Desalination is certainly not a cost-saving choice.

Is It A Go?

It is certainly important to note the improvements that technology like desalination can provide to society. Especially as we are faced with increased challenges to meet the needs of a growing population, it is important to have a variety of options available to us.

While desalination is certainly an amazing option to convert water that was once too salty for human-use into something that can quench thirsts, maintain sanitation, and irrigate agriculture, one may be left wondering if the cost is really worth it. There are still many improvements left to be made to make this a more environmentally friendly option. As it stands, it is not without some major drawbacks when it comes to local ecology destruction, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. And it is certainly a very expensive option when you consider how little money it would take to simply educate the masses on how to conserve water.

Desalination is a wonderful testament to the human mind and inventive capacity, but it may simply be a very advanced and expensive method for maintaining our ignorance to the natural world with exist within. We may be able to provide freshwater in places where it didn’t previously exist, but what’s the point if people continue to remain ignorant to how to better use the water we already have? In the face of a crisis this may certainly be a valuable technology, but we have not even yet begun to address some of the issues that are causing our water shortages in the first place. And that’s an issue we need to work out through education and conversation around sustainability rather than throwing money into more expensive technology.

Lead Image Source: JohnKay/Flickr


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