Friday, July 30, 2010

Global water crisis sparks surge in Desalination

Making fresh water from the sea was once the preserve of cruise ships and oil-rich Gulf states that could afford the huge cost of energy required to remove the salt. But as rivers, lakes and aquifers dry up, rains become less reliable, and the cost of desalination has fallen, communities in all parts of the world have begun to build and plan plants to turn oceans, river estuaries, salty ground water and even sewage into clean water for factories, farms and homes.

The rise in fresh water production was the biggest ever recorded at 9,5-million cubic meters a day, the annual report by analysts Global Water Intelligence will say on Wednesday. That is equivalent to about 10% of global capacity.

Those desalinating and reusing water now include some of the world’s poorest countries, including Algeria, Chenai in India and Ghana; wet but over-populated cities like London and Dublin; and those far from the sea, most notably a plan by the United States state of Nevada to build a desalination plant in Mexico in return for keeping a greater share of the Colorado River.

Rivers flowing backwards With water “manufacturing” technology allowing people to change fundamentally the geography of freshwater on such a large scale, Christopher Gasson, GWI’s publisher, talks of “rivers flowing backwards”.

“People do desalination when they run out of opportunities, and the problem is the world overall is running out of opportunities: groundwater is over-exploited to the extent it’s becoming saline and unusable; rivers are being drained; new dams are becoming less and less viable [and] long-distance transfer is expensive and controversial,” said Gasson.

“People are being forced to look to non-traditional alternatives for water supply. For coastal people desalination is the obvious one; if you’re inland then there may be some brackish water underground you could desalinate, or you might need to look at reuse.”

The fundamental reason for the rise of water manufacturing is a simple gap between demand and supply: in 2006 a report from the International Water Management Institute found one-in-three people in the world were “enduring one form or another of water scarcity” — such as “when women work hard to get water, [or] you want to allocate more but can’t”.

Growing numbers of people; richer lifestyles; demand for more water-intensive food such as meat, and dwindling supplies are expected to increase that number — to up to half the projected global population or more in the middle of this century. And that is despite an expected doubling of total water manufacturing capacity between now and 2016, according to UK-based GWI.

The falling cost of desalination, thanks to technology improvements is key, and the reuse of water can be cheaper still.

Developments in membranes Contacts have been signed to deliver desalinated water in Algeria and Israel for 55-56 cents per cubic metre, and reuse plants can now turn sewage into drinking water for between 40 and 45c per cubic metre, said Gasson.

Comparisons between the energy needs of different desalination methods — heating up water for distillation or pushing it through membranes to filter the salt — have also become much closer. Continuing developments in membranes — which one day are likely to be modelled on the “technology” nature uses in kidneys and mangroves — will continue to bring down costs and energy needs, said Gasson.

Systems using carbon-free energy are also being trialled: nuclear desalination in the United Arab Emirates, solar power in Australia, and biodiesel from plants — with cooking fats also slated as a future possibility — at a desalination plant built by Thames Water in London.

Despite the advances, there are still serious objections to manufacturing water. The WWF remains concerned about building new facilities in often environmentally-sensitive coastal and wetland areas; about the intake of seawater which is home to millions of tiny species, and discharge of the remaining brine, which can be contaminated with chemicals from cleaning the membranes and particles from corroding pipes.

Concerns about the energy use of plants also still remain, especially where they are still dependent on fossil fuels, or if they could divert renewable resources which could otherwise replace existing carbon-intensive energy supplies. Residents in upmarket Monterey, California have long objected to a desalination plant being built there because they fear it would encourage more development.

Barrier of cost The Namibian capital Windhoek is unusual in that it pumps recycled sewage directly back into the public drinking supply, whereas every other water reuse project in the world — from Salt Lake City to Singapore — adds unnecessary cost by using the recycled water only for irrigation or industry, or pumping it into reservoirs, aquifers or rivers, and then pumping it back out and cleaning it again, in order to avoid a public outcry.

Instead, critics prefer a combination of dozens of small improvements to existing pipes and irrigation channels, switching to less thirsty crops and other measures to save water. This approach was recently backed by a major report from the 2030 Water Resources Group, an alliance of mostly private companies with huge water needs, including Coca-Cola and brewers SAB Miller, and the World Bank group.

And there remains the barrier of cost. Desalination and reuse might be getting cheaper, but prices are still unaffordable for millions of farmers worldwide who have long relied on “free’”water, said Gasson: “There’s no solution to the over-exploitation of natural water resources in agriculture. Full-stop.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A lightweight solar-powered plane

On "Human inventiveness"

This solar aircraft have crossed the continent, soared almost three times higher than jet airliners and even flown through the night.

Solar Impulse plans to begin flight testing its eponymous aircraft next fall and hopes to make a transatlantic flight in 2011, followed by the first flight around the world in a solar plane.

The proposed pilot is the famous Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who already set a record in 1999, when turn the globe without scales in a bit less than 20 days.

It still has a lot of challenges but seems to have lot of applications in a very close future.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Solar Islands

On "Human Inventivness"
Solar Islands, in search of energy and other co-applications of the process.

This new fabulous application of the solar energy is being developed among the Arabic countries, bringing lots of expectations. Built either over the see or a defined area.

Countries along the Persian Gulf have enormous investments in desalinization plants to produce their drinkable water. For them it seems to be an amazing solution. A "solar island" has been already tested by its designers in the emirat Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE, in August 2009 (CSEM concept, Swiss company).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Water, Food and Energy today and tomorrow

On "Human Inventivness"
Water, Food and Energy today and tomorrow

Before you read this, please go down-stairs and served yourself a good glass of water.
Drink it slowly, think about the taste and the feeling while is passing through your throat. Think about how important it is for us. And finally, imagine living without this. In my own experience is one of the most horrible feelings.

Similar emotions provoke imagining your life without food and energy. That's why today has to be one of the most important things in every aspect of our lives. Everything turns mainly around these concepts: Water, food and energy. "Today world's supply has become very complicated, tomorrow may get impossible or inaccesible".

This crisis attemps to every concept of Sustainable Development. The lack of any of those basic supplies would bring unimaginable problems and conflicts to every civilization; the same if it is a developed or underdeveloped country. At the end, short distance between places and a growing population of almost 7 billion people aren't going to be stopped by anything.

Water, food and energy are connected to each other. Lets put emphasis and pressure in those issues to our surroundings. Today's economical crisis is anything but the response of the lack of these basic supplies.

Next years promise to be very interesting on this field. New technologies, advanced knowledge in every social topic and the rapidly spread interest among the population is going to bring new incredible advancements to solve these unstoppable rising world complications. Everything again lies on human inventiveness.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On human inventiveness

The "Big Dog Robot" by Boston Dynamics

What's the first application this video brings to your mind?

Trotsky said once about human inventiveness. . .

Our earth faces today human inventiveness, but are we ready to face the consequences of our investments? Do we really like the shape we have been modeling to our earth? Are we clever enough to continue with this "earth's arquitecture"?

"The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests, and of seashores, cannot be considered final. Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are not few nor insignificant. But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming. Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing ‘on faith’, is actually able to cut down mountains and move them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste. We have not the slightest fear that this taste will be bad....

"The poetry of the earth is not eternal, but changeable, and man began to sing articulate songs only after he had placed between himself and the earth implements and instruments which were the first simple machines.... Through the machine, man in Socialist society will command nature in its entirety, with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans....

"Of course this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times. The machine is not in opposition to the earth. The machine is the instrument of modern man in every field of life."

What do you think is comming up for us and next generations?