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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One Response to “WateReuse Research Foudation Symposium”

  • idebenone says:

    Desalination is an energy intensive technology, especially when applied to seawater. Therefore, desalination has both high costs and a very large carbon footprint when conventional energy sources are used to power the various desalination processes. A variety of renewable energy sources are available that can be applied to reduce the carbon footprint of desalination. The global environmental impact of desalination can be reduced in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, but at a cost. Seawater desalination facilities will still have some environmental impacts on local areas related to intakes and outfalls of concentrate. Brackish-water desalination of groundwater can create a potential resource depletion problem and also faces the challenge of finding an economical and environmentally sound means of concentrate disposal, particularly for inland facilities.

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