So there's a water shortage. What's up with Desalinization?
I read this article about the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere being built in Calsbad California. It costs $1 billion and is likely to provide for about 10% of the counties water needs. My immediate reaction is, great, desalination is awesome; now we can drink up some of the rising sea level. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but there’s truth to it--the ocean is about as renewable a source of water as can possibly exist.
However, I am questioning whether a giant, billion-dollar plant, which sucks up seafood from the sea, but more importantly, which uses an extraordinary amount of energy in order to run, is really the best option for getting fresh water on a massive level for California and other dry places on the coast. The article says “Carlsbad’s owners estimate that the plant will consume 2.8 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter for desalination alone.” That’s 30 million dollars annually to be spent on power annually, which not only makes water produced by this plant expensive but also costly from an environmental standpoint.
I won’t say I am against large desalination plants by any means. Some use heat generated in the burning of coal, for example, in order to distill seawater into potable water. Distillation is of course a different process from reverse osmosis, the technology behind the Calsbad plant described in the article. New materials technologies are also bringing down the cost of desalination. For example, scientists at Lockheed Martin have patented a material, which they claim requires 100 times less energy than current RO methods. Furthermore, Yoram Cohen, quoted in the title article for this post, says that algorithmic optimizations in reverse osmosis may usher in great reductions in price for this process.
That’s all great news. In the meantime, my untested hypothesis is that large scale action is not going to work as well as crowd-sourcing the problem. I will be focusing be assembling interesting research and projects on the topic of novel desalination methods here. Ultimately, I want to develop the ultimate simple, durable, and cheap solution that can be mass produced and used on a massive scale by micro-entrepreneurs or whoever wants more water in their community.
Resources and Precursors for Ultimate Desalinator
-> DIY plastic bottle desalinator- Careful though. The problem with DIY plastic bottle desalinators is that plastic bottles are made from crappy plastic, which is reactive to the UV light that would evaporate the water, and which contains nasty cancer-causing chemicals like BPAs
The Desolunator is a really baller but way-too-expensive device. According to this article, the "estimated cost of the Desolenator is said to be about $450, which isn't exactly cheap, especially for those in the developing world, but according to the company, the device lasts for up to 20 years (with no further inputs, other than water, being necessary), so the long-term per-liter costs are lower than other methods (such as water truck deliveries)"