Here’s one one interesting idea for getting water to desert regions. Consider gypsum. There’s lots of it in the southwest. The chemical formula for gypsum is CaSO4.2H2O. Notice the H20 on the end? Gypsum is 20% water by weight. Did you know that you can quickly cook the water out of gypsum at 212F degrees 100C . Gypsum occurs in flat planes often not far from the surface–especially in old dry lakebeds. You could cook those planes. Leaving a mineral residue called bassanite–water would percolate up and the earth would subside causing a lake. Think you could find a heat source in the desert? Maybe flared off gas? Maybe solar power? Maybe a coal plant somewhere. 212 degrees isn’t too hot. Hmm 212 is a familiar number. You might use steam.

A Dutch team has already done the initial testing. Holland Innovation Team is planning a pilot study in a desert location. They don’t say where. They don’t say how they’re going to extract the water either. See below

But before you go. Consider. There’s a group of men parked outside of Heartbreak Hotel. Specifically Shell’s experimental in situ oil shale facility, Piceance Basin, Colorado. They climb up to their beds every night. Every night they toss and turn. In the morning they go out to a set of cool tools they’ve developed to extract oil from oil shale using steam injection. There’s several other processes that involve superheated air and others. See the list here. (As well for surface gypsum —concentrated solar might be appropriate.) Anyhow, they’re all revved up and ready to go but congress (specifcally a senator from colorado)is telling them they have to sit on their thumbs and think about it. (For that matter the BLM is holding up a lot of solar development.)

Someone might find these guys and say hey. While you wait. You can can use your cool tools on our gypsum. Funding should be easy.

The water from gypsum looks to be relatively expensive. But certainly it would be fraction of the cost of oil from oil shale since the oil shale requires 600+ degrees heat (vs 212F for gypsum) to cook out the oil and the deposits are usually 1000 feet down (vs at or near the surface for gypsum). And there’s no clean up or refining. For some desert valleys water from gypsum would be a fail safe water source.

Anyhow read the article below and consider.

Public release date: 11-Jun-2008

Contact: Peter van der Gaag
Inderscience Publishers

Rocky water source

Water from rock, easier than blood from stone

Gypsum, a rocky mineral is abundant in desert regions where fresh water is usually in very short supply but oil and gas fields are common. Writing in International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, Peter van der Gaag of the Holland Innovation Team, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, has hit on the idea of using the untapped energy from oil and gas flare-off to release the water locked in gypsum.

Fresh water resources are scarce and will be more so with the effects of global climate change. Finding alternative sources of water is an increasingly pressing issue for policy makers the world over. Gypsum, explains van der Gaag could be one such resource. He has discussed the technology with people in the Sahara who agree that the idea could help combat water shortages, improve irrigation, and even make some deserts fertile.

Chemically speaking, gypsum is calcium sulfate dihydrate, and has the chemical formula CaSO4.2H2O. In other words, for every unit of calcium sulfate in the mineral there are two water molecules, which means gypsum is 20% water by weight.

van der Gaag suggests that a large-scale, or macro, engineering project could be used to tap off this water from the vast deposits of gypsum found in desert regions, amounting to billions of cubic meters and representing trillions of liters of clean, drinking water.

The process would require energy, but this could be supplied using the energy from oil and gas fields that is usually wasted through flaring. Indeed, van der Gaag explains that it takes only moderate heating, compared with many chemical reactions, to temperatures of around 100 Celsius to liberate water from gypsum and turn the mineral residue into bassanite, the anhydrous form. “Such temperatures can be reached by small-scale solar power, or alternatively, the heat from flaring oil wells can be used,” he says. He adds that, “Dehydration under certain circumstances starts at 60 Celsius, goes faster at 85 Celsius, and faster still at 100 degrees. So in deserts – where there is abundant sunlight – it is very easy to do.”

van der Gaag points out that the dehydration of gypsum results in a material of much lower volume than the original mineral, so the very process of releasing water from the rock will cause local subsidence, which will then create a readymade reservoir for the water. Tests of the process itself have proved successful and the Holland Innovation Team is planning a pilot study in a desert location.

“The macro-engineering concept of dewatering gypsum deposits could solve the water shortage problem in many dry areas in the future, for drinking purposes as well as for drip irrigation,” concludes van der Gaag.


“Mining water from gypsum” in International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, 2008, 8, 274- 281

Public release date: 11-Jun-2008

Contact: Peter van der Gaag
Inderscience Publishers

Lake Meade II

17th February 2008

Last April the New York Times ran an article on the western drought. However, here’s the first official study I’ve seen of the effects of rising demand and falling supply on Lake Meade. Its put out by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Perhaps reports like this were why Patricia Mulroy, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority communicated the urgent need for action over the next 10 years at the MSSC in January. Across the net you could find people who would dispute the idea that there is falling supply. But no one disputed that there is rising demand. And no one suggested that there is rising supply except for the pop in snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas & the Rockies in January. Desalination and reclamation are mentioned as two promising but expensive alternatives. (See the graph at the bottom for 50 years snowpack trends and discussions of sunspot activity which include the first observations of cycle 24 in January.)

February 12, 2008

Lake Mead could be dry by 2021

Lake Mead could be dry by 2021

A map of the Colorado River basin. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego

A map of the Colorado River basin. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

There is a 50 percent chance Lake Mead, a key source of water for millions of people in the southwestern United States, will be dry by 2021 if climate changes as expected and future water usage is not curtailed, according to a pair of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Without Lake Mead and neighboring Lake Powell, the Colorado River system has no buffer to sustain the population of the Southwest through an unusually dry year, or worse, a sustained drought. In such an event, water deliveries would become highly unstable and variable, said research marine physicist Tim Barnett and climate scientist David Pierce.

Barnett and Pierce concluded that human demand, natural forces like evaporation, and human-induced climate change are creating a net deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River system that includes Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This amount of water can supply roughly 8 million people. Their analysis of Federal Bureau of Reclamation records of past water demand and calculations of scheduled water allocations and climate conditions indicate that the system could run dry even if mitigation measures now being proposed are implemented.

The paper, “When will Lake Mead go dry?,” has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Water Resources Research, published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

“We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us,” said Barnett. “Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest.”

“It’s likely to mean real changes to how we live and do business in this region,” Pierce added.

The Lake Mead/Lake Powell system includes the stretch of the Colorado River in northern Arizona. Aqueducts carry the water to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and other communities in the Southwest. Currently the system is only at half capacity because of a recent string of dry years, and the team estimates that the system has already entered an era of deficit.

“When expected changes due to global warming are included as well, currently scheduled depletions are simply not sustainable,” wrote Barnett and Pierce in the paper.

Barnett and Pierce note that a number of other studies in recent years have estimated that climate change will lead to reductions in runoff to the Colorado River system. Those analysis consistently forecast reductions of between 10 and 30 percent over the next 30 to 50 years, which could affect the water supply of between 12 and 36 million people.

The researchers estimated that there is a 10 percent chance that Lake Mead could be dry by 2014. They further predict that there is a 50 percent chance that reservoir levels will drop too low to allow hydroelectric power generation by 2017.

The researchers add that even if water agencies follow their current drought contingency plans, it might not be enough to counter natural forces, especially if the region enters a period of sustained drought and/or human-induced climate changes occur as currently predicted.

Barnett said that the researchers chose to go with conservative estimates of the situation in their analysis, though the water shortage is likely to be more dire in reality. The team based its findings on the premise that climate change effects only started in 2007, though most researchers consider human-caused changes in climate to have likely started decades earlier. They also based their river flow on averages over the past 100 years, even though it has dropped in recent decades. Over the past 500 years the average annual flow is even less.

“Today, we are at or beyond the sustainable limit of the Colorado system. The alternative to reasoned solutions to this coming water crisis is a major societal and economic disruption in the desert southwest; something that will affect each of us living in the region” the report concluded.

Source: University of California – San Diego

This news is brought to you by


This image illustrates the higher winter temperatures, reduced snowpack and earlier river flow that typify our new manmade Western climate.
Image: Courtesy of David W. Pierce, SIO; land image courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory

Study: Climate Change Escalating Severe Western Water Crisis

While the above article suggests that climate change is associated man made carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere NASA suggest that the cause of warming has historically been the sunspot cycle

Here’s picture of the sunspot cycle in the last three hundred years . Here’s a NASA picture of sunspot activity from 1995-2015. The first observations of cycle 24 projected in the picture of sunspot activity were made in January.

The Materials Research Society

08th February 2008

Last November The Materials Research Society held a Symposium V: Materials Science of Water Purification. Their website is a good place to go for anyone interested in getting to know the players in cutting edge desalination related materials research. Presenters include Jason Holt, Rustum Roy, Erik Hoek .

On Tuesday, March 25, 2008 the LLNL team that developed the carbon nano tube membrane will be on three panels at the Materials Research Society in San Francisco. According to the schedule Wednesday is dedicated to topics that show the possibility of more commercial applicability. During the morning at 9:30 AM the LLNL team will be included on a panel with UC Berkely & UC Davis scientists that discusses Mechanism of Ion Exclusion by Sub-2nm Carbon Nanotube Membranes. My guess would be that this panel will discuss charge. But maybe not. Here is the 2008 MRS Spring Meeting program in html format. Registration online is available here.

Hoover Dam

25th January 2008


Well I’ve had a little time to think about the MSSC Desalination Summit in Las Vegas Jan 16-18. I asked the same kinds of questions at this meeting as I did last August at the annual American Membrane Association conference. The effect was almost the same. Almost — but not quite. Patricia Mulroy, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority communicated the urgent need for action over the next 10 years. Also, it seemed a few of the guys at the conference caught a glimmer of what I was getting at.

Also, I had the impression that the Bureau Of Reclamation is moving toward taking a bigger role in water desalination research.

During one of the Q&A’s I mentioned that the Australians had responded to their drought by appropriating 250 million over 7 years to cut the cost of water desalination in half. What I didn’t mention was that their confidence that they could do so — came in part from American research. The announcement that they were going to appropriate 250 million for desalination research came four months after a visit by LLNL scientists to Australia to show how their carbon nanotubes could desalinate water without energy intensive pumps. Fresh water just passed through their membranes. That story was printed in every provincial Australian newspaper. In the USA that story never made it out of the science journals.

Pat Mulroy mentioned the relationship between energy and water. Everyone in desalination knows about this but nobody else does. It would be very helpful if Nevada people especially could be buttonholed to finance three sets of commercials for the Washington DC TV market–that made the link between water and energy. As well, a link should be made between the effects of climate change on the water supplies in the west, the southeast and even in the northeast. As mentioned in the conference even New York City has begun to think of the effects of sea water intrusions into their pristine water supply. The point is that climate change and population growth are not a regional problem. Finally a commercial for the Washington DC market should emphasize that the water solutions of the New Deal are no longer adequate for the growing populations and climate change that characterize the 21st century. The future is not what it used to be. These commercials would run for a year.

As mentioned in the Thursday morning Congressional Video Link Up–Washington staffers and congressmen know precious little about the desalination business. Therefor they don’t understand the link between energy research–for which there is a great deal of money available–and water desalination research–for which there is precious little money available for research. Some commercials establishing the link would make selling the link easier–and thereby ease the task of obtaining R&D funding.

One reason its important to make this link is that the likelihood of multi billion dollar increases in energy related R&D is increasing dramatically. Hillary has stressed the need for a significant increase in green research without being too specific. Sen. Barack Obama has called for “serious leadership to get us started down the path of energy independence.” All the republican candidates have stressed the need for energy independence. Mayor Giuliani said

“that weaning the United States off foreign oil must become a national purpose, that doing it within 10 to 15 years would be a centerpiece of a Giuliani presidency. The federal government must treat energy independence as a matter of national security,” he said, comparing it to the effort in the 1950’s and ’60’s to put men on the moon”

Sen. John McCain has declared, “We need energy independence”

He promised to make the U.S. oil independent within five years.The Senator says he’ll make it happen quickly, with a program like the Manhattan Project. That was the big push the U.S. made to build an atomic bomb before Germany could get one.

Notice the reference to the Manhattan project and the Moon Shot.

In the last couple of weeks, Mitt Romney has put up a dollar number for increasing increasing energy R&D. Romney

advocates increasing federal investments in energy, materials science, automotive technology and fuel technology from $4 billion a year — its current level — to $20 billion a year.

Why the the reference to war time projects like the moon shot and the manhattan project? And why have the time frames been shortened to 5-10 years? Its not just environmental or national security concerns. Now even big oil is buying into the peak oil argument. Shell Oil CEO Jeroen van der Veer this week wrote “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.” That means that unless crash programs are enacted to bring down demand for oil–especially in the USA–oil prices are going to the moon. One way or the other a radical rewrite of the energy picture is coming.

The picture of Hoover Dam tells pretty much the same story for water–and in the same time frame. Supplies are not keeping up with demand.

Mike Hightower of Sandia Labs mentioned on Thursday that alternative energy over the next couple years would become more economical than traditional energy sources. He said something similar happened to desalinized water 10 years ago.

After the American Membrane Association meeting last August I proposed spending 3 billion over 7-10 years– to research ways to collapse the cost of water desalination and transport so that desert water costs nearly the same as east coast water… And the east and gulf coasts would have a new source of cheap fresh water. In the context of current presidential campaign promises–my numbers now don’t seem so extravagant.

Its remarkable how water and energy production go hand and hand across several fields. The Hoover Dam produces both power and water. Waste heat from power plants on the coast will be used for desalination.

The same is true for research.

imho the primary targets for for desalination research: catalysts and semipermeable membranes are the same for hydrogen production. It may well be that both will see a need for smart pipelines.

These are things to consider as the water levels fall behind the Hoover dam. With water levels down officials are also considering the effects of water being so low the electrical generators may have to be shut down.

Looks like there will be a good snow pack this year in the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies. If all goes well that will add one foot to lake levels. That’s a good year. But not so much when you consider that the lake is down 120 feet. At the conference we learned that current climate models in the southwest call for three in ten years as being good for precipitation. It used to be seven in ten years.


MSSC Salinity Summit 2008

11th January 2008

Last February I wrote a piece called California Solar’s Revolutionary Energy Business Model for Desalination Pumps

Yuck. Lousy title.

The point of the piece was that sometime in the future California public utilities might be able to offload a part of their energy costs for pipeline pumping–by using net metering.

Along the way I mentioned that photo voltaic companies like NanoSolar would be collapsing the cost of solar power. This past December NanoSolar made good on their promise. Nanosolar (as recorded in Popular Science Magazine) is now producing solar cells for about $1 a watt. That’s their sales price. Their manufacturing cost is $.30 @ watt. It costs another $1@watt to plug in all the pieces for the solar panel. To understand these numbers its helpful to understand that the cheapest way to produce electrical power currently is by coal and that comes to $2.1 a watt–plus transportation and clean up. Once full production starts this year, Nanosolar’s plant will create 430 megawatts’ worth of solar cells a year—more than the combined total of every other solar plant in the U.S.–and about the output of a medium sized coal plant. All production is booked for the next 18 months. Its easy to see that photovoltaics at Nanosolar price points will make it easy to get financing to scale up to 50-100 plants just like the one now in production. Anyhow this is a good read at the NY Times.

Judging by the research — photovoltaic costs will fall much further in the next couple years.

So how can the desalination community push down the cost of desalination — at the kinds of lightning strike speeds that solar power enjoys currently?

Next week, I’m going to the annual MSSC Salinity Summit in Las Vegas. The last time I was in Vegas — was last August — for annual meeting of the American Membrane Technology Association.

After that meeting last August I proposed spending 3 billion over 7-10 years– to collapse the cost of water desalination and transport so that desert water costs nearly the same as east coast water. Basically, the research today strongly suggests that it will be economically possible to make water desalination and transport so cheap that in the not distant future –it will be economically possible to turn all deserts green.

So why not go for it?

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a study (entitled A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States September, 2007) on the national challenges to ensure adequate fresh water supplies. The study then outlines a federal strategic plan for addressing these challenges and provides a guide for how federal agencies will be a part of this plan.

The study posted at the NTSB website specifically notes:

The United States will expand technologies for enhancing reliable water supplies and will widen the range of options for delivering water to growing populations. These technologies include desalination, water treatment and reuse, and more efficient methods of water use in the agriculture, energy, buildings, and industry sectors. Federal agencies will work with others to develop these technologies. pg 19

The Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality has identified the following critical actions to provide the tools necessary to enhance reliable water supply:
• Identify and pursue appropriate Federal research opportunities for improving and expanding technologies for enhanced use of marginal or impaired water supplies. Such technologies might be applied to desalination, water treatment and reuse, or conservation in the United States and other countries. pg 19

The study names the Dept of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation Science and Technology Program as one that funds both internal and external desalination research.

I would think that this agency might perform the role of orchestrating research funding by multiple public and private entities toward multiple desalination research projects. Certainly someone needs to do this. There are a lot of public and private groups currently funding desalination research.

However, I would think that if the water desalination community wants to go into high gear — then they need to adapt the practices of fast moving industries. What that means is that the front line scientists choose the research projects and the administrators work out the funding. This is done by way of crowd prediction markets. ie how does a research administrator best deploy his dollars between projects competing for research dollars? Choosing rightly between known knowns is difficult. In fast paced industries companies use something called prediction markets. I discuss this strategy here.

Besides all the various agencies currently funding research– some mention needs to be made of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative spends two billion dollars annually. Their 2007 Strategic Plan named Safe Affordable Water (page 27) as a strategic goal. This will make a considerable amount of money available for Membrane R&D and Manufacturing. Consider last years big LLNL carbon nanotube membrane breakthrough. That work was not funded through the NNI. It was funded from LLNL’s LDRD program, DARPA, & NSF. With NNI funding –much more desalination membrane work like the LLNL initiative will be eligible for funding.

As well I would reiterate:

Prize money like the X-Prize is a frugal way to get the most bang for the research buck. I blogged about this in a piece called harvesting research unknown unknowns.

An example of this kind of prize driven research is provided by the state of New Mexico’s environmental design contest that this time round focuses on water and renewable energy. The Design Contest is sponsored by private and public entities such as Intel, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Food and Drug Administration and the American Water Works Association. One of its goals is to:

Develop an inland desalination operation and disposal system (for water) in rural, isolated communities to demonstrate a low-cost, simple and reliable system.

A more sophisticated version of the same thing could be done for membranes, pipelines etc.

Another suggestion would be to attack known unknowns by employing a much less publicized method of crowd sourcing scientific research which I discuss in detail here.

Often a research organization will have the right questions but limited time, budget or brain power with which to solve the problem. Wouldn’t it be nice to say “Ok we have this problem and we will pay this much for a solution.” Websites have grown up to address this problem.

Next Wednesday USBR is sponsoring a trip out Hoover Dam. Its a helpful thing to consider men whose vision made the 20th century possible in the southwest and whose vision today continues to buy time for many desert communities.

University of Illinois scientists Manish Kumar & Mark Clark have developed semipermeable membranes that mimic the actions of kidney to produce salt rejecting membranes with 10 times the salt rejecting power of current generation membranes. The next challenge —as with carbon nanotubes –is to scale up production.
Better Membranes For Water Treatment, Drug Delivery Developed

Mark Clark, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and colleagues have developed a new generation of biomimetic membranes for water treatment and drug delivery. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2007) — Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new generation of biomimetic membranes for water treatment and drug delivery. The highly permeable and selective membranes are based on the incorporation of the functional water channel protein Aquaporin Z into a novel A-B-A triblock copolymer.

The experimental membranes, currently in the form of vesicles, show significantly higher water transport than existing reverse-osmosis membranes used in water purification and desalination.
“We took a close look at how kidneys so efficiently transport water through a membrane with aquaporins, and then we found a way to duplicate that in a synthetic system,” said Manish Kumar, a graduate research assistant at the U. of I., and the paper’s lead author.

Unlike most biological membranes, polymer membranes are very stable and can withstand considerable pressure — essential requirements for water purification and desalination processes. “Placing aquaporins in materials that we can use outside the body opens doors to industrial and municipal applications,” Kumar said.

To make their protein-polymer membranes, the researchers begin with a polymer that self-assembles into hollow spheres called vesicles. While the polymer is assembling, the researchers add Aquaporin Z — a protein found in Escherichia coli bacteria.

“Aquaporin Z makes a hole in the membrane that only water can go through, so it’s both fast and selective,” said membrane specialist Mark Clark, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and one of the paper’s co-authors.

“By varying the amount of Aquaporin Z, we can vary the membrane’s permeability,” Kumar said, “which could be very useful for drug-delivery applications.”

With their high permeability and high selectivity, the biomimetic membranes also are ideal for water treatment by desalination, which is becoming increasingly important for water purification in semiarid coastal regions.

When tested, the productivity of the Aquaporin Z-incorporated polymer membranes was more than 10 times greater than other salt-rejecting polymeric membranes.

Currently, the experimental polymer membranes exist only as small vesicles. “Our next step is to convert the vesicles into larger, more practical membranes,” Kumar said. “We also want to optimize the membranes for maximum permeability.”

The researchers describe their membranes in detail in a paper accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is to be published in PNAS Online Early Edition.
In addition to Clark and Kumar, co-authors of the paper are research professor Julie Zilles at the U. of I., and chemistry professor Wolfgang Meier and doctoral student Mariusz Grzelakowski, both at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Funding was provided by the Swiss National Center of Competence in Nanoscale Science, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the University of Illinois.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

How critical is the need for new water sources?

According to this article 36 states will face water shortages within 5 years.

On top of that — the world looks to be moving toward a hydrogen economy. Here is the first analysis of the kinds of demands on water supply a hydrogen economy will entail.

First Analysis of the Water Requirements of a Hydrogen Economy

This graph shows the annual water consumption as a feedstock and coolant for generating 60 billion kg of hydrogen which is influenced by both the fraction of hydrogen that is produced by thermoelectrically powered electrolysis and electrolyzer effici ...

This graph shows the annual water consumption as a feedstock and coolant for generating 60 billion kg of hydrogen, which is influenced by both the fraction of hydrogen that is produced by thermoelectrically powered electrolysis and electrolyzer efficiencies. Image credit: Michael E. Webber.

One of the touted benefits of the futuristic US hydrogen economy is that the hydrogen supply—in the form of water—is virtually limitless. This assumption is taken for granted so much that no major study has fully considered just how much water a sustainable hydrogen economy would need. Michael Webber, Associate Director at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, has recently filled that gap by providing the first analysis of the total water requirements with recent data for a “transitional” hydrogen economy. While the hydrogen economy is expected to be in full swing around 2050 (according to a 2004 report by the National Research Council [NRC]), a transitional hydrogen economy would occur in about 30 years, in 2037.

At that time, the NRC predicts an annual production of 60 billion kg of hydrogen. Webber’s analysis estimates that this amount of hydrogen would use about 19-69 trillion gallons of water annually as a feedstock for electrolytic production and as a coolant for thermoelectric power. That’s 52-189 billion gallons per day, a 27-97% increase from the 195 billion gallons per day (72 trillion gallons annually) used today by the thermoelectric power sector to generate about 90% of the electricity in the US. During the past several decades, water withdrawal has remained stable, suggesting that this increase in water intensity could have unprecedented consequences on the natural resource and public policy.

“The greatest significance of this work is that, by shifting our fuels production onto the grid, we can have a very dramatic impact on water resources unless policy changes are implemented that require system-wide shifts to power plant cooling methods that are less water-intensive or to power sources that don’t require cooling,” Webber told “This analysis is not meant to say that hydrogen should not be pursued, just that if hydrogen production is pursued through thermoelectrically-powered electrolysis, the impacts on water are potentially quite severe.”

Webber’s estimate accounts for both the direct and indirect uses of water in a hydrogen economy. The direct use is water as a feedstock for hydrogen, where water undergoes a splitting process that separates hydrogen from oxygen. Production can be accomplished in several ways, such as steam methane reforming, nuclear thermochemical splitting, gasification of coal or biomass, and others. But one of the dominant production methods in the transitional stage, as predicted in a 2004 planning report from the Department of Energy (DOE), will likely be electrolysis.

Based on the atomic properties of water, 1 kg of hydrogen gas requires about 2.4 gallons of water as feedstock. In one year, 60 billion kilograms of hydrogen would require 143 billion gallons of fresh, distilled water. This number is similar to the amount of water required for refining an equivalent amount of petroleum (about 1-2.5 gallons of water per gallon of gasoline).

The biggest increase in water usage would come from indirect water requirements, specifically as a cooling fluid for the electricity needed to supply the energy that electrolysis requires. Since electrolysis is likely to use existing infrastructure, it would pull from the grid and therefore depend on thermoelectric processes.

At 100% efficiency, electrolysis would require close to 40 kWh per kilogram of hydrogen—a number derived from the higher heating value of hydrogen, a physical property. However, today’s systems have an efficiency of about 60-70%, with the DOE’s future target at 75%.

Depending on the fraction of hydrogen produced by electrolysis (Webber presents estimates for values from 35 to 85%), the amount of electricity required based on electrolysis efficiency of 75% would be between 1134 and 2754 billion kWh—and up to 3351 billion kWh for a lower electrolysis efficiency of 60%. For comparison, the current annual electricity generation in the US in 2005 was 4063 billion kWh.

In 2000, thermoelectric power generation required an average of 20.6 gallons of water per kWh, leading Webber to estimate that hydrogen production through electrolysis, at 75% efficiency, would require about 1100 gallons of cooling water per kilogram of hydrogen. That’s 66 trillion gallons per year just for cooling.

By 2050, the NRC report predicts that hydrogen demand could exceed 100 billion kg—nearly twice the 60 billion kg that Webber’s estimates are based on. By then, researchers may find better ways of producing hydrogen, with assistance from the DOE’s large-scale investments, which will exceed $900 million in 2008.

“That most of the water use is for cooling leaves hope that we can change the way power plants operate, which would significantly ease up the potential burden on water resources, or that we can find other means of power production at a large scale to satisfy the demands of electrolysis,” said Webber.

If electrolysis becomes a widespread method of hydrogen production, Webber suggests that researchers may want to look for an electricity-generating method other than thermoelectric processes to power electrolysis. With this perspective, he suggests hydrogen pathways such as wind or solar sources, as well as water-free cooling methods such as air cooling.

“Each of the energy choices we can make, in terms of fuels and technologies, has its own tradeoffs associated with it,” Webber said. “Hydrogen, just like ethanol, wind, solar, or other alternative choices, has many merits, but also has some important impacts to keep in mind, as this paper tries to suggest. I would encourage the continuation of research into hydrogen production as part of a comprehensive basket of approaches that are considered for managing the transition into the green energy era. But, because of some of the unexpected impacts—for example on water resources—it seems premature to determine that hydrogen is the answer we should pursue at the exclusion of other options.”

More information can be found at the Webber Energy Group, an organization which seeks to bridge the divide between policymakers and engineers & scientists for issues related to energy and the environment.

Citation: Webber, Michael E. “The water intensity of the transitional hydrogen economy.” Environmental Research Letters, 2 (2007) 034007 (7pp).

A major cost in desalination & transport in the future will be creating and maintaining a network of pipelines — to pipe water a 1000 miles inland from any coast. A goal of this great project will be to create pipelines cheaply on the fly; that won’t require much maintenance for 50 years — and  repair easily after the stress of earth quakes. These pipes would move water uphill for next to nothing by a combination of design and some combination of locally acquired energy –either water or sun.

Sound too ambitious? I trust not.

One current invention whose later later generations will be helpful in collapsing the cost of creating pipelines may well be the Three Dimensional Home Printer. Look at the article below and consider how it might be applied to pipelines.

Three-Dimensional Home Printers Could Disrupt Economy

Friday , October 12, 2007

By Lamont Wood


When your favorite gadget of the future breaks, you might select a replacement model online, download its design file and make a true 3-D replacement on your home printer.

Thanks to falling prices and wider application of an industrial technology called 3-D printing (among other things), this option might be a reality for consumers in a few years.

Instead of stamping or casting to create objects using tools, dies and forms that were laboriously created for the task, each object is basically printed — built thin layer by thin layer directly from a computer-aided design, or CAD, file using various high-accuracy deposition methods.

Sintering, for instance, deposits layers of fine particles that are heated until they bind to adjacent particles.

Stereo lithography, meanwhile, uses a laser to harden a layer of an object on the surface of a pool of special resin.

The object is then lowered slightly, and the next layer is created. Altogether, 3-D printing technologies can create things out of plastics, metal and ceramics, and some methods can add photo-realistic coloring.

More importantly, prices for 3-D printing machines have been falling rapidly, reaching $20,000, and the day is foreseeable when they will fall below $1,000 and become home appliances, says Phil Anderson of the School of Theoretical and Applied Science at Ramapo College in New Jersey.

The results, he warned, could be economically “disruptive.”

“If you can make what you need in your own home quickly, then manufacturers become designers, with no need for factories, warehouses or shipping,” Anderson told LiveScience.

Drawbacks to 3-D printing include time (aside from creating the data file, each object takes several hours to print and then usually requires additional curing), power consumption (metal objects especially require a lot of heat), size (current low-end machines have a workspace measuring 10 inches per side, so that anything larger would have to be made in segments) and the price of the specialized raw material.

Accuracy, surface finish and strength are not yet as good at the low end as at the high end, says industrial consultant Terry Wohlers.

3-D printers cheap enough for the home market could appear in four or five years, Wohlers said, though Anderson puts that figure at 15 years. However, that does not mean they will be in every home, churning out kitchenware or car parts on demand.

Other than dedicated tinkerers, video gamers will be the initial consumer market, Wohlers said.

“There are millions of people playing video games that often involve the creation of elaborate action figures,” he noted. “I think the first wave will be the addition of a button to those games that says ‘build me.’ The figure would arrive in the mail, and you could get a six-inch figure for $25 to $100.”

Today, making a figurine through a 3-D printing service bureau could cost something on the order of $500, but Wohlers expects volume would drive costs down considerably.


My idea would be a machine that gathered up material locally and extruded a pipeline that gathered heat or solar on its outside so as to conduct heat into the pipe a pattern that  pushed water on the inside  of the pipe along panels that were alternately hydrophobic and hydrophilic. The result would be that water moved in the pipe inland uphill. Just a thought.

Forward Osmosis.

18th October 2007

The WaterReuse Foundation recently released a study of Forward Osmosis. The work was cosponsored by the US Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Water Resources Control Board. The principal investigators were Samer Adham & Montgomery Harza. The projects Advisory Committee included Menachem Elimelech (Yale University), Kerry Howe (U of New Mexico), Scott Irvine (US Bureau of Reclamation) Rich Mills (California State Water Resources Control Board), George Tchobanoglous (UC Davis).

I’ve read about this process from time to time but but the reports have been sketchy. The WaterReuse Foundation fills in the gap. I went to their site recently and ordered a copy of the study.

What is Forward Osmosis?

From the page 1 of the WaterReuse Foundation Report.

When solutions of different solute (salt) concentrations are separated by a semipermeable membrane, the solvent (ie water) will move across the membrane from the lower-solute-concentration side to the higher-concentration-solute (draw side).

How is this different from Reverse Osmosis (RO)?

Reverse Osmosis (RO) uses huge pumps to force salt/briny water against semipermeable membranes. Fresh water passes through the membrane while leaving behind a concentrate. Forward Osmosis places the membrane between two solutions. On one side of the membrane is a lower-solute-concentration. Lower-solute-concentration passes through the membrane to the higher-concentration-solute side (ie draw solution) by way of osmotic pressure.

Why is Forward Osmosis necessary?

The RO concentrate can be diluted and sent back to sea for coastal desalination plants but inland brackish water desalination plants have a concentrate disposal problem. FO offers a cheaper means of dewatering the concentrate because little extra energy is needed for the process to work.

The WaterReuse study examined various draw solutions & membranes and made recommendations of draw solutions & membranes for further study.

The report concluded that forward osmosis is ready for prototyping the dewatering of concentrate after RO for inland brackish water desalination plants.

The FO process has been shown to be economically feasible for RO concentrate minimalization. The costs for implementing FO for dewatering RO concentrate before ZLD processing are lower than those for implementing ZLD on the entire RO concentrate stream, as operational costs are substantially reduced by utilizing the FO train ($2.49/1000 gal) instead of the baseline treatment train ($3.07/1000 gal) for a 10-mgd IMS incorporating an MBR and an RO process.

Curiously the most economical draw solution (for now)was found to be salt.

The use of salt as the draw solution and an IX (ion exchange) process for reconconcentrating the salt from the diluted draw solution was also found to be economically feasible.

Here I think it would be worth mentioning that scaled up version of the ENI OEM-12B3 13.56 MHz RF Generator that generates John Kanzius’ radio waves might offer an even better way to reconcentrate the draw solution (salt) while providing an additional source of power by way of the hydrogen output. The heavily concentrated NaCl in turn might provide further efficiencies to the Kazius effect

Interestingly, a Norwegian company is prototyping forward osmosis too — only they’re working at it from the energy side. According to the article Statkraft is set
“to build world’s first osmotic power plant capable of harnessing process of osmosis to generate electricity.”

From the Statkraft article:

Statkraft plans to harness energy from this phenomenon by passing fresh water through a membrane into salt water and using the ensuing pressure difference to drive a turbine.

The plant would be at the mouths of rivers where fresh water mixes with salt water.

“You need a continual flow of fresh and sea water coming into the system and a continual outflow of brackish water that runs the turbine,” explained Torbjørn Steen, vice president of communications at Statkraft.

Statkraft provides a very good diagram of this process here.

The company, which has invested £9m in developing the technology, said the prototype plant will be completed by the end of 2008 and it expects to have a commercially viable technology ready by 2015.

Statkraft estimates that globally osmotic power could generate 1,600TWh of power, including 200TWh in Norway accounting for 10 per cent of the country’s current energy use.

However, Steen said that the company will need to continue to improve the efficiency of the technology in order to make it commercially viable.

“Improving the efficiency of output per square metre of membrane is the main challenge for the prototype plant,” he explained. “When we started the project we were generating less than one watt per square metre of membrane and now we are up to three watts per square metre. We estimate we need five watts per square metre to make it commercially viable, but we are heading in the right direction.”

Statkraft’s progress maps pretty well over onto forward osmosis for desalination in the US.

I think American desalination people should regularly consult with Statkraft.


Coastal desalination plants mix their RO concentrate with seawater. That mixing might be used to produce energy using Statkraft’s process. Once again check out their designs. As well their membrane issues are similar.


Back in June I posted extensively about John Kanzius RF machine that cracked hydrogen out of saltwater. His last comments at the time were that he believed that his device had achieved unity–and therefor he would go silent. (That is, unlike electrolysis which is about 72% efficient–Kanzius believed his machine was +100–meaning he believed his machine produced more energy than it consumed. Needless to say, everyone around the net has said this is impossible.)

There have been a flurry of new articles this week on John Kanzius RF device for burning saltwater. None suggest, that the process creates more energy than it consumes. Here’s a new video. The video does a good job of sketching Kanzius visit to Penn State. He brought his device up to the labs of Penn State Materials Researcher Rustum Roy. According to the ScrippsNews:

Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, held a demonstration last week at the university’s Materials Research Laboratory in State College, to confirm what he’d witnessed weeks before in an Erie lab.

“It’s true, it works,” Roy said. “Everyone told me, ‘Rustum, don’t be fooled. He put electrodes in there.’ ”

But there are no electrodes and no gimmicks, he said.

Roy said the salt water isn’t burning per se, despite appearances. The radio frequency actually weakens bonds holding together the constituents of salt water — sodium chloride, hydrogen and oxygen — and releases the hydrogen, which, once ignited, burns continuously when exposed to the RF energy field. Kanzius said an independent source measured the flame’s temperature, which exceeds 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, reflecting an enormous energy output.

According to another article:

Apparently, Kanzius’s invention–which uses just 200 watts of directed radio waves, not quite enough electricity to light three 75-watt light bulbs–breaks down the hydrogen-oxygen bond in the water, igniting the hydrogen.

The ScrippsNews continues:

As such, Roy, a founding member of the Materials Research Laboratory and expert in water structure, said Kanzius’ discovery represents “the most remarkable in water science in 100 years.”

But researching its potential will take time and money, he said. One immediate question is energy efficiency: The energy the RF generator uses vs. the energy output from burning hydrogen.

Roy said he’s scheduled to meet Monday with U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Defense officials in Washington to discuss the discovery and seek research funding.

“It seems like, to me, an interesting set of processes that’s been uncovered,” said George Sverdrup, a technology manager at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.

Brent Haddad directs the Center for Integrated Water Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He commented in an email that the “research is located in the right place: at the nexus of energy production and water treatment. But it is too early to tell what the practical applications will be.”

Kanzius said he powered a Stirling, or hot air, engine with salt water. But whether the system can power a car or be used as an efficient fuel will depend on research results.

If its the case that the RF device imitates atomic frequency of the catalyst platinum–then it would be profitable to look for even better catalysts–and imitate their atomic frequencies. One candidate would be Titanium dioxide (TiO2).

Janusz Nowotny and Charles Sorrell are researchers from the Centre for Materials Research in Energy Conversion at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. They have been looking for an economical way to use titanium dioxide to act as a catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen—using solar energy.

Nowotny and Sorrell announced their breakthrough today at the International Conference on Materials for Hydrogen Energy, hosted by the University of New South Wales in Sydney. They believe they have found a way to considerably improve the productivity of the solar hydrogen process (using sunlight to extract hydrogen from water) using a device made out of titanium dioxide.

If you added sunlight to the equation you wouldn’t have to worry about net energy. Just put salt water under glass in the sun and zap it with low wattage RF tuned to the atomic RF of Titanium dioxide (TiO2).

In addition I would suggest that the device be tested with high concentrations of salt in the water — just like you would find after much fresh water had been stripped out by RO. Break down the water to O2 & H2, capture the gasses, burn them to recombine into pure water. Recapture the waste heat energy & feed back into energy source to minimize total energy in. Provides the advantage of electrolisis-based desalination without the electrodes. This Wikipedia electrolysis entry toward the end gives a pretty good sketch of the details.  Just swap out the  electrolysis for the RF generating  device.

This experiment is well documented it shows how the addition of salt
will increase the output of hydogen ten times

Do this experiment and then move on to a radio wave RF device

There’s evidence to suggest that while the RF destabilizes the H20 — the Na acts as a heat sink (like any metal in a microwave oven) –and superheated–cracks the H2 out of the molecule–in a way similiar to methane steam reformation. So maybe water with high concentrations of Na would allow the same amount of hydrogen cracking at lower energy levels. At the very least the RO concentrate might be turned into a new source for hydrogen.

We will get our ideas together and check this out and see where it leads,” Roy said. “The potential is huge.”

Back in the 90’s when the SuperCollider was being built in Texas, Rustum Roy published an article in Physics Today questioning the enormous amount of money that was to be spent on this, and presumably diverted from other areas of scientific research. Leon Lederman, a Nobel Prize winner and SuperCollider backer, responded in a letter that questioned whether Rustum Roy was even a real person. Another writer then pointed out that making fun of Roy’s name was a sign that the SuperCollider backers did not have a valid argument. Not too long after this the SuperCollider was defunded.

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