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.

The Washington Post has an interesting article on new sources of energy coming on stream. Among them is a buoy system. As you read the article below consider Pete Dominici’s line about how you need water for to produce energy and you need energy to produce water. For example, you might use an installed buoy system to pump water ashore. I would wonder however if it wouldn’t be cheaper to drill a pipe like an oil derrick — drilling from shore first down and then laterally sloping up so water flowed downward toward shore. Then you might devise a pipe that got slightly smaller as it came to shore to increase the pressure of the water. There might be as well some way to corrugate the inner walls of the pipe with a pattern of hydrophobic and hydrophilic material such that water would be “encouraged” to flow in a particular direction. Finally, the pipe might come up out of the sea floor 200+ feet off the bottom and end in a mushroom shape. Seven years from now the membrane would be so good it would pass only fresh water through on the underside of the underwater mushroom at ocean pressure without fouling. So the force of the water falling down the stem of the mushroom and then the slope, slimming and hydrophobic/hydrophillic pattern of the pipe moving water toward shore would generate enough pressure to bring the water to the surface on shore under pressure.

In short you wouldn’t need the expensive buoy system to pump water ashore. The water would go passively–perhaps requiring less maintenance. That said, here’s the article and some cool graphics.

Beyond Wind and Solar, a New Generation of Clean Energy

By Juliet Eilperin

Washington Post Staff Writer
(Article Link Here) Saturday, September 1, 2007; A01 (Graphics Link Here)

SOURCE: Finavera | GRAPHIC: By Seth Hamblin and Todd Lindeman, The Washington Post – September 01, 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Iron Works has the feel of a World War II-era shipyard, with sparks flying from welders’ torches and massive hydraulic presses flattening large sheets of metal. But this factory floor represents the cutting edge of American renewable-energy technology.

The plant is assembling a test buoy for Finavera Renewables, a Canadian company that hopes to harness ocean waves off the coast of Oregon to produce electricity for U.S. consumers. And Finavera is not Iron Works’ only alternative-energy client: So many companies have approached it with ideas that it has created a “renewable-energy projects manager” to oversee them.

“In the last year, it’s just exploded with ideas out there,” said Vice President Chandra Brown. “We like to build these creative new things.”

As policymakers promote alternative energy sources to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil, entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly inventive about finding novel ways to power the economy.

Beyond solar power and wind, which is America’s most developed renewable-energy sector, a host of companies are exploring a variety of more obscure technologies. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to turn algae into diesel fuel. In landfills, startups are attempting to wring energy out of waste such as leaves, tires and “car fluff” from junked automobiles.

This push for lesser-known renewables — which also includes geothermal, solar thermal and tidal energy — may someday help ease the country’s transition to a society less reliant on carbon-based fuels. But many of these technologies are in their infancy, and it remains to be seen whether they can move to the marketplace and come close to meeting the country’s total energy needs.

Some technologies are more advanced, though still small in the nation’s overall energy mix. Nevada boasts 15 geothermal plants, with the capacity to generate enough electricity for 73,000 homes. California utilities are looking at solar technology that would use mirrors to heat water and spin turbines in desert power plants.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), whose Bainbridge Island home overlooks Puget Sound, said that after being thrashed around by the ocean as he kayaked near his house, he became convinced that efforts such as Finavera’s could succeed.

“There’s just such an enormous power out there,” Inslee said, noting that there is nearly 900 times as much energy in a cubic meter of moving water as in a cubic meter of air. “I was wondering how we could capture that.”

Finavera’s chief executive, Jason Bak, believes he knows how. The equipment his company designed, called AquaBuOY, aims to generate electricity from the vertical motion of waves. The buoy, anchored in an array two to three miles offshore, will convert the waves’ motion into pressurized water using large, reinforced-rubber hose pumps. As the buoy goes up the peak of a wave and down into its trough, it forces a piston in the bottom of the buoy to stretch and contract the hose pumps, pushing water through. This drives a turbine that powers a generator producing electricity, which would be shipped to shore through an undersea transmission line.

“This is the new source of power,” Bak said. “It’s the highest-energy-density renewable out there. Wind is like light crude oil, and water is like gasoline.”

In many cases, Americans are working with overseas experts who have more experience developing renewable energy. This month, Iceland America Energy — a partnership between Icelandic and U.S. entrepreneurs — will start drilling just west of California’s Salton Sea to build a geothermal power plant to supply Pacific Gas and Electric with 49 megawatts of electricity by 2010.

Magn?s J?hannesson, Iceland America’s chief executive, said the facility will pump naturally heated water from underground, run it through turbines to generate electricity and re-inject it into the earth, “making it a renewable, giant battery that can run for 20, 30, 50 years.”

Iceland America has several other U.S. geothermal projects in the works, including a potential second Salton Sea plant that would serve Los Angeles and a home-heating plant for the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

“There’s huge potential for geothermal energy in this country, especially on the West Coast,” J?hannesson said.

It is hard to predict what portion of the country’s needs could be met by these emerging technologies. The United States is already the world’s largest producer of geothermal electricity, with 212 plants generating 3,119 megawatts. A panel convened by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a recent report that by 2050, geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts, which would be equivalent to 10 percent of current U.S. electricity capacity.

“That level would make it comparable to the current capacity of all our nuclear power plants or all our hydroelectric plants,” wrote the panel’s chair, MIT chemical engineering professor Jefferson W. Tester, in an e-mail.

A 2005 report by the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry consortium, said there is “significant” wave energy potential along America’s coasts, predicting that it, too, could eventually generate as much electricity as the entire hydropower sector.

Both the Bush administration and Congress are promoting renewable energy through a mix of federal largesse and mandates.

Last month the House passed, as part of its energy bill, a requirement that by 2020, renewable energy must account for at least 15 percent of private utilities’ energy supply, and authorized $50 million for marine energy research over the next five years.

Over the next two years, the Energy Department will offer up to $13 billion in loan guarantees for energy ventures that “avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants and greenhouse gases,” said department spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero, “to make new and emerging clean-energy technologies cost-competitive with traditional sources of energy.”

Still, it will be years before many of these projects will come on line. Oregon Iron Works is nearly done constructing the AquaBuOY prototype, which will be 72 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter, and Finavera hopes to install it off the Oregon coast as early as next week. After testing the technology and applying for the necessary federal permits, Finavera officials hope that by 2010 or 2011 they can operate two wave parks — one off Bandon, Ore., and another off Trinidad, Calif. — that would each span two to three square miles and produce 100 megawatts, enough for 35,000 homes. They plan to start up another wave-power operation in British Columbia around the same time.

Operating equipment in the hostile environment of the ocean poses challenges, however. Josh Pruzek, who oversees government contracts as military marine manager at Oregon Iron Works, said the company uses high-grade steel that is less vulnerable to corrosion, and designs parts to be easily maintained.

The power of moving water can also overwhelm high-tech equipment. In December, Verdant Power placed turbines off New York City‘s Roosevelt Island amid much fanfare, promising to harness the tides of the East River and convert that energy into electricity. By last month, all six of the turbines, battered by the current’s strength, had been shut down. The company is repairing and redesigning its equipment.

Still, such projects are popular with politicians across the nation, from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), who is hoping to make his state a breeding ground for renewable-energy projects. David Van’t Hof, Kulongoski’s sustainability policy adviser, said government officials are exploring ideas, from solar projects on the eastern side of the state to biomass energy culled from Oregon’s forests, in an effort to generate 25 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2025.

“Wind’s going to continue to be the king, both in Oregon and the nation, for the next five years,” Van’t Hof said, but that will last only for so long. “People are already asking, ‘What’s next after wind?’ ”

Staff writer Steven Mufson in Washington contributed to this report.

Plenty of Clean Water at the NanoFrontier

The Audio Podcast features Eric Hoen and his engineering research team at UCLA whose work promises to cut the need for energy in RO in half in two years or so. I’ve mentioned Eric’s work in two previous posts: 1.) 2.) Eric’s accomplishment is about what the Australians want to do in seven years for their $250 million. Remember the goal of a seven year USA effort would be closer to the work of the LLNL team. That said, Eric’s discussion gives an intermediate term view of membrane research. He also shows one way to move from basic research to applied research as he shifts his work over to a company that can commercialize his work. He also gives an overview of a more decentralized water piping system similar to that mentioned by IBM.

Consider this Craig Ventor piece about the new treasure trove of bacteria dna/proteins brought in by Craig Venter’s Institute. Science critics are hailing his work as the biggest deal in ocean going genetics since the Beagle voyages of Charles Darwin.

How would this effect desalination research? It would be helpful if someone in the desalination community tasked the Craig Ventor Institute to keep an eye out for proteins/membranes that do desalination work.

Great. So you get some desalination proteins or membranes. How do you make them into something useful? There are two approaches to this.

In the first approach you find a gene that does desalination in bacteria and you insert it into some bacteria or a blue green algae that doubles in number every few hours and somehow harvest the fresh water from the bodies of the bugs. Something similar to this is currently being done to produce biodiesel.

imho this just looks like an expensive way to produce water in bulk. The better use for sea bacteria would be to find ones that do desalination really well and use them as the basis for mathematical models for materials research for second & third generation membranes that adapt to changes in salinity and chemistry in the water — so as to retain a consistent flow of fresh water through the membrane. Cells do this all the time. Likely too they’ve been doing it since nearly the dawn of time.

This suggests there are simple elegant solutions.

Ok, how would you convert organic membranes into inorganic membranes. Well I think that — after the Ventor institute found a desalination bug whose membranes they liked — then they’d pass it off to a geneticist, a materials research scientist and maybe a mathematician who would — between them –“characterize” the desalination process of membrane in a form that a computer modeler could use to “characterize” the same desalination process with a computer model simulation. With that model you could then ask the program what kind of materials alone or in combination would desalinate water like the membrane of the wee beastie. The program would run millions of simulations. (Hopefully there would be a learning curve in there somewhere–so that future simulations wouldn’t so many interations.)

I blogged in detail last year about current work at San Dia laboratories along these lines.

Then, once you have the material…do a little shake and bake.

If you wanted to accelerate the pace of research –then just increase the number of teams doing simulations on supercomputers around the country. How many? 10 seems like a nice round number. If people wanted to know why such work should be given priority….point to the half full dams in Arizona. This is lake Meade as of Oct 31, 2006. There hasn’t been much rain since then.

Intermediate Term Solutions

07th August 2007

Last week I chatted up what I think should be the central goal, issues, & costs for desalination research.

This week I’d like to discuss some peripheral water purification techniques that I’ve seen crop up in the last year.

The most important secondary project imho is Thermal depolymerization. According to Wickipedia:

Thermal depolymerization (TDP) is a process for the reduction of complex organic materials (usually waste products of various sorts, often known as biomass and plastic) into light crude oil. It mimics the natural geological processes thought to be involved in the production of fossil fuels. Under pressure and heat, long chain polymers of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon decompose into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons with a maximum length of around 18 carbons.

The process can convert a city’s sewage into diesel fuel for a profit. The waste is water. The process destroys prions. Again according to Wicki…

The process can break down organic poisons, due to breaking chemical bonds and destroying the molecular shape needed for the poison’s activity. It is highly effective at killing pathogens, including prions. It can also safely remove heavy metals from the samples by converting them from their ionized or organometallic forms to their stable oxides which can be safely separated from the other products.

TDP is especially popular in Europe as a means disposing of slaughter house carcasses in a way that kills any chance of mad cow disease spreading.

So the process can convert municipal sewage to oil profitably. (Wiki gives more background here. Last fall I blogged about the matter here.) The byproduct is water. There is a working plant in Missouri and a test plant in Philadelphia. What’s not to like? While the process looks to be profitable at current oil prices–its profitable only in 5 states where tax breaks are given. (And those tax breaks come on top of recent federal tax breaks.) Also, the water is not quite fresh. The process is not quite ready for prime time. But I don’t think the problem is very difficult to overcome. Surely nothing that a little R&D money & a couple bright guys from various industrial backgrounds wouldn’t be able to knock off in a year. Both the DOE and the EPA have kicked in six million apiece to fund the work in years past. Likely similar sums would get the bugs out the current system.

The payoff for a reliable means to turn city sewage into diesel fuel and clean fresh water would be pretty significant.
A smaller niche play would be to use wind power or photo voltaic powered pumps to pull brackish water from places like west Texas. The water would go to specialized green houses that desalinate the water. These could be used to grow fruits and vegetables. If there happened to be brackish water beneath a coal plant — another appropriate way to desalinate the brackish water would be to pump it into a green house that was growing algae for biodiesel. Heck you could have desalination greenhouses growing algae for biodiesal all over the saline aquifers of west texas.

Finally, I think that there should be room made to investigate & move as appropriate– desalination/purification/collection technologies as they appear. For example, in just this last year I’ve seen a technique that pulls water from air— a nice idea for the fog bound parts of the west coast south of San Francisco. As well, within the last year I’ve seen low pressure desalination move from theory to product.

Anyhow, that’s about all I want to do for now.

In the next week or two I’ll talk about pipelines.

« Older PostsNewer Posts »