PostHeaderIcon WateReuse Research Foudation Symposium

Presided over by the personable and collegial Wade Miller, the Annual WateReuse Research Foundation held its 25th Annual symposium in September this year at the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC .

Probably because on my last post I devoted my time to looking at ways to monetize municipal waste streams, what caught my attention at this conference was the possibility of monetizing desalination concentrates.

Greg Wetterau from Sandoval County New Mexico discussed results on Wednesday morning from early tests that looked to recover the marketable constituents of RO concentrate. He concluded:

Majority of waste stream solids can

be recovered with potential to sell

high value salts (NaCl, Na2SO4)

For a more complete look at the kinds of salts that can be extracted from desalination streams and the products these can be converted to — see this pdf from Dr. Kerry Howe of the University of New Mexico

That’s one way to go. There may also be value in splitting salt.

I had a very interesting three way discussion Tuesday morning with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Kevin Price and and a Senior Scientist at the Sandia Labs. We chatted about various ways to monetize desalination concentrates including the production of energy.

I followed up our discussion by doing some online research and running some inquiries.

I emailed Bob Cowen Research Engineer at the University of South Dakota. He mentioned that a company called Calera was doing work at Moss Landing in California. Calera is a carbon sequestration start up. This company converts carbon dioxide from flu gas of electrical power generation plants–plus salt to make various building materials.

Calera’s technology targets the CO2 in the smoky air that’s belched from the smokestacks of large industrial sites, such as coal-fired power plants. To capture the gas, Calera mixes the air with briny, brackish seawater, oil field wastewater or other salty waters. This causes minerals in the water to bond with CO2 and then rain out as particles of synthetic limestone. As a bonus, the briny water becomes easier to turn into drinkable water.

In Moss Landing, on the shore of Monterey Bay, a huge natural gas power plant owned by Dynegy spews dirty gray smoke, called flue gas. It is full of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Today, big, rusty pipes snake from the power plant to Calera’s demonstration cement plant. Calera pumps the flue gas into a big blue container, in which sea water from the nearby ocean is sprayed through the gas, producing a milky white liquid.

The liquid is then pumped into a giant strainer, which separates the solids from the water and spits out a white substance that looks like toothpaste. In a spray dryer, hot air — the waste heat from the flue gas — transforms the paste into little particles of cement and aggregate. Calera plans to desalinate the leftover water and sell it.

According to Calera —

We have demonstrated the continuous operation at laboratory scale and have constructed a 1-ton per day pilot scale system at our facility at Moss Landing [Monterey, California].

You can get waste salt from a desalination plant and waste carbon dioxide from a power plant.

See here for Calera’s detailed FAQ

The business model for a Company like Calera would have advantages in California where most of the cement is hauled in from out of state and far away as British Columbia.

Since their initial 50 million funding from Khosla Ventures, Calera has received $15 million from Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal company

According to this March 2010 NY Times Article, Calera, plans to open its first commercial plant next year. The company is in talks with Dynegy and a utility in Pennsylvania and has received $7 million in grants from the Australian government to build a cement plant next to a coal plant in the state of Victoria.

Brent Constantz is the founder and CEO of Calera Corp. There are two other carbon sequestration companies that could use salt concentrates from desalination plants. The first is a British company called Novacem that uses carbon dioxide and a fairly common part of desalination concentrate: magnesium silicate to produce cement. (Sandia Labs & Columbia U are jointly working on a similar process but one that uses much less energy.) The second carbon sequestration company that uses salt is called Skyonics. According to this August 2010 report

One person whom Constantz hasn’t been able to sell on the idea is Jones, president and founder of Skyonic. A chemical engineer who spent most of his career in the semiconductor business, Jones founded his company in Austin, Texas, in 2005. Jones thinks Constantz is aiming too low. Entering the concrete market, he says, is “like competing with dirt.”

Jones says his invention, called the “SkyMine Process,” will use the CO2 emissions from a San Antonio cement plant to make carbonates and bicarbonates, solids and liquids that capture the CO2 molecule. The end result, he says, will be an array of more valuable industrial chemicals including sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen and chlorine gases.

While Constantz has Khosla backing him, Jones has another Silicon Valley investor, Carl Berg, helping to bankroll his venture. Jones said he has already proved his products can be sold at a profit, using emissions from a coal-fired powered plant along with salt, electricity and water as basic ingredients. “There has been considerable interest from utilities,” he added.

His new plant, to be located next to Capitol Aggregates Ltd., a cement plant in San Antonio, will be in production by mid-2012. That, he said, will give his products access to a potential $3.5 billion market of chemicals “mined” from an invisible gas that what would otherwise have been wafted into the atmosphere.

Making “green cement,” he says, is way down his list of product possibilities from “sky mining.” “You want to do the lucrative stuff first and have it power your R&D,” he said.

Skyonic has a great back story..

Founder Joe Jones, a chemical engineer, came up with the idea for the company while watching TV with his sons. The Discovery Channel had a show about traveling to Mars, and experts offered up their ideas for getting rid of carbon dioxide. Jones told his sons that the experts had it all wrong. Creating sodium bicarbonate would probably be the best solution.

He then went to his PC and began to research the subject on Google. He didn’t find a lot of answers, but one posting referred to a 1973 textbook Jones himself remembered. He’d bought it for a class at the University of Texas. In fact, it happened to be sitting on the shelf right behind him at the time.

He opened it up to the relevant page and there was the passage he wanted, underlined years earlier by his younger self.

There are more interesting details on Skytronics process here:

Skyonic imports salt by barge and rail from the Yucatan peninsula and mixes it with water. The salt water is zapped with electricity, (electrolyzed), where it meets a special membrane. The membrane lets salt ions through but leaves behind chlorine. The chlorine gas is captured and sold.

The water molecules’ two hydrogen atoms, which are split from oxygen by electrolysis, go in different directions. One hydrogen atom pairs with other free hydrogen atoms to create hydrogen gas, which is also captured and sold. The other pairs with the sodium ion that made it through the membrane to form sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda or lye [NaOH]. (That’s the strong base Jones was after.)

He might also mention that another interesting product that could be made with salt and carbon dioxide is baking soda whose chemical formula is NaHCO3. It just so happens that baking soda quadruples the production of algae oil. And to clean up extra glyceral from the algae and carbon dioxide –this process increases hydrogen ten fold. But you might need a waste treatment plant.

Here’s a list of some of the more prominant algae oil start ups

Skytronics is not the only company that has a semipermiable membrane for sodium ions (Na-). A company called Saltworks has them too. I first mentioned them in December 2009. I thought their process was similiar to Oasys. Not so.See here for more details on Saltworks.

(btw Someone might want to mention to Calera that Saltworks and Skytronics likely have a more energy efficient way to split salt than Calera’s processes.)

A better solution to trucking salt from the Yucatan would be just to site one of his plants someplace close to a desalination plant and a coal/gas power plant.

Another company called Carbon Sciences uses carbon dioxide to create fuels like gasoline, diesal and jet fuel. They don’t split salt. Rather they split water for the hydrogen.

Byron Elton, the CEO and President of Carbon Sciences, explained in a report with Newsweek that they are in the developmental stages of a carbon recycling technology that involves capturing the greenhouse gas, CO2, and transforming it into gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, methanol, propane, and butane. The main process involves taking the oxygen molecules out of water and carbon dioxide in a biocatalytic process. The remaining carbon and hydrogen are then combined to make basic hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are then transformed into a variety of fuels. In the early stages of the technology the process required pure carbon dioxide and pure water. However, updates to the technology will allow it to be placed at the output of large emitter, such as a power plant, where many other elements and compounds are present.

Their process might be useful for creating power for a desalination plant sited near a power plant.

There is a way here an interested scientist could create an exothermic reaction to run a internal combustion engine by converting Na- to Na in the presence of H2O whose exhaust is pure hydrogen and oxygen. Once the reaction was completed the Na would convert back to Na- and the process could be repeated. (Any interested bench scientist can contact me at ckilmer at well you know if you are interested in working on this.)

Inland desalination plants like the one in El Paso might use natural gas power plants instead of coal plants as a source of carbon dioxide to feed the Calera/Skyonic processs. See this map for gas plant locations. See this map for coal plant locations. This USGS map shows where US saline ground water is located.This US Energy Information Administration map shows where shale gas deposits are in the USA. You can find maps of coal bed methane, tight and conventional & offshore gas fields in the USA here

Some salt water concentrates are going to have commercial quantities of iron, copper, zinc –even lithium in them. For example, according to this article in the arabian gulf:

65 tons of antiscalant, 24 tons of chlorine and almost 300kg of copper are pumped back into the Arabian Gulf daily from desalination plants around the region

You might be able to cut back on the anti scalents if manufacturers produce low-scaling membranes by making membranes with no net charge. If Manufacturers changed their preparations to produce membranes of positively+ and negatively-charged groups (like phosphate, amino groups) with a net charge ratio closer to 1:1. See this report out of Israel.

What about something like copper?

There is an LLNL spinoff start up company called Simbol Mining. This company mines manganese lithium zinc copper iron and other metals from salt brine in geothermal hot spots –like the Salton Sea in southern California. Their technology is modular. It snaps onto already in place geothermal power generation plants in Southern California and Nevada. According to this article about Symbol Mining

“The plant itself is modular,” said Green, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures. “You clip on those smaller plants and have your capital allocated over time rather than having to incur it all in one big shot.”

That means you start with one small module for small volume production. Then you add another module and another as you need to ramp up production. For more info on Simbol Mining see here here and here.

Anyhow, if Simbol can mine interesting metals from geothermal hotspot brine–maybe they can mine interesting metals from water desalination plant brine.

The only desalination plant that I know of that might have significant deposits of lithium would be the Yuma plant in arizona –which is not too far from the Salton Sea. There might be others. Lithium is a rare earth metal for which the world wide demand will increase by about a third annually for the next five years or so. Lithium is needed in electric car batteries for which production is ramping significantly.

Simbol Mining plans to pay energy companies royalties to access the brines.

I emailed Simbol about the possibility of using their technology to harvest metal from desalination plants. They emailed back asking for a chemical analysis of the salt concentrates of all desal plants in the USA.

No such analysis exists anywhere– so it might be helpful if someone set up a search-able database for that… so that entreprenuial companies like Calera/Skyonic/Simbol will know what the desalination plants have to offer. Combine that with the distance to the nearest large carbon dioxide emitting plant like a coal, gas, or cement plant. Also, it might help to set up a database of chemical analysis of brackish water aquifers around the USA–as well as a database of chemical analysis of seawater along the coasts of the USA to a depth of 1000 feet.

Why the ocean at these depths? I’ve blogged about this a number of times. Current generation RO membranes operate at a PSI equivalent of about 850 feet in the ocean. (However, Dow Water & Process Solutions and NanoH20 both have developed membranes this year efficient enough to cut energy costs respectively by 20%-30%–so their ocean depths for desalination could be shallower.) At those depths there’s trace amounts of much of the periodic table. They’re not enough to make it commercially feasible to mine. But metals mining might make for a second income stream for oil companies interested in licensing DVX tech to desalinate and pipe ashore water near oil derricks off the coast of southern california. See more detail here.Oil companies typically run an electrical link from the shore to their derricks offshore in California. But if they’re going to pump water ashore, it might be cheaper to pay Energy Recovery a couple hundred K to adapt their RO energy recovery devices to take advantage of pressure differentials between the surface and 850 feet of water–to produce electricity. That electricity would be used to pump water ashore.

Now I’ve come to the throw away part of this blog. I ran across two desalination process that don’t fit into any category. They might not be as cost effective as RO. As well, they are not designed for making commercial use of salt concentrates. But putting everything else aside I would suggest some genius might find the following two desalination processes provide a cost effective way for doing secondary industrial strength sorting of salt concentrates at desalination plants.

The first — from Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)– is called a spiral concentrator.Its meant to sort for particles larger than one micron. As such its good for desal pretreatment and oil/gas water water wells. But its makers say smaller particles can be bound to alum.

PARC researchers call their device the spiral concentrator. This is a piece of plastic pipe, 50cm in length and one millimeter in diameter, with a spiral shell. As water is pumped from one end of the device, the particles are in the water is pressed against the walls of the tube. Particles the size of a micron are separated by centrifugal force and carried away from clean water through forks diverging spiral concentrator.

See more info here

Finally here is a video of the machine in action.

Another possible way to use this process would be to use alum or some other binding agent to preprocess copper out of water so as to cut down on scaling. As well, this process in conjunction with the next process, I’ll talk about might serve with Simbol Mining mentioned above to remove metals from municipal wastes and water fracking in shale gas fields like the Marcellus formation.

A second process fires micro bubbles at dirt and water.

University of Utah microbubbles clean dirty soil in China

University of Utah civil and environmental engineer Andy Hong has teamed up with Chinese environmental cleanup company Honde LLC to use Hong’s method of “heightened ozonation treatment” or HOT to clean metals and other contaminants from polluted soil along the shores of Lake Taihu near Wuxi, China.

Hong released findings of his initial experiments in 2008 and 2009 in the journal Chemosphere. His central insight is that by infusing water or soil with pressurized ozone gas microbubbles, it is possible to expose pollutants and make them easier to remove. The process is called heightened ozonation treatment or HOT.

The centerpiece of equipment is a HOT reactor, which is a pressurized metal vessel that produces ozone microbubbles. The reactor is currently being used to treat soil, but it can also be used to treat water, algae or sewage waste.

This process might be another interesting way to separate out metals in desalination concentrate. As well, while you’re bombarding concentrate with micro bubbles you might also hit them with radio waves to dewater the concentrate and convert water to its constituent hydrogen and oxygen for resale or later use. You’d do this with a

13.56 MHz RF Generator that generates John Kanzius’ radio waves.

For more ideas on how to convert salt water concentrates to useful products–check out an Australian Company based out of Sydney and Los Angeles–called Geo Processors Pty Ltd. They currently license their technology. The Japanese are currently among their licensees. Here is the range of products they can produce from salt waste streams from desalination plants:

* Fertiliser quality salts and soil conditioners.

* Flocculating agents for water/wastewater treatment.

* High grade sodium chloride salt for food, chlor-alkali and other industrial applications.

* Supplements for animal dietary needs.

* Specialty chemicals for pharmaceutical use.

* Feedstock for magnesia and magnesium metal manufacturing.

* Fillers for paper, paint, dye and PVC manufacturing.

* Feedstock for manufacture of light-weight, fire retardant and waterproof building material.

* Feedstock for manufacture of eco-sealants for reduction of seepage from water channels, ponds and landfills.

* Premium stabilisers for road base construction and dust suppressants in construction sites.

For further study: See this Sandia Labratories study of beneficial uses of desalination concentrates. Also this study. See also This Carollo Engineers ICCS study

A helpful political role could be played by water legislators and lobbyists by getting state and federal governments to give tax incentives to companies that develop the means to use salt concentrates from desalination plants for commercial products. I mentioned something like this at the Tuesday afternoon lunch with Congressmen and lobbyists interested in water desalination at the WateReuse Symposium.

Finally, interested water desalination organizations like WateReuse Research Foundation might consider inviting regional niche specialty chemical companies to sit on their boards.

The Wall St Journal recently wrote about the discovery of water on the moon in an article entitled Moon Not Only Has Water, but Lots of It

. The draw back is that water would cost 50,000@ bottle. This same point was made by Tom Pankratz, Editor of the Water Desalination Report during the Monday afternoon awards conference at the WateReuse Symposium.

That was an interesting session. Wade Miller stood up from the floor and boldly proposed that a new Department of Water should be created by the federal government to go along with the Department of Energy. A question I posed to the panel at the time went something like this. Which sounds more technologically plausible: collapse the cost of desalination from 1200@acre foot to 50@ acre foot on earth(and thereby make it economically feasible to a.) turn the world’s deserts green and b.) double the habitable size of the planet) or get water on the moon for $50,000@bottle.

Think about it. Combine the monetizing of salt concentrates that I’ve talked about in this issue with the work of companies like Oaysis I wrote about last December.Doesn’t it makes sense that its technologically easier to drop the cost of water to $50 an acre foot
on earth. Heck, this should be intuitively obvious. Likely, as I mentioned last year– in the future it will be noted that, technologically, the way to the deserts of the moon and Mars was through the deserts of the Earth.

For now, remember there are a variety of ways to link desalination plants with power plants so as to mine and combine their salt and carbon dioxide wastes by way of carbon sequestration start ups and others to produce a variety of products.

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PostHeaderIcon Water Chats — DXV Water Technologies — Desalination in the Deep

Back in 2005 reports started coming out that detailed the progress of oil seeps in the Santa Barbara channel. They’d been around for years but likely it wasn’t PC to mention them. Trouble was — because the seeps were natural — no hue and cry could be raised. Still too many birds were turning up dead. So scientists quietly studied the problem. Recently a study of the seeps has been completed. According to this article
new research shows that natural oil seeps into the Santa Barbara channel dwarf the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez. Remember all the grief Exxon took for the Valdez spill? Well, much much more oil is sitting on the sea floor just offshore of Santa Barbara. Considering that modern oil rigs have taken 20 years of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico–without an incident — its not clear to me what all the fuss about drilling off the coasts — is about–especially off Santa Barbara.

Consider that Santa Barbara was the cause of the US being the only country in the world with coastal drilling bans. By drilling — oil companies might take some of the pressure off the under water oil and gas deposits in the Santa Barbara Channel and lessen the seeps. They might also take the some of the pressure off California’s state budget. Might help the feds too.

Funny how this sort of thing doesn’t get out of the science journals.

How does this bear on water desalination? Well readers of this blog know that I’ve advocated doing a test site for underwater desalination off Santa Barbara — by way of a slant well for water drilled alongside a slant well for oil drilled from shore now being negotiated in the area. But if the sea floor just off the beaches in of Santa Barbara is rank with oil –that area might not be best for desalination trials.

Here’s the deal.

These days it seems that no sooner do you mention an idea — than someone’s got a company all set up and with the designs and technologies to implement it. That’s what – DXV Water Technologies has done. They have designed an a desalination process that uses deep water to provide pressure for their membranes.

Now before you close the browser — I think its important to state that everyone has heard of this kind of thing before. The argument against deep water desalination was that you’d need to go down about 1700 or so feet to get the right pressures for the membranes. At those depths — whatever reduction you managed in energy costs would be made up for in maintenance costs. And what the hey–just pumping the fresh water ashore.

So why bother?

I never saw these studies. I only heard about them second and third hand. I’ve been watching the desal research flow for 15 years or so. So I think those studies are old. New technology comes up. According to Forbes

Nikolay Voutchkov of Water Globe Consulting says membranes have gotten 2.5 to 3 times more efficient in the last decade

So its worth taking a second look. DXV Desalination claims they can do the desalination at 850-900 feet. That looks like it tracks membrane efficiency improvements in the last 10 years or so. (ie double the membrane efficiency and half the depth for desalination pressures to work.)Further there are several places off the coast of southern California where you can hit 850-900 feet depths within a mile of shore. The inventor is Diem X. Vuong, He has set up a two-stage nanofiltration process for seawater desalination. Vuong, who retired from the Long Beach Water Department in 2005, developed the ‚Äòdepth exposed membrane for water extraction‚Äô (DEMWAX) process now being tested by DXV Water Technologies. Vuong is familiar with the neighborhood and familiar with the technology. DXV produces almost no brine as it has a 50:1 yield — i.e., 50 gal of seawater for 1 gal of fresh water — AND it occurs underwater, so higher salt dissipates within 1-2m. Makes sense. All they’re doing is pulling a little fresh water out of the vast deep.

They claim their process will desalinate sea water for $0.50/m^3 (616@acre foot). Considering water rates are going as high as 900@acre foot — $0.50/m^3 or 616@acre foot — looks cheap to me.
According to the articles –here’s the money quote:

We can get 50MGD (56TAF/year) from an 11 acre installation. Given a SoCal urban demand of 3MAF, that means that 54 of these systems could supply all of urban SoCal [ignore price for now] — in an area of about one square mile in the ocean.

As well, when you desalinate in the deep dark ocean — the amount of bio fouling declines significantly. Oh and one other thing. It may sound counter intuitive– but desalinated water that comes from these depths is very pure and fwiw — rich in healthy trace elements.

How do you say hmm. Consider. Next year NanoH20 and UCLA Engineering’s Eric Hoek will come out with a membrane that improves efficiencies of current generation membranes.

NanoH20′s Green says the company has modified Hoek’s work substantially to improve and perfect the nanoparticle membrane, but he won’t say how. He says the company is targeting nearly 100% improvement in water production, from 6,000 to 7,500 gallons per day per eight-inch area of membrane to 12,000 gallons per day. The membrane will be the same size and shape as current membranes, so plants won’t have to be retrofitted. The company is building enough capacity to produce “tens of thousands” of membranes–a big plant incorporates 10,000 to 20,000. The first membranes will go on sale early next year.

With those kinds of efficiencies–they might cut costs significantly by cutting the distance to shore or provide all of southern California with water with a half mile square installation at 850-900 feet of water. But more importantly NanoH20 gives DVX cost estimates plenty of room for error–while remaining in the 600@ acre foot range.
For more detail on the DVX project, check out this pdf calledA new approach to Deep sea RO If you have the time and a a more granular interest in the project listen to this mp3 interview with the DVX CEO

The company already has some street creds in the water desalination community. DVX was a finalist –along with Oasys and Aquaporin — at this years Global Water Intelligence and the International Desalination Association awards in Zurich Switzerland.

The prestigious Water Technology Idol award, sponsored by Norit, is particularly poignant as its award is based on votes cast by the delegates present, experts in the field of water and desalination, after a short ‘show and tell’ by each finalist company.

DXV Water Technologies
is interested in doing some tests in fresh water. I don’t think this is really the way to go. There is a very simple way to prove their technology. All you do is bring in the oil companies from off the coast of California. Their shops will already have a very good idea of the capital, maintenance and energy costs of an underwater operation. They’ll know the best materials and processes for every part of the operation except the membranes. They will have streamlined their procedures significantly in the last 15 years. They will already have a detailed understanding of the underwater topography of the area in house–including areass where minor seismic activity might threaten underwater operations.

My wag would be that Maintenance would be the biggest expense.

Energy would still be a significant cost because of the cost of pumping water to shore. I don’t know what would be the cheapest way to bring water ashore from a mile away. For example a slant well drill drilled from onshore — that goes out a mile would be much more expensive than laying a pipeline on the ocean floor. The oil industry can lay 3 kilometers a day of pipeline along the ocean bed. However, a slant well could make the water run downhill to shore. How does that happen? The drill would be onshore. It would drill down say 1500 ft and then slope upward gradually to a point out in the ocean at 850-900 feet. The water from the desalination modules would run down hill to shore arriving at depth of 1500 feet. Equalizing pressure would bring it to 850-900 ft. How would you bring it the rest of the way to the surface naturally. Beats me. The point of having such a steep slope to shore would be to create a lot of forward momentum for the water. You wouldn’t want to lose that momentum at the up elbow onshore with a joint that turns at a sharp angle. They might be able to narrow the diameter of the pipe as it comes shoreward so as to increase the column pressure on the water as it comes ashore. Materials advances in the surface of the pipe might help reduce the friction and drag on the water as it moves forward. The net effect would be increase the pressure on the water as it comes ashore to cut the cost of pumping water ashore over time. If you must still pump the water to the surface you might site the pump down in the well on land to push the water up. Presumably the maintenance and energy costs of such a pump on land would be cheaper than a pump out at sea.

Permitting for the project would be fairly simple since the site would be at sea. There wouldn’t be any disposal issues. If onshore delivery were not energy intensive — there would be no worries about cracking an already strained grid.

Actuallly building a small scale experimental installation would consist of of a set of procedures about which the oil companies have decades of experience: One ship lowers a prefab desal plant & pump to the ocean floor. One ship runs a pipe to shore. One ship runs an electrical line from shore to to pump. An underwater crew attaches everything. Yr done. So instead of taking 10 years from permitting to building–the actual process from permitting to project completion could take one year.

As it happens the oil companies have decades of experience with each one of the procedures listed above.

Likely the oil companies wouldn’t be too interested in going out on their own to fund an experimental project outside of their field. Funding for the experiment might come from Title XVI funding for the DOI. This is the sort of project that might answer the 21st Century Bureau of Reclamation question….how do you top the Hoover Dam.

Or funding could come from the vast pools of dollars for R&D controlled by DOE that nobody in the desalination industry knows how to tap–or from a utility funding authority set up this year. No matter where the dollars came from–they would be federal dollars well spent.

Update: Science Daily is calling a UCLA based company a big breakthrough desalination testing.

With these critical issues looming large, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science are working hard to help alleviate the state’s water deficit with their new mini-mobile-modular (M3) “smart” water desalination and filtration system.

In designing and constructing new desalination plants, creating and testing pilot facilities is one of the most expensive and time-consuming steps. Traditionally, small yet very expensive stationary pilot plants are constructed to determine the feasibility of using available water as a source for a large-scale desalination plant. The M3 system helps cut both costs and time.

“Our M3 water desalination system provides an all-in-one mobile testing plant that can be used to test almost any water source,” said Alex Bartman, a graduate student on the M3 team who helped to design the sensor networks and data acquisition computer hardware in the system. “The advantages of this type of system are that it can cut costs, and because it is mobile, only one M3 system needs to be built to test multiple sources. Also, it will give an extensive amount of information that can be used to design the larger-scale desalination plant.”

The M3 demonstrated its effectiveness in a recent field study in the San Joaquin Valley in which it desalted agricultural drainage water that was nearly saturated with calcium sulfate salts, accomplishing this with just one reverse osmosis (RO) stage.

If they can figure out a way to put their mobile testing tools underwater they might merge well with DVX to create a fast pilot.


PostHeaderIcon Gates Foundation Water Energy Vision

The healthy growth of mankind depends on continuously decreasing the cost of water and energy everywhere.

Nice thought. Why mention it?

Its a mission statement.

For who?

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett — and through them America’s billionaires.

Why Bill Gates? Why Warren Buffett?

As to Bill Gates, his passion; According to a recent interview

Understanding science and pushing the boundaries of science is what makes me immensely satisfied. What I’m doing now involves understanding maths, risk-taking. The first half of my life was good preparation for the second half.’

Now in the context of the interview he was talking about the development of a vaccine to cure a disease like malaria but its clear that energy is part of that picture too.

In 2010 at the annual Ted conference he said his greatest wish–greater even than the efforts of the Bill Gates Foundation–was that a new energy source be invented that delivered power for less than half the cost of coal.

If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years… I could pick who’s president…. I could pick a vaccine —- which is something I love— or I could pick this thing that’s half the cost [of coal based electrical production] with no CO2 — gets invented — this is the wish I would pick. This the one with the greatest impact.

This year at his annual corporate executives conference–he included energy research as a core technology research investment goal.

What about water?

Mr Gates is half way to recognizing the importance of water. Over the last several years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given over $1.7 billion to support food security worldwide. At several conferences in the last year he has talked about the importance of grants to help poverty stricken small farmers in South Asia and Africa to grow more food. But at the same time he has emphasized the need for tech innovation.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Gates offers “a glimpse into his thinking and his hopes for the future. ‘Despite the tough economy, I am still very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead,’ he writes. ‘A combination of scientific innovations and great leaders who are working on behalf of the world’s poorest people will continue to improve the human condition’”

What innovation is foundational to the next great green revolution?


That is delivering water in massive volumes–cheap enough for farming –1000 miles from any seacoast.

Therefor think of water as a proxy for food.

Water is foundational to civilization. It always has been. Always will be. In this article 20 former world leaders talk about the looming global water crises. You can already read Wall St Journal articles about the return of 1970′s style ideas from scholars like Paul Ehrlich “Population Bomb” or the Club of Rome’s “Limits of Growth” (read by a million boomers as students in high school, college & graduate school. As it happened, these 70′s books coincided with the peak and initial decline in US (cheap) oil production as well as the end of the era of US dam building. Also, several thorium test plants were abandoned.)

Today, many large players through out the world including sovereign wealth funds are buying up agricultural land.

They are anticipating a world wide shortage of food supplies. But so far, these food shortages have not been in rural Africa or Asia where many current poverty programs are targeted. Rather the shortages/high prices have been in big cities. There have been major food riots already. What has not been widely reported about the crises in Egypt in early 2011…– is that it was sparked by money –not politics. There were big increases in the cost of grain.

The target for Mr Gates research has not been the cost and availability of water but rather pricy genetics and fertilizers.

Warren Buffet’s son says that–based in his own experience– Gates high tech farming investments won’t work in third world places once he leaves.

He said that the Gates Foundation was essentially trying to recreate US-style industrial agriculture in Africa, an approach that he himself had tried early in his philanthropic career. “I don’t think it worked,” he said. “We need to quit thinking about trying to do it like we do it in America,” Buffett added.

Earlier in the segment, he championed low-tech, inexpensive methods for increasing farm productivity—a stark contrast to the high-tech seeds and pricey synthetic fertilizers favored by Gates.

The problem with Mr Buffet’s solution is that it won’t produce the amount of food necessary to maintain the world’s population when it doubles in 50 years. Rather, Mr Buffet’s solutions will further buffer some poor rural areas of the world from the food shortages of the rest of the world.

Why is this true? Consider the cost of energy to be the top line measure of wealth and the cost of food to be the bottom line measure of wealth. In poor countries –where the cost of food is a large part of people’s budgets–when the cost of food doubles it causes riots. In rich countries, when the cost of food doubles — nothing happens because food is a small percentage of peoples costs. The same cannot be said for fuel. When gas prices double as they are about to do in the USA there are definitely problems.

Mr Gates concluded the 2010 Ted conference speech by saying

If we don’t get this wish [for cheaper energy]the division between those who think short term and long term will be terrible between the us and China between poor countries and rich and most of all the lives of those two billion will be far worse

Why get other billionaires involved?

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are looking to get billionaires in the USA and the rest of the world to
give away at least half of their wealth.

Gates & Buffet have left it up to billionaires to decide what to give their money to. Many are agreeable to the idea. but there is a catch. All would love for their money to have a real impact. They want the same thing as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They want to make a difference. However, they don’t know what would have the greatest impact.

Mr Gates has mentioned that cheaper energy will have the greatest impact.

What difference does cheap energy and cheap water make?

Consider; If you collapsed the cost of water desalination and transport so as to make desert farming profitable 1000 miles from any seacoast, you could turn the world’s deserts green. That would increase the habitable size of the USA 1/2, China by 1/3, double the habitable size of Africa, triple the habitable size of Mexico, increase by 100 fold or the habitable size of Australia, increase by a third the habitable size of central Asia — and double the size of the habitable earth.

Sound incredible?

Let’s do a thought problem. Which project is more technologically easy to do, costs less, and has a greater immediate economic payoff.

1.) Plant colonies on the moon and Mars
2.) Turn the deserts of the earth green.

The answer should be obvious. Planting colonies on the moon and Mars involves inventing literally hundreds of new technologies that at best will not serve more than +-100 people for the next four decades at a cost of 100′s of billions of dollars.

Its technologically easier, less costly and much more profitable to do the R&D that will make it cheap to turn the earth’s deserts green. Why? Because all you need to accomplish this are cheaper versions of two already existing technologies. Pipelines and desalination plants–. The research project wouldn’t be trivial but its cheap and easy with a huge payoff in the near term compared to doing the R&D to enable colonies on the moon and Mars.

Yet everyone in the world has bought into the idea that 20 years to 40 years from now there will be small colonies on the moon and Mars after the expenditure of 100′s of billions of dollars by dozens of governments world wide.

Lower the cost of water and power such that desert farming anywhere is competitive farms in the American midwest — and market forces and governments will take over to do the rest.

Bill Gates has already invested in Big Picture Ideas but his vision is slightly off. Consider:

A small group of leading climate scientists, financially supported by billionaires including Bill Gates, are lobbying governments and international bodies to back experiments into manipulating the climate on a global scale to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The scientists, who advocate geoengineering methods such as spraying millions of tonnes of reflective particles of sulphur dioxide 30 miles above earth, argue that a “plan B” for climate change will be needed if the UN and politicians cannot agree to making the necessary cuts in greenhouse gases, and say the US government and others should pay for a major programme of international research.

Professors David Keith, of Harvard University, and Ken Caldeira of Stanford, [see footnote] are the world’s two leading advocates of major research into geoengineering the upper atmosphere to provide earth with a reflective shield. They have so far received over $4.6m from Gates to run the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (Ficer). Nearly half Ficer’s money, which comes directly from Gates’s personal funds, has so far been used for their own research, but the rest is disbursed by them to fund the work of other advocates of large-scale interventions.

According to statements of financial interests, Keith receives an undisclosed sum from Bill Gates each year, and is the president and majority owner of the geoengineering company Carbon Engineering, in which both Gates and Edwards have major stakes – believed to be together worth over $10m.

Much simpler would be to collapse the cost of water desalination and transport. That would turn the world’s deserts green. Naturally green farm lands take up much more carbon dioxide.

How do you collapse the costs of water and power? I think Mr Gates understands the issues involved with energy. In order, to collapse the cost of delivered desalinized water–just two technologies need to be improved–membranes and pipelines.(Delivering water cheaply over great distances by pushing water uphill will require cheaper energy–as well as better/faster/smarter pipelines. Membranes are currently expensive and require a lot of energy to desalinate water. Their cost/efficiency/longevity is falling by half about once a decade or so. Already, the elements are in place to significantly accelerate that decline in price.) (There are subsidiary issues like finding ways to profitably turn Na+ Cl- and dozens of trace elements–into products. I talk about this in more detail here.)

What about the US federal government? Isn’t there a United States program for water desalination? Doesn’t this nation spend money on water R&D? Yes, about 50 million scattered through a dozen agencies. (This compares to 1.5 billion annually in today’s dollars spent on desalination research from roughly 1955-1975 –which research developed the semi permeable membrane that filters much of the installed desalination industry today.) US Corporate desalination R&D contributes another 50 million annually.

Isn’t energy research something that the Department of Energy does?

Yes– but just as with water–the feds are not doing nearly enough. According to Bill Gates in this interview:

Interviewer:You are a member of the American Energy Innovation Council, the AEIC, which calls for a national energy policy that would increase U.S. investment in energy research every year from $5 billion to $16 billion.


Interviewer:I was stunned that the U.S. government invests so little.

Gates: Yeah, particularly when you look at the DOE budget, and it looks so big–but the biggest part of that by far is dealing with the legacy of nuclear weapons production at various sites around the country. I was stunned myself. You know, the National Institutes of Health invest a bit more than $30 billion.

But the US government is not going to step in with 10 billion. (If anything federal research dollars are likely to shrink.) However, America’s billionaires might–if the impact of the work was great enough. If the vision was great enough. Like for example, turning the world’s deserts green. Then once accomplished– using the water and energy technology developed to green the deserts of the earth to colonize the deserts of the moon and Mars.

For a moment, lets discuss the Bill Gates Foundation because I think that Mr Gates– by way of his thoughts on global health and its relation to wealth– is already backing into the idea that I’m proposing.

The Gates Foundation funds medical research in diseases that are not common in wealthy countries. (Generally, the Gates foundation serves grant seekers seeking to bring innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community. This includes education scholarships to low income families.)

The Gates Foundation is in that health area, and when we pick a disease to work on, we pick a disease where for some reason the market is not working. Like malaria: rich people don’t need a malaria vaccine. They are rarely in malarial areas, and when they are, they can take prophylactic drugs and not worry about it.

Mr Gates reasons that there is a relationship between health and wealth. According to this article

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2011 ( –
Attributing the decline in the number of children who die before their fifth birthday from 20 million in 1960 to 8.5 million today to infant vaccination, Gates told the audience of more than 2,000 at the conference, “About one-third [of that improvement] is by increasing income. The majority has been through vaccines. Vaccines will be the key.

1/3 might be a little low for the influence of wealth on health. Certainly it could be reasonably argued that 1/2 might be more like it.

Its easy to show, for example, that there is a correlation between health and wealth. Consider this utube from from global health specialist Hans Rosling.

What you’ll see is that the west made huge gains in health and wealth before 1900 without ubiquitous vaccinations. From 1900 to 1960 the west continued to make huge gains in health and wealth –with vaccination–while the rest of the world wealth gains remained stagnant. But after 1960–the health and wealth of much of the rest of the world moved in lock step upward. There is no initial lag of either health or wealth which would suggest that either health or wealth was preponderantly causal.

(Now I am not advocating that the Gates Foundation do anything other than what it is doing currently. Vaccines save lives. Rather I’m suggesting that if America’s other billionaires became involved in research to collapse the cost of water and power– then their work–would be a proper adjunct to the work of the Gates Foundation because it increases the wealth of the world –which in turn funds health advances.)

Even though Gates is more interested in charity with regards to poor countries–for several years he has recognized the importance of the energy to not only poor people — but also people all over the world.

Gates in the –energy ventures article — has said that

“I guess in a vague sense we can say that we want energy that costs, say, a quarter of what coal or electricity does. Why? Because that’s what it will take to raise the poorest of the poor in world to reasonable living standards. But it will also raise the living standards of the rest of the world.”

Energy costs directly effect productivity. The more productive people are the wealthier they are. The wealthier they are–the more they can afford things like health care. This is true for everyone.

Gates is doing some work along those lines –separately from his foundation work. Several years ago he invested in Sapphire Energy — an algae based biofuel company. As well he has invested in a unique nuclear reactor that has been developed by a company called TerraPower.

More recently reports are that he has invested in a software company called NEOS GeoSolutions which promises to take much of the guesswork out of onshore oil and gas exploration.

Just last month he invested in Liquid Metal Battery — a company that promises to store and release electricity in volume from intermittent sources like solar and wind.

That said Mr Gates does not see a great future for intermittant power sources like solar and wind. Rather the best chance for creating clean power and low cost in volume comes from nuclear energy.

Gates argues that nuclear power is still safer than all other energy options, rich countries aren’t spending enough on R&D, and installing solar panels on your roof is not helping to reduce CO2 emissions. It’s merely “cute.

While the cost of energy affects topline wealth–the cost of water reflects bottom line wealth. (For example, the cost of food represents maybe 8% of Americans home costs–however, food represents 40% of costs for say, people in Egypt.)

All the greatest advances in power and water in the 20th century were top down advances incubated mostly in the US and then moved to the rest of the world. This is true for oil-gas/internal combustion engine and hydro electric power, nuclear electric power/electric motors. The Hoover Dam in the USA provided the template for dams worldwide. According to T Boone Pickens this will likely be the case with fracking natural gas (and still more recently fracking oil). Because of new technologies the US now has the equivalent of three times the reserves of the Saudis. Chesapeake Energy President Aubrey McClendon now says the US is positioned to be energy independent in 10 years. As happened with earlier water power technologies, hydraulic fracking will likely go overseas too after it has done its work here in the USA. However, except for natural gas temporarily this energy will not come in at anywhere near at the price points equivalent to 1/4-1/2 the cost of electricity from coal. That is oil & natural gas in the USA seem poised to become plentiful again but not cheap. Even Mr Pickens says that fracking natural gas (and oil) is a temporary solution.

According to Gates if the USA does not lead in research –it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

But unfortunately, when the U.S. doesn’t step up on basic research, the world at large doesn’t tend to step up and fill the gap. I wish they would, but they don’t.

So its not disingenuous or cute to say that charity begins at home.

Gates writes another article here in which he maintains that the key to energy success is distributed innovation.

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go

Now there would be enough work in energy & water development to get us to where we need to go–if all America’s billionaires got involved.

I think that Donald Rumsfeld used an intellectual construct that can be applied to this distributed approach to research.

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Known knowns are things we know we know. This would represent direct investment in companies and research that furthers the goal of cheaper water and energy. This is what Bill Gates and many other investors are currently doing. They find a tech that looks promising and invest in it.

Known unknowns: that is things we know we don’t know. Wouldn’t it be nice to say “Ok we have this problem and we will pay this much for a solution. A number of web sites have grown up in the last couple years that bring together Research organizations and problem solvers like InnoCentive, YourEncore, & NineSigma. There’s a lot of seriously interesting ways this can be used to accelerate energy and water research. Consider this article by Wired Magazine.

Unknown unknowns. The problem with any directed research is that its directed. Many times solutions can come from unknown directions. What’s the best way to harvest this?

With prizes.

Newt Gingrich in 2001 fleshed out this idea by saying.

Historically, prizes have been used to stimulate breakthrough technology. Prizes are particularly effective motivators of entrepreneurs, who use investment capital to test their ideas and generally invest four times the value of a prize to win the competition. The X-Prize Foundation was recently established to manage such prizes as the $10 million Ansari X Prize for Suborbital Spaceflight, the $10 million Archon X-Prize for Genomics, and the $20 million Google X-Prize to land and successfully operate an unmanned rover vehicle on the Moon. Such prizes must be big, even huge, to produce meaningful discoveries on a grand scale. Perhaps a prize of $1 billion could be the impetus for a 500-miles-per-gallon car. Robust incentives and prizes might produce a hydrogen-based economy much faster than would conventional R&D.

Gingrich was low in his calculations as to how much research the X-Prize actually produced. According to this ingenious article by Tim Hartford called called Cash For Answers–When the competition was completed:

The X Prize foundation claims that the Ansari X Prize directly stimulated $100m of spending on research and development, 10 times the value of the prize itself. That is clever, and for a handful of sexy challenges it is likely to be a trick that can be repeated.

So what do I suggest? What’s the best fastest way to produce energy & water miracles.

I would suggest doing all three.

1.)Continue to invest in start ups with promising energy and water technology.
2.)Put out bids online for anyone to solve specific energy and water problems
3.)Run high stakes water and energy contests. These contests would be as well publicized as American idol. So that the contest winners get get fame as well as fortune. But also contest contributors are honored.

I would suggest desalination contests: for desalination plants, pipelines and semi permiable membranes.

For energy, Mr Gates would have a better idea as to how to target prizes for energy. He mentioned three at the 2010 Ted conference: molten salt (thorium)reactors, TerraPower, portable nuclear reactors. More recently he has mentioned others.

As well Mr. Gates mentions here that the key to materials research (by which researchers can hasten energy and water innovation–among other things)is to accelerate the power of computer modeling.

As it happens, Princeton University Math solution Makes Computer Modeling 100,000 Times Faster.

A new formula allows computers to simulate how new materials behave up to 100,000 times faster than previously possible, and could drastically speed up innovation relating to electronic devices and energy-efficient cars. Princeton engineers came up with the model based on an 80-year-old quantum physics puzzle.

All you need to do to harness this new math is to hook the formula up to an algorithm and then integrate that into some big iron code.

As well, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to investigate Joule Unlimited a Harvard based company which promises promises to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight (with no biomass feedstock) directly into ethanol and diesal for $.60 @ gallon. They say their trials are already at about $1.20 a gallon.

My last suggestion — to add to this list is…. research funding and a prize should be given for the first internal combustion engine based on conversion of sodium ion (Na+) to sodium (Na) in water H20. This wouldn’t be used to power a car. Rather this could be used to power water pumps for pumping rivers of water inland. (For more info on this email me at ckilmer at gmail dot com.)

DARPA has been a good at running prize programs so they might be consulted for running the program. The WateReuse association is well embedded in the desalination community so they would be good to publicizing efforts to the desalination community. Dancing with the stars might be consulted to somehow make the whole show sexy. The media production of the show should be world wide.

How would you organize this activity. I think that Warren Buffetts Berkshire Hathaway provides a partial model. Create a corporation that billionaires can invest and use those investments to invest in start ups. And fund prize programs.

Now I began this article with the mission statement:

The healthy growth of mankind depends on continuously decreasing the cost of water and energy everywhere.

However, I only talked about the next great leap forward.

This is a problem.

Likely in only ten years (but no more than 30 years) the basic science and technology for collapsing the cost of transported fresh water and energy will be developed. Therefor in only a few short years it will become economical to turn the world’s deserts green. Mr Gates — and all the billionaires who follow his lead– who start out with the intent to do good –will wind up doing well. That is, if you follow Mr Gates energy investments, his thesis is that,– he can make as much money in the second half of his life as he did in the first half of his life just by investing his money well with a long term vision — like his friend the sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett.

Part of the deal Mr Gates might offer America’s billionaires is to suggest they mix their philanthropy with their investments. That is, philanthropists who give away money for prizes might earn the right to invest in just the companies that Mr Gates invests in. This effort would be organized in a kind of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation. Why would Mr Gates do this? Well, he has already said that the energy sector needs another 10 billion worth of investments than it is currently getting.

What then?

Well then the idea would be to use the profits to fund a foundation like the Gates foundation in 20 years whose mission statement is:

The healthy growth of mankind depends on continuously decreasing the cost of water and energy everywhere.

This foundation in 30 years would fund the R&D that makes it possible to harvest water and maybe H3 on the moon and mars and in space.

Does this sound like science fiction? Very well. Thank you Mr Assimov for your inspiration. And yeah. Thank you Mr Gates for your passion & vision. Thank you Mr Buffett for your patience and discipline.

PostHeaderIcon Corporate WaterVision 2010

I attended the Corporate WaterVision 2010 Conference in Washington DC June 8-9.The sponsors appeared to be newbies to the water conference circuit–so I didn’t know what to expect.

I was pleasantly surprised.

I came away with two ideas in terms of best practices: One for desalination from Australia and the other for water reuse from Canada.

I’ll only spend a¬† couple sentences on desal¬† best practices from Australia because its too big a subject–and wasn’t part of the main theme of the conference–which was water reuse.¬†¬† On Wednesday morning¬† Hu Fleming, Global Director of¬† Hatch Water gave a presentation on Australian desalination.¬†¬†¬† What I heard was¬† just amazing. I’d seen the first graph Hu presented in February at the Multi State Salinity Coalition Conference in Las Vegas. That graph contrasts vividly the 15 year conception-to-completion-cycle for Poisden’s Carlsbad desalination plant in southern California …. — to the 3 year conception-to-completion-cycle –¬† for all the many Aussie desal plants. (page 38)What I didn’t hear the last time was that in several instances the desal plants– during construction– were found to be coming in under time and under budget — so they doubled their capacity on the fly. How did they do that? (and still stay on time and on budget?) The first big one was 3D & 4D modeling (pg 42). The second big one was no fault, no blame, and no dispute commercial framework between the owners and service providers at all stages. (pg 46) There were others.

But that’s a long story. I asked Hu Fleming¬† if he would be willing to give the presentation again elsewhere.–& so would he mind if I posted¬† the¬† pdf (here) for his presentation and his email online. He was agreeable. The pdf is all publicly available info. His shop has had considerable dealings with Australia — so he’s intimately familiar with the story. If you have a conference and¬† are interested in having a presenter detail¬† Australia’s big desalination building projects — Hu’s email address is:

imho the Australia story needs to be told and retold at every American desalination conference for years to come so that people will get the idea that it might be a good idea to adopt some Australia’s practices.

It took a little more thought to stitch together the second big theme of the conference. I was clued to an interesting Canadian story by an off handed comment  by  the last panelist of the last panel on Tuesday. The panel was entitled Sustainability Leaders II: Assessing Water Reuse and Other Innovative Water Solutions. The guy who made the comment was  Rishi Shukla, Ph.D.,  from the James R. Randall Research Center of Archer Daniels Midland Company.

He said Canada actually does a better job of converting water reuse ideas into profit making companies than the USA does. The way they do it is through a program called Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement ( OCETA).  According to their website

OCETA was incorporated in 1993 as one of three Canadian Environmental Technology Advancement Centres to strengthen and grow the environmental industry in Canada. OCETA is a private company that operates at arm’s length from government.

The core mandate of OCETA is to provide technical support and business services to entrepreneurs, start-up companies and small to medium-sized enterprises to support the commercialization of new environmental technologies, and to accelerate market adoption of clean technology and environmentally sustainable solutions.

OCETA  provides funding at a rate of 4 to 1 for start ups. That is, for every dollar the start-up invests OCETA provides four dollars.

The USA does have similar programs on the state levelEspecially prominent is Massachusetts.  To augment these programs a  May 2010  Brookings Institute Study recommended more programs by the federal government to provide access to to capital for entrepreneurial start ups. A Wednesday morning panel entitled; Steps Toward a National Reclaimed Water Standard addressed this. Panelist Jon Freedman, Global Government Relations Leader  for  GE mentioned that more federal funds for water reuse start ups would spur development.  As well, he mentioned that a number of GE suggested policy initiatives .

The USA does have small federal agencies that fund start ups for defense and intelligence. Pound for pound probably the best agency in the Federal Government in terms of payback to the economy is DARPA.¬† Their seed money has been meant to fund technology for DOD related industries — but, curiously, Darpa seed money has been¬† at the root of many great US companies since its inception in the 1950′s. In recent years DARPA has even funded carbon nanotube membrane research.

The WateReuse Research Foundation might serve a similar purpose as DARPA for the express purpose of channeling federal dollars to start ups that treat waste water –like municipal sewage as a resource–with an eye out to one day turning the waste output of municipalities into profit centers –rather than cost centers.

My favorite storm water idea is to pipe Mississippi flood water west rather than spend billions through FEMA and the Core of Engineer to dike the river.

But practical sewage water solutions are closer than most people currently understand. ¬† Here is a waste lagoon in Utah that’s being converted into an algae biofuel production facility.¬† A prototype waste treatment plant in Hawaii –being deployed by American Water– promises operating cost savings of up to 70%. This article lists companies that extract various¬† resources including phosphorous and ammonia from waste treatment plants. In Sept 2009,

At the Water Innovations Alliance in Chicago, Mark Shannon, Director of the NSF STC WaterCAMPWS at the University of Illinois, sketched out a vision for a new type of water purification system that will convert sewage into re-usable water, methane and a sludge of minerals that can be sold to manufacturers or brick makers.

Shannon is currently in the midst of raising funds to build a prototype that would work with 20 liters at a time. The Solara in New York’s Battery Park neighborhood has a 580 water recovery units that work aerobically.

The minerals recovered include magnesium, boron, fly ash and lithium. Simbol Mining, a startup spun out of Lawrence Livermore, has a technique for extracting lithium from water. Right now, cities pay to have the stuff stored. El Paso, for instance, re-injects the salts and minerals from its desalination system back into the ground when it could conceivably sell them.

According to this May 21, 2001 article in Water Online– Biodiesel From Sewage Sludge [Is] Within Pennies A Gallon Of Being Competitive

With the challenges addressed, “Biodiesel production from sludge could be very profitable in the long run,” the report states. “Currently the estimated cost of production is $3.11 per gallon of biodiesel. To be competitive, this cost should be reduced to levels that are at or below [recent] petro diesel costs of $3.00 per gallon.”

Where would WateReuse Research Foundation find promising start ups and how would they vet them? The last speaker of the conference was Paul O’Callaghan, CEO, O2 Environmental Inc. He mentioned that his shop has a list of over 600 start ups in all stages of development. Interestingly their top choice for a company with game changer tech is Emefcy. According to their site:

Emefcy eliminates the energy consumption for wastewater treatment, by applying the principle of microbial fuel cells (MFC) for the direct production of electricity or hydrogen from wastewater.

So in total there are companies looking to turn municipal sewage into gas, oil, electricity and hydrogen.

The WaterReUse Research Foundation already provides money for basic research–so the institute is positioned to find promising technology moving into the start up phase.

Odds are there will be several municipal bankruptcies in the next couple years. Many if not most municipalities are financially challenged these days. As was pointed out by the Water Infrastructure Funding panel on Tuesday–the need for water infrastructure projects is great. There are currently initiatives in various phases of realization inside and outside congress to make municipal bonds more attractive. If municipal waste became a profit center– rather than a cost center–municipal bonds would be an easy sell.

All in all, it was a good conference. Remember for any conference you do– book Hu Fleming for a review of Australia desalination best practices. As well, consider that Canada’s OCETA & the DOD’s Darpa might serve as models for a federally funded water reuse start up initiative.

PostHeaderIcon Computer Modeling

Back in February the MSSC held a conference in Las Vegas. It would be helpful to recall that five major points were made. The first was made by Marcus G. Faust to the effect that the Republicans would likely take back control of some or all of Congress this November. The second point was made by Patricia Mulroy. She said that desalination was not enough to provide water for the west. There would have to be other sources –like from the East–see my last post. The last two points were made by Wade Miller. He mentioned that desalination required much more research and a champion — like Pete Domeneci of New Mexico–once was.

What should we make of Marcus Faust’s point that republicans would storm back into Congress come the fall?¬† imho it would be prudent for research administrators to assume that when/if the republicans return this fall — that they will be cutting everyone’s budgets. The easiest targets will be R&D. So any money’s for R&D not committed this year are easy targets for budget cutting next year. Consider Patricia Mulroy’s point about pulling fresh water from — say– my words–the Mississippi at spring flood or east Texas rivers during hurricane floods.¬† When/if the republicans come back to congress the likelihood of the feds sponsoring big water capital projects any time soon diminishes significantly.

Which brings us to the last two points made by Wade Miller: the importance of a water champion and the importance of research. There is no champion for water desalination on the horizon currently but curiously the National Geographic has outlined three areas for desalination R&D: Forward Osmosis, Carbon Nanotubes, Biomimetics.¬† They are all the major areas I have discussed on this blog. National Geographic also gives the time frame for when these research areas become ready for prime time. This sort of popularization of the big desalination R&D issues makes it easier for federal desalination R&D admins to pitch joint funding research programs with universities, private foundations and companies–and vice versa. My vote for the most important piece of federal funding for desalination R&D would be for redirecting toward desalination membrane research –the Princeton University Math solution which Makes Computer Modeling 100,000 Times Faster.

A new formula allows computers to simulate how new materials behave up to 100,000 times faster than previously possible, and could drastically speed up innovation relating to electronic devices and energy-efficient cars. Princeton engineers came up with the model based on an 80-year-old quantum physics puzzle.

It could also drastically speed up innovation related to desalination research.  Remember we are in the Golden Age of Math

Computer modeling programs played a significant part of the original work 4-5 years ago done on carbon nanotubes at LLNL that created the carbon nanotube tech mentioned in the National Geographic article above. Similarly, an appropriate role for federal labs might be to develop the membrane modeling programs, provide programmers and computing time at federal labs. Their role might be¬† to create models for membranes requested by government, university and corporate membrane materials researchers–who will in turn–based on the models–create new membranes in¬† their labs. That’s the way they did it with the carbon¬† nanotubes at LLNL. That’s the way they can do it with other materials. Only this time the whole process can be accelerated significantly.

My point is not new or original. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, also makes the point that better, faster, smarter computer modeling is the way to accelerate innovation

There’s lots of places to go for funding –but why not dream big? Currently the deepest pockets are at the DOE. The article above mentions energy as being a significant beneficiary of their computer modeling innovation.¬† DOE funding pools will come under the scrutiny of the long knives come November.¬† Desalination membrane separation issues are closely related to hydrogen membrane separation issues. Why not pitch to DOE funding a greatly expanded computer modeling program –using the Princeton University’s Math solution¬† mentioned above. There might be 20 teams. 10 for energy 10 for water desalination–modeling for 20 different energy and desalination projects around the country. Really, the USA could reinvent the whole civilized world¬† in five years.

If for whatever reason the DOE can’t do it then you might get some combination of the DOD, WateReUse Research Foundation and Bureau Of Rec funding to pay for 1-5 computer modeling teams. Or if the DOE could do it but just not in DOE labs then federal funds might be appropriated to Universities to fund the modeling programs for university and corporate research. Finally, if the feds are just too somnolent — an ingenious soul close to the players could get rights to the math formula, plug it into an algorithm, hand it to a couple of big iron–or massively distributed– programmers and get the software written for two million or less of programming time. Then open up shop or lease copies of the software out. Think there might be a market for a material research modeling program that’s up to 500,000 faster than brand X? That is, a materials research modeling program that would instantly obsolete every materials research modeling program in the world? Maybe both the feds and private investors could get into the act. Actually, this has been done before. In 1990, NIH launched the human genome project which they predicted would take 30 years to complete. In 1996 Craig Ventor jumped in and said he could get the job done in two years. He did. How did he do it. He developed faster software.

The important thing is that someone needs to be sure that Princeton University Math solution is re purposed–and funded– for desalination¬† modeling research. Now. What kinds of desal projects would be helped by better/faster/smarter modeling?¬† Well lets go back to the National Geographic Article. You may only be able to see two out of three areas for research: Forward Osmosis and Carbon Nanotubes but not BioMimetics. So click on the National Geographic Article to open the graphic in a new browser: desalination research Modeling for both Carbon Nanotube and BioMemetics would yield better material to create an electrical charge at the front of the membranes, better fillers for the membranes, perhaps better carbon nanotubes and protein channels–as well as numerous small details which researchers would be familiar with. As they say, the secret is in the sauce. For forward osmosis, computer modeling might create a better salt in the draw solution. That is, a salt that “draws” more water and evaporates at a lower temperature. Now understand, that carbon nanotubes and protein channels are just two of many kinds of semipermeable membranes. Researchers will want to bring others to the table. For example, I’ve mentioned from time to time that membranes of the future will need to be tunable–so as to resist different kinds of biofouling. That’s just what UCLA researchers have developed


Researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have unveiled a new class of reverse-osmosis membranes for desalination that resist the clogging which typically occurs when seawater, brackish water and waste water are purified. The highly permeable, surface-structured membrane can easily be incorporated into today’s commercial production system, the researchers say, and could help to significantly reduce desalination operating costs. Their findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Materials Chemistry.

The new development here is the “tethered brush layer” which is “brushed” on the membrane. This layer is in constant molecular motion. The constant motion of this layer “makes it difficult for bacteria and other colloidal matter to anchor to the surface of the membrane”.

“If you’ve ever snorkeled, you’ll know that sea kelp move back and forth with the current or water flow,” Cohen said. “So imagine that you have this varied structure with continuous movement. Protein or bacteria need to be able to anchor to multiple spots on the membrane to attach themselves to the surface ‚Äî a task which is extremely difficult to attain due to the constant motion of the brush layer. The polymer chains protect and screen the membrane surface underneath.” Another factor in preventing adhesion is the surface charge of the membrane. Cohen’s team is able to choose the chemistry of the brush layer to impart the desired surface charge, enabling the membrane to repel molecules of an opposite charge.

This is a first generation success. Princeton’s computer modeling might well speed the researchers work at UCLA–so that the “tethered brush layer” of membranes would be tunable to any kinds of bacteria byo topography and chemistry and charge.

The team’s next step is to expand the membrane synthesis into a much larger, continuous process and to optimize the new membrane’s performance for different water sources.

Perhaps advanced modeling would be an appropriate way for the feds to help the the folk at UCLA. That said, it would be appropriate to check in with various research universities like UCLA before proceeding. It looks to me like their attitude is a winner.

“We work directly with industry and water agencies on everything that we’re doing here in water technology,” Cohen said. “The reason for this is simple: If we are to accelerate the transfer of knowledge technology from the university to the real world, where those solutions are needed, we have to make sure we address the real issues. This also provides our students with a tremendous opportunity to work with industry, government and local agencies.”

Finally one last question should be asked and answered.

What does accelerated membrane development have to do with, say, pumping rivers of water out of the Mississippi during spring flood. Likely nothing. But it may well be that 5-10 years from now public policy experts will start saying that the big rivers are hopelessly polluted with farm and human medicines and household cleaners. That will come because the deformities in fish and amphibians that one sees reported from time to time to time –will have moved up the food chain. We don’t currently have the tools to remedy this problem. Work in desalination separations will also provide answers to these other molecular separations–that in turn will make it possible to tap the big river at flood. Right now this is a fanciful solution to a fanciful problem but probably less so on both counts than current worries over carbon dioxide. When you have a material research modeling program that’s up to 100,000 times faster than current generation material research modeling program–you’re positioned to get solutions to even the most fanciful problems in real time.

PostHeaderIcon Portable Nuclear Power & Desalination Plants

The crises in Haiti has an interesting desalination story. The  aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson is currently offshore of Haiti sending supplies ashore and picking up the wounded. Its onboard nuclear powered desalination plant   makes some 400,000 gallons of its own fresh water every day, and much of it will soon be going ashore.

The nuclear-powered vessel, which had been heading to its new home port in San Diego when it was diverted to Haiti hours after the quake, has massive desalination capacity – purifying the same ocean saltwater it traverses – and the Vinson has a daily excess of 200,000 gallons “that we can give away,” says Cmdr. William McKinley, who oversees the desalination process.

Nuclear powered aircraft carriers have been desalinating their own water for 30 years and submarines have been nuclear powered for 50 years without incident.

The reason I mention this is that two inventions in the last several years or so will make it readily possible–later¬† this decade to assemble a portable nuclear powered desalination plants in¬† fairly short order. The first is¬† the portable desalination plant. The second is the portable nuclear power plant.¬† As part of disaster relief it might become a part of FEMA’s tools to have portable nuclear power plants and portable desalination plants in storage ready to be rolled out on short notice.

There are a number of portable desalination systems developed in the last couple years that might scale.

UCLA has developed a portable desalination system that can desalinate any kind of salty feed water.

The M3 demonstrated its effectiveness in a recent field study in California’s San Joaquin Valley in which it desalted agricultural drainage water that was nearly saturated with calcium sulfate salts, accomplishing the desalination with just one reverse osmosis stage.

M3 could also be deployed to produce fresh water in emergency situations for up to 6,000 to 12,000 people daily.

There is another portable desalination plant developed at San Dia National Labs

When the research plant opened in August of 2007, Zero Discharge Desalination, a high-tech portable laboratory designed by Dr. Tom Davis with Dow Water Solutions and Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, was brought in for dignitaries to tour during the opening celebration.

ZDD is a state-of-the-art technology for removing the salt solids dissolved in brackish water and managing the concentrated wastes.

Already emergency tested is the portable desalination unit from the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility.

When Gulf Coast residents were left without a drinking water source in the aftermath of Katrina, Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility sent its portable reverse osmosis (RO) membrane purification system to Biloxi, Miss., to provide drinking water to 40,000 local inhabitants. The unit can produce over 100,000 gallons per day of drinkable water from contaminated river water or from seawater.

In fact, for anyone wishing to do further research on the latest portable desalination units available today a visit to the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility is order. They have set up a test site for anyone interested in testing out their new desalination designs.

What about portable nuclear power plants?

The World Nuclear Association has an international list of¬†¬† small nuclear power plant designs. The list is small. However, there may be as many as 90 portable nuclear power designs worldwide. Given that scale and variety¬† of design innovation–its likely that portable nuclear power plants will be one of the great technology stories of this decade

Two early American entries in the field are still 3-8 years away.

The first, Hyperion Power Generation has thus far hogged the mini nuclear reactor spotlight, but NuScale Power claims that it can cut nuclear plant construction costs and increase safety with its Lego-like 45 megawatt modular reactors. For disaster relief Hyperion might be best because their model is designed for off grid use.  Besides, NuScale Plants would need refueling every two years.

There are many other American companies that will come on stream in the next couple years. I’ll mention two. ¬† TerraPower “runs primarily on natural or depleted uranium, rather than enriched uranium. With un-enriched fuel, the reactors could be loaded up with fuel and sealed for 30 to 60 years. ” Their product is further away from being completed.¬† A fourth company¬† “Babcock & Wilcox, a large energy management company, is getting into the market for small nuclear reactors.”

While TerraPower and Hyperion are staffed and run by experienced nuclear executives, Babcock & Wilson can brag about something else. Namely, that they’ve been in the nuclear reactor construction business for 50 years. That, and they have lots of money.

Since Babcock & Wilson have been providing small nuclear power plants for the navy for decades — you would think they would be first to market for portable nuclear power plants for the civilian field– but maybe not.
Therefor Hyperion may well be the first to market:

Hyperion Power Generation’s Power Module is a modular, hot tub-sized nuclear reactor that delivers 70 megawatts of thermal power or 25 megawatts of electric power for seven to 10 years. Hyperion expects to sell 4,000 of the $30 million reactors when they go on sale in 2013. The company has already received 70 pre-orders, proving that there is a market for small nuclear devices.

Mark Campagna, representing Hyperion, explained that the firm’s 25 MW “nuclear battery” (slides) is a spin-off from Los Alamos National Laboratory. The firm continues to rely on expertise from the federal science facility with a cooperative R&D agreement.

Unlike B&W and NuScale, both of which emphasized hooking up their reactors to existing electrical grids, Campagna said the competitive advantage of Hyperion’s design is that it is focused on providing local, or “distributed power,” where there is no grid. Key export markets will include remote oil and gas fields, mining, and military installations. A target use for developing nations will be to power potable water treatment facilities.

Hyperion’s focus on off grid power generation might make them best for FEMA type disaster relief operations.

But– and here’s the kicker. If you can drop a power plant with this much free standing power anywhere–more interesting things become possible. One of the uses for an off grid power plant mentioned above is to cook oil from oil shale (at +600 degrees) in places like Colorado and Wyoming. But as I mentioned in a blog a while back –this same technique might be used to cook water out of gypsum at 212 degrees.

Now here is where it gets fun.

Portable nuclear power plants collapse the complexity of providing energy for pumps to pump rivers of water in pipes 1000′s of miles. All you need is pipes,¬† pumps and off grid portable nuclear power generators to push water 1000′s of miles inland from any coast.


The main point of this blog is that the 21st century will kick off in earnest when the cost desalination and bulk water transport collapses. Thereby making it cost effective to pump fresh water from the American coast inland 1000 miles¬† to various places out west¬† where crops can be grown. Deserts would be turned green, the habitable size of the US would be enlarged by 1/3. Just as the Hoover dam created the model for water policy around the world– the US model could be replicated world wide –thereby doubling the size of the habitable earth.

If their costs come down sufficiently –portable nuclear power plants may just make this possible.But even in the near term …in the next ten years portable nuclear power plants just collapse the complexity of pumping bulk water long distances. So while the cost of shipping water might be high–it still can be accomplished without too much difficulty.

There is one other thing that portable nuclear power plants make possible.

It becomes  technically easy to do bulk water transfers on the fly.

What does that mean?

With a portable nuclear power plant it would be technically easy to build a pipeline, line it with pumps powered by portable nuclear power plants and pump vast volumes of water 1000 miles for 2 months of the year. And then the rest of the year, either move the portable nuclear power plants, shut them down or send their electricity elsewhere.

Hmm what 2 months of the year are we talking about?

Well currently everyone hates bulk water transfers–that is the people in the great lakes and Canada. but what if¬† you could pull rivers of water out of the Mississippi for two months of the year while the river was at flood stage–thereby lowering water flows below that of flood stage. There’s a lot of people along the Mississippi would think this a good idea. So instead of paying the army corps of engineers a billion annually for Mississippi flood control and FEMA another billion for flood managment– you spend the money on pumping a river of water over the South Pass in Wyoming and then letting it run down into the Colorado basin (& maybe use the downslope over the great divide to power generators for electrical production) –or pump flood water to the sinks of eastern Colorado to refill the Ogallala aquifer. or further south, send the water to west Texas.

Nobody dams the Mississippi. But if you pumped a lot of water away from the Missippi at just the right time–there would be no more need for vast expensive flood control projects.

Just a thought.

PostHeaderIcon 2010 AMTA Conference: Desalination’s Future Has Arrived.

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PostHeaderIcon Desalination Oil Rig In The Gulf of Mexico

Recently,¬†¬† a Minnesota company announced plans to use a oil derrick off the Texas coast to site¬† wave power energy production devices to power a desalination plant. It would serve as demonstration pilot. Desalination has never been done quite this way before. They started work in August. They’re interested in producing bottled water from shallower depths than the water harvested off the Big Island in Hawaii–where water is first pumped ashore –before its desalinated.

I think something like  an oil derrick platform would be the model that DVX Technologies should use whenever they go out to sea. The platform would house the maintenance crewРwhile the desalination work was done 850-900 feet below.

I have written a number of blogs about DVX Technologies in the last year or so on the idea of¬† using ocean pressures to desalinate water. On several occasions I have mentioned that one way to bring water ashore would be to drill a slant well from onshore (or offshore–whichever is cheaper) so that the water runs down hill toward shore. On shore, then, the fresh water could be pumped up as from a well. What’s the cost/benefit of this procedure amortized over, say, 30 years? Beats me. A good water–or more likely an oil — consultant would have the tools to figure¬† out the capital energy and maintenance costs.

How do you evaluate the costs?¬† You’d do that by comparing the costs of comparable procedures for getting water ashore.

As far as I can see, the other procedures involve various technologies for pumping water in pipes along the ocean bottom up hill to shore.

So this time I’ll discuss various power sources to pump fresh water ashore uphill along the ocean bottom from the underwater desalination plant . I’ll make the assumption that the oil companies will already have optimized the best way to lay and maintain pipe. Further, I’ll assume that the oil companies will already have optimized the best practices for installing & maintaining an offshore platform–and that their crews would be best suited for installing and maintaining a water platform. Finally I’ll assume that the rough cost of oil or gas generators to pump water ahsore is already known; that this can also be used as a baseline against which to evaluate¬† other¬† ways to power the pumps.

Oil rigs have desalinized ocean water for years– but they have done so for their own use. They don’t produce fresh water on a commercial scale. (However, except for the membrane plants themselves, the oil companies have all the skills/tools necessary to do offshore commercial grade desalination.)

Most off shore drilling rigs have diesel or  gas powered generators.

If a desal plant on the ocean floor was sited over a natural gas deposit below the ocean floor being drilled by¬† an oil rig…then the natural gas could be used to power the pumps that pumped fresh water ashore from the underwater desalination plant. Did you get that? This won’t happen very often–especially not in the waters off southern california where more coastal drilling is frowned on.

So how else could you power big offshore pumps onsite?  That is, without importing power to the platform by means of oil or gas.

Another way to power pumps — to send desalinized water ashore–would be with wind generators on rigs. Something like this is currently in planning in the north sea. If you read the article you’ll notice that they have all the attendant construction and installation issues resolved. However, the waters off southern California are not as world famous for wind as is the north sea.

I should also mention that it would be easy to drop a portable nuclear reactor onshore opposite the oil rig desalination plant–and run a power cable out to sea. Here’s another company. At present¬† its unlikely¬† that any kind of nuclear plant would be built in Southern California. But that could change.

So what other sources of power might be used to drive a pump?

Four properties of salt water can be exploited for energy to power pumps.

1.)The most esoteric/furthest from commercialization/expensive is R&D by which the navy is looking for  ways to turn salt water into diesal and jet fuel.

2.)Another exploitable power source is thermal conversion power plants. These are  big on shore because of new technologies especially in Utah. However, offshore the temperature differences are narrower and the opportunities fewer. But they exist. In 2008 Hawaii entered into an agreement to develop thermal conversion power plant off the Big Island.

November 20, 2008 (ENS) – Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle Tuesday announced a new energy partnership to develop a 10 megawatt ocean thermal energy conversion pilot plant in Hawaii. Electricity will be generated from the difference in temperature between the ocean’s warm surface and its colder depths.
During the Governor’s official state visit to Taiwan, she came to an agreement with the Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute and the Lockheed Martin Corporation to build the initial pilot plant in Hawaii.

The energy produced is used to desalinize bottled water for export to Japan. The water depths they are talking about +-2000 feet. It would take more research to know whether the same technology could be used for 850-900 feet ie shallower depths and lower temperature differences. For now, I don’t think the temperature differences are great enough for commercial grade energy production. But I could be wrong about that because Oasys they can exploit only 20 degree differences to produce power. The jury is still out on this.

3. Osmotic power plant might be developed to take advantage of the¬† salinity differences between the desalinized water and seawater to produce energy to pump¬† water ashore. The Norwegians are currently trying to develop this technology. Its a pilot. IBM is looking into it as well.¬† The technology isn’t anywhere near mature. Moreover the volumes of water needed to make energy are too large. However, this technology can be reversed. As I first mentioned in this piece from 2007 on Forward Osmosis and again this year, Oasys promises to desalinate water for US$ 0.37-0.44/m¬? once fully scaled up. (That was in the Spring of 2009. By the Fall, Oasys was promising much cheaper costs.) Oasys promises to use the use the same process as the Norwegians to produce electricity only much more efficiently. Their procedures for producing desalinated water looks more mature than their electrical generation idea.

4.  Ocean pressures at 900 feet should convert  to electrical power. Trouble is I have not seen any examples of companies actually doing this.

This technology developed by Energy Recovery Inc. might  be adapted to convert the waste stream from a deep water desalination plantРinto energy to drive a pump. According to this Forbes Magazine article

Competing pressure exchangers work by capturing energy in the exit water via a turbine (analogous to a waterwheel), then transferring that shaft power to a pump (waterwheel in reverse) for the entering seawater.

It shouldn’t be too tough to create an exit stream. (Think WWII sea war movie. The submarine has just been hit by a depth charge. Water hisses into the hold through the cracked hull.) You convert that water to shaft power to power a pump — to pump water ashore.

5. As used on the Texas oil derrick, wave power could be harnessed to pump water ashore. This article about wave power generation in San Francisco lists the companies under consideration.¬† All are in various stages of prototype. They could be used to either generate electricity to run the pumps that pump the water ashore… or pump the water ashore directly. Here is another article about wave power being used to generate power for the¬† small scale desalination plant for bottled water on a platform in the gulf of Mexico

Of the choices mentioned above, I think the best ie cheapest– would be¬† 4.)Energy Recovery’s tool. It could be adapted to convert 850 ft depth ocean pressures into electricity to drive a pump to push water onshore. imho it would cost +-400k to make the adaption.

DVX¬† about whom I’ve done several blogs on deep water desalination currently has a ” small installation of the technology in the San Joaquin Reservoir near Newport Beach.”¬† (Here’s a diagram.)They’re looking to set up another test site in the near future.¬† They experienced biofouling problems at the first site. Now they are looking into pretreatement technologies. Here is one. They expect to license out their technology in 2010.

Finally, I should mention again that NanoH2O has a much more efficient membrane coming out in the next couple months. However, its not likely that they’ll have the membrane configured to the specs for DVX Technologies. It would be helpful if someone could find the ways/means to get some prototype NanoH2O membranes for the DVX Technologies work.

PostHeaderIcon super fast evolution will jack up demand for water

imho the current muddle in the central valley of California lends urgency to the idea of accelerated developed of new deep sea desalination technologies I’ve mentioned in previous posts here and here. Deep sea water desalination looks orders of magnitude cheaper and easier to impliment than say spending 35 billion on a 35 mile long pipeline under the delta. According to this letter to the Congress by the American Petrolium Institute–offshore oil & gas would bring $1.3 trillion in new government revenue over the next two decades. A fraction of that would pay for all the water needs of southern California for the foreseeable future using deep water desalination–with money’s left to pay state officials for what not. Heck California might get the underwater desalination plants for free as a condition allowing oil drillers to drill offshore. Sound too good to be true? Maybe. The Obama administration is willing to fund offshore drilling in Brazil. Someday they may think it in the best American interests to allow more drilling offshore of the USA. At that point a deal might be struck with oil drillers to bring fresh deep desalinized water ashore as part of a deal to water algae onshore or drill for oil offshore or both.

but that’s not what this post is about–except tangentially.

Remember I mentioned that Exxon might be interested in getting into offshore water desalination because of their interest in algae oil and their partnership with Craig Ventor?

Listen to the story below about what going on in genetics field–and how it will affect water & power supplies. If you’re ready to move on — then know the significance of the story below is that commercial very large scale algae oil production is coming sooner –much sooner than is currently anticipated.

In the beginning

On July 24, 2009, a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural impresarios and journalists that included architects of the some of the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PayPal), arrived at the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, to be offered a glimpse, guided by George Church and Craig Venter, of a future far stranger than Mr. Huxley had been able to imagine in 1948.

In this future ‚Äî whose underpinnings, as Drs. Church and Venter demonstrated, are here already ‚Äî life as we know it is transformed not by the error catastrophe of radiation damage to our genetic processes, but by the far greater upheaval caused by discovering how to read genetic sequences directly into computers, where the code can be replicated exactly, manipulated freely, and translated back into living organisms by writing the other way. “We can program these cells as if they were an extension of the computer,” George Church announced, and proceeded to explain just how much progress has already been made.

New York Times even talked about the symposium given by Church and Ventor.

Church noted that between 1970 and 2005 gene sequencing had taken place on a Moore’s Law pace, improving at about 1.5 times per year. Since then it has improved at the rate of an order of magnitude, or ten times annually.

Within a week or so of this symposium this article appeared entitled Researchers rapidly turn bacteria into biotech factories.

Led by a pair of researchers in the lab of Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics George Church, the team rapidly refined the design of a bacterium by editing multiple genes in parallel instead of targeting one gene at a time. They transformed self-serving E. coli cells into efficient factories that produce a desired compound, accomplishing in just three days a feat that would take most biotech companies months or years.

Remember this is the same Church that gave the symposium with Ventor. At the symposium he was talking about improvements in gene sequencing accelerating to ten times annually before his announcement. However, in this case what he’s talking about here is writing genetic sequences. That is, before they were talking about reading genetic sequences into computer programs.¬† Now they are talking about writing out gentic sequences from computers back into living organisms. And doing so much more quickly.

The following week two companies–one in Cambridge Massachusetts and the other in Washington State — announced that they had quadrupled the yield for algae from ~5000gallons @ acre to ~20,000 @ acre. According to the Cambridge Massachusetts company:

A startup based in Cambridge, MA–Joule Biotechnologies–today revealed details of a process that it says can make 20,000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. If this yield proves realistic, it could make it practical to replace all fossil fuels used for transportation with biofuels. The company also claims that the fuel can be sold for prices competitive with fossil fuels.

Joule claims that its process will be competitive with crude oil at $50 a barrel.

Seperately a third company called Green Technologies Inc — figured out a way to “massively increase” algae production because “scientists uncovered the elusive and long sought after ‚Äúlipid trigger‚Äù in green algae.”

Escondido, CA, August 04, 2009 –(– Sustainable Green Technologies (SGT) a start-up company in Escondido, California announced today that it has discovered a highly effective and low cost way to massively increase algal oil production.

Do they use the new method mentioned by Church? There is no definitive answer to this question. It looks like there might be a relationship but beyond the coincidence of the announcements–there is no proof from the text. But its safe to say that major major advances have been made in both the process and the production of algae oil. That more are likely– are on the way.

Is this just hype? Another article considers this question in a slightly different context.

In terms of methodology used to distinguish viable new technologies from the hype associated with renewables, McDonald said he looked for corroboration. For instance, Aurora Biofuels in Florida announced it had found a way to harvest algae oil using the same methods as waste-water treatment plants. Then a few weeks later the research arm of the Australian government made a similar announcement. “That’s what we are looking for,” McDonald said. “When legitimate organizations make similar discoveries independently that seem to corroborate each other, I think it gives credence to the commercial development and growth of the technology.”

Same could be said when several companies here and there announce radical increases in algae to oil yield –especially when they coincide with broad based technological change mentioned by Church and Ventor.

Remember the crucial take away. Church has created a tool that Ventor will likely use to improve algae to oil yields significantly above the just announced four fold increase to 20,000 gallons@acre. This will be used by Exxon oil to scale commercial quantities of algae oil.

Finally, of note, OriginOil along with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) of the Department of Energy has come out with the first-ever comprehensive algae production model, for the algae oil industry.

Its should be clear that algae oil process will require a lot more water from water scarce places with algae oil ambitions like southern California and New Mexico. What’s not so clear is what kind of water that will be. What’s that? Well, consider, advanced genetics will likely be able to tailor the algae to the kinds of water available.

But the implications of this accelerated genetics go to more than just algae oil’s demands on water.This technology will enable the water reuse industry to create specialized microbes for any water reuse plant.

This article dated July29 from Global Water Intelligence lists the
Top 10 New Water Technologies to Save the World I’m not familiar with some of the companies. But as to the ones that I am familiar with on the list–I would agree. They are world changers. So that reflects well on the rest. These are the technology areas mentioned in the article that would be most affected by Church’s new genetics tools mentioned above. Consider what would happen if you could quickly tailer single cell organisms for a specific waste stream mentioned below in such way as to maximize their yield and minimize any attendant problems.

Bio-polymers from wastewater: bio-polymers are a great natural al ternative to petro-chemical-based plastics; what is more they can be made during the biological digestion of sewage sludge. AnoxKaldnes ( is the leading commercial developer of this technology.

Biogas recovery: the collection of methane from anaerobic wastewater treatment has been a reality for industrial effluents with a high biological load for some years. The challenge is to make it viable for less concentrated municipal wastewater. Leaders in this market are Paques ( and Biothane (

Microbial fuel cells: the next step in energy recovery from wastewater is direct electrical power generation through microbial fuel cells. Emefcy ( of Israel is at the forefront of commercialising this technology.

Decentralized wastewater treatment: centralised wastewater systems are expensive to build and use a lot of water. Decentralised systems might remove the need for sewers, and make it easier to recycle the water and energy in the waste. The Lettinga Associates Foundation ( is one of the leading organisations promoting the practical application of decentralized wastewater.

Then there is the kind of experiment you see in many universities that uses microbes to do interesting work. Consider this article about the work of some Penn State Scientists (jointly with Saudi Arabia & China)

Wastewater produces electricity and desalinates water
So far the work is just interesting. But what if you could get the microbes mentioned in the article to do a lot more work using the tools mentioned above?

If you find this info to be useful or interesting–kindly ask your webmaster to link to this blog.

PostHeaderIcon Funding For Deep Water Desalination

The House could start work as early as [Wednesday July 15] on a bill funding energy and water projects in the US. It funds 1,866 earmarks.

Anyone who has read my last post on Deep Water Desalination may want to consider finding a way to get funding for an prototype deep water desalination program. While the source of the funding might come from Title XVI — another source of government funding may be available.

Water–and lots of it– is a necessary precondition for the development of algae oil in bulk.

Places like San Diego want to be major centers for the development of algae oil. However, they don’t have a lot of fresh water. Therefor the DOE might be interested in funding water development as a necessary ingredient for the production of green fuels.

Government funding would attract funding from private sources.

This week July 14, Exxon announced that they are committed to spending 600 million dollars on developing algae oil into a viable energy source. The NY Times said this Exxon move signaled a paradigm shift for the oil industry. As much as 300 million of that may go to Craig Ventors San Diego based company Synthetic Genomics. San Diego has ambitions to be a major algae oil center.

Exxon has gas and oil platforms off the coast of Southern California.

Any federal government commitment to deep water desalination might also draw Exxon funding and expertise as well.

How much? Beats me. But I can suggest what the pieces would be. There should be at least three players at the table. The funding authority like the DOE or the Bureau of Rec, an oil company with a platform off of Southern California already–like Exxon. Finally a company like DVX Water Technologies mentioned int the last post. These players would draw up plans and run a test of the technology off the coast of southern california.

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