Technology to Quench ‘Thirst’ for Freshwater? – Part 2
Posted on: March 6, 2019.

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Technology’s approach to solve water crisis

Technology attempts to alleviate, in two broad scopes, the obvious water crisis situation in arid and tropical nations alike: (1) Make water-intensive processes more efficient (2) Create new sources of fresh water. While massive amounts of freshwater are consumed by large-scale processes like agriculture, food processing, and industrial manufacturing, previously potable freshwater reserves are contaminated by industrial effluents and “untreated waste”, making it unfit for human, animal, and plant consumption.

Technology promises to take multiple means to save Earth from the detrimental effects of water crisis—filtering saline ocean water, purifying water once deemed permanently toxic, pulling water from ‘thin air’, even in arid climates—and remarkable are the ways in which it offers to generate new sources of freshwater… just like science-fiction.

The ability of the Metal-Organic Framework (MOF) to absorb water directly from atmospheric moisture, even the least-humid air—typical of the world’s desert environments that routinely face drought from single-digit humidity—and water-recycling systems like those being developed by NASA for space stations, are promising technological breakthroughs to create and gather water, most amazingly, from even plant perspiration!

Converting Seawater to Freshwater

The water scarcity crisis that is steadily crippling the world can be eliminated by only one Holy Grail—the ocean. Desalination projects that scientists are working upon—and dates back by decades—aims at inventing an efficient, reliable means of turning salty ocean water into potable water for drinking, and for other processes that require clean, fresh water.

However, no desalination plant has made any meaningful contribution to a particular city’s water supply, though large-scale operations implemented by Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait, have enjoyed varying degrees of success. Steam Distillation and Reverse Osmosis—the two primary desalination processes, both incredibly energy-consuming and cost-intensive—mainly produces large amounts of waste by-products.

The large amounts of energy required to drive desalination plants, and the generation of waste by-products—not including salt and other minerals or used filters contaminated with dissolved solids—have made seawater desalination a tempting but impractical solution. Furthermore, the manufacturing cost for an average gallon of potable water produced by desalination is three times the cost of a gallon of freshwater sourced traditionally! Radical new breakthroughs that enable faster and more efficient filtration would be required—derived from large-scale systems—given the fact that renewable energy is nearly as large a concern as fresh water.

“Smart Grids”

Though smart grids are not exactly a means of sourcing or creating freshwater, it is a “smart agriculture” technique which uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to create highly data-driven and efficient systems, promising to reduce water use and water waste across the world’s largest water utilizers. Countless millions of gallons of water are wasted due to inefficiencies in current systems—from large-scale agriculture to poorly maintained or monitored infrastructure—but “smart grids” pinpoint leaks faster, identify improper water use during periods of water restrictions, and funnel water to agricultural purposes with more specificity than traditional methods.

Current freshwater status of the world

The need for innovation concerning potable water is very real and far more urgent than most people realize, as only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is freshwater, and roughly half that 2.5 percent of freshwater is frozen in polar ice caps! This problem, being faced by populations across the world, is complex and natural, and while these striking numbers actually represent the scarcity of freshwater, and the consequent urgency to address this issue, technology and research are poised to provide solutions. Furthermore, increasing population, and climate trends which continue to get hotter and more arid, are still serious issues to be addressed by humanity.


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