I saw this good news in a blog post. I was reading at a science blog and I was shocked to read about the following news reports of a new way to make water drinkable. I had missed this recent news article, from Reuters:
Pentagon weapons-maker finds method for cheap, clean water
(Reuters) – A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.
The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.
They make the filter out of graphene. I had never heard of the stuff. I bet most people have not.
“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”
Humans are very creative and ingenious. Given cheap energy, we can meet our needs on any front. The need for clean, pure, drinkable water is one resource that has been in the news lately. All kinds of people have been hollering that we are “running out of water“. I even hear that on the news here in Florida which is a swamp from one end to the other, and we live on a big ball of water called the earth. Maybe some don’t know about the oceans because they don’t live near one like I do, but surely they have seen photos.
But potable water, ah, now there is the key. Potable water (drinking water) is needed to support life and to grow crops. If the southwest USA and northern Mexico had a nearly unlimited supply of clean water we could feed the world many times over. Think of it, we could pump sea water out of the Gulf of Mexico and desalt it, thus giving farmers all the water their little hearts and large crops could ever want. Cheap food? Now there is a problem I wish we had.
As proof of the possibility, look at what Israel has done with old style technology. They can clean up 5 gallons of sea water for one cent. That is 500 gallons for a dollar.
Now it takes large amounts of energy to pump seawater though reverse osmosis filters and so we will still need relatively cheap energy. But with the graphene filters we might see an increase in efficiency of up to a factor of 100 times present methods. That would be up to 50,000 gallons for a dollar.
Since Israel is already desalinating 300,000,000 cubic meters of water per year now and is said to be building capacity to go to 600 million in a few years, we see that the new technology will make desalinating sea water even much more practical than it is now. Tampa Florida is using some seawater now as part of their water management plan. This graphene news can only be great news for everyone: but especially the poor of the world. The poor need clean water and this new advance can make it 100 times cheaper to provide it.
This news also reminds me of the people who keep saying that we are running out of water. That has never been true. We have shortages of pure, clean drinking water in places. We need to develop the technology to clean sea water to meet our needs. This is of course exactly what the new development of the graphene filters means for the reverse osmosis desalination of seawater plants.
But even with this breakthrough, it still takes energy to purify water and if the mindless fraud of “catastrophic man-made global warming” means we can’t use coal or gas then the cost of purified sea water will remain too high for the common man — and especially the poor. The cost of the water is a function of the cost of energy.
If energy is cheap then using endless seawater to turn the deserts green is practical and profitable. If energy is made ultra expensive by the so-called “fact” that CO2 is “poison” then the poor of the world will suffer greatly and many will die.