Water, water everywhere...why not drink it all?


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When the "important questions" that were brought up in class seemed to focus on the end of the world and diminishing energy sources, I began to think about nations that were simply worried about running out of clean, fresh water for the citizens to drink or use on crops or in industry. 

 I decided to do a little research in attempt to see what exactly members of the scientific community were working on to alleviate these struggles.  After watching an enlightening video from Solve For X--a website dedicated to promoting the use of the human mind to solve global issues--I realized that I had found a possible answer to the question that I had prompted. 

Here's the video that I watched to learn more about forward osmosis desalination

Rob McGinnis, co-founder of Oasys, is working on forward osmosis desalination technology to provide the world with desalinated water to drink or for agricultural use from the ocean.  In his video, he explains that heat can be used to desalinate water rather than using fossil fuels.

McGinnis has developed a technology that can desalinate water with little usage of other energy sources by using a specially developed membrane and draw solution.  He explains that the draw solution is a mixture of highly concentrated salts that create a high osmotic pressure.  The water gravitates toward the draw solution because of the high salinity.  It may seem counterproductive at first, but McGinnis continues to explain that the salts can be removed in a special way.  The draw solution is a combination of NH3 and CO2 and these can be easily removed from the solution with heat.

This way, it's possible to use very little thermal energy to create osmotic pressure.  With this process, water is accessible for drinking, agricultural purposes and industry.  Yale University, along with McGinnis, has been attempting to make this low cost desalination technology possible for a number of years now.  More information about the process and the pilot desalination plant can be found here.

Here's a look at the process for forward osmosis. You can see the use of the membrane and draw solution

Forward-Osmosis-pic.jpg

2 Comments

The research that you posted really stuck out to me. I don't know if you've ever heard of the organization Charity WaterE, but it is an organization that raises money to have wells put in third world countries. I started a Charity Water club in my high school, raising enough money to build a well in one of these countries, and the cause became extremely important to me. The stories of many of these people unable to get water, or walking miles and miles for dirty and diseased water, are heartbreaking. Most people, especially in America, do not realize how vital and precious water is, and what we would be like without it. There are people who have to live a life without fresh, easily accesible water every day. It is for this reason why I found your research so interesting. If some of these people were able to make sea water into fresh water, so many lives could be saved. And it also got me thinking: if the technology exists to make salt water into fresh water, maybe in a few years there will be an easy and cheap solution to make dirty and diseased water clean for entire communities to drink from.

Wow, that trailer for the campaign was really powerful. Thank you so much for sharing the link. I think it's awesome that you started the club. It truly is amazing what technology can do and I believe that anything is possible. The great thing about the forward osmosis is that it requires little energy, keeping it low cost. This could make it available for third world countries. I found this interesting article about research done by one of Penn State's own who is developing a way to make contaminated water drinkable. I think it's pretty cool. If all these ideas are implemented, the possibilities are endless for a better world.

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