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Category Archives: Desalination

Sustainability can be defined as the ability to meet present needs without disturbing Nature’s equilibrium by a holistic approach while not compromising the ability of the future generation to continue to meet their needs. Holistic is “Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole” (Wikipedia). Mathematically and scientifically any exponential growth or consumption will not be sustainable and such growth will eventually be curtailed by forces of Nature. Unfortunately current models of sustainability do not take a holistic approach but focus only on a continuous growth or expansion to meet the demands of the growing human population thus disturbing the Nature’s equilibrium. The holistic approach is essential because our world is interconnected and any isolated growth or development in one part of the world will affect the other part of the world. Such a growth is counter-productive to human civilization as a whole. At the same time Nature’s equilibrium is critical for the survival of humanity and science should take into account this critical issue while developing solutions to problems. Otherwise such a solution will not be sustainable in the long run.

Nature maintains a perfect equilibrium (dynamic equilibrium) while maintaining reversibility. Both are intricately linked. If the equilibrium is not maintained then it becomes an irreversible process and the entropy of such a system will only increase according to the second law of thermodynamics. The order will become disorder or lead to chaos. Moreover any human interference to nature’s irreversibility and equilibrium by human beings will need energy. Any energy generation process within the system will not be holistic and therefore will not be sustainable.

For example, reverse osmosis (RO) is a major industrial process now used to desalinate sea water/brackish water to potable water. This process is reversing the Nature’s osmotic process by applying a counter pressure over and above the osmotic pressure of the saline water using high pressure pump. This requires energy in the form of electrical energy or thermal energy in the case of distillation. When such energy is generated by burning fossil fuel then the entropy increases because combustion of fossil fuel is an irreversible process. It is clearly not sustainable.

Energy is directly connected with economic growth of the world, but Governments and industries failed to adopt a holistic approach while generating energy by simply focusing only on economic growth. The fossil fuel power generation has resulted in the accumulation of GHG in the atmosphere and in the ocean changing the climate. Power generation by nuclear plant (Fukushima) has spilled radiation into the ocean and has crossed the Pacific Ocean to shores of North America. These are irreversible changes. The human and economic costs from such pollution will easily dwarf the ‘the economic growth’ of the world. It is not holistic because the emissions caused by one country affects the whole world; then it becomes the right of an individual to object to such pollution and it is the obligation of the Governments, United Nations and the industries to protect people from such pollution. Right now all these agencies are helplessly watching the deteriorating situation because they do not have the solution or means to reverse the situation whether it is an advanced country or a poor country; we always measure growth only by income and not by the quality of air we breathe in or water we drink or the environment we live in.

The demand for energy and water are constantly increasing all over the world; and we are trying to meet these demands by expanding existing power plants or by setting up new plants. When we generate power using fossil fuel the heat energy is converted into electrical energy and the products of combustion are let out into the atmosphere in the form of CO2 and Oxides of Nitrogen. It is an irreversible process and we cannot recover back the fossil fuel already burnt. Similarly the electricity generated once used to do some useful work such as lighting or running a motor etc cannot be recovered back.  The process of electricity generation as well as usage of electricity is irreversible. Similarly when it rains the water percolates into the ground dissolving all the minerals, sometimes excessively in some places making it unsuitable to drink or irrigate. This process can be reversed but it again requires energy.

Both the above processes are irreversible and thermodynamically they will increase the entropy of the system. Any energy generation process will have cost implications and therefore irreversibility and entropy are directly linked with economics. Fortunately renewable energy sources offer hope to humanity. Even though the entropy is increased due to its irreversible nature there is no depletion of energy (sun shines everyday). Only Nature can come to human rescue to our sustainability. Science and powerful economies cannot guarantee sustainability irrespective of the size of the budget. There is a myth that billions of dollars can reverse the irreversibility with no consequences.

It raises question on the very basis of science because science depends on “observation and reproducibility” as we know. The biggest question is: “Who is the Observer and what is observed”? When sages of the East such as Ramana Maharishi raises this question, the Science has clearly no answer and the world is blindly and inevitably following the West to the point of no return.

 

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Battery 8hrs and Hydrogen 2 months autonomy24hrs batery storage modelBattery 10hrs and Hydrogen 17hrs autonomyBattery 8hrs and Hydrogen 2 months autonomy172 hrs (one week) battery autonomyAfrica- Australia conference

Most of the renewable energy projects that are now set up around the world are grid connected with feed-in power tariff arrangement. People can generate their own electricity by solar/wind to meet their demand and supply the surplus power to the grid at an agreed power rates. They can also draw power from the grid if there is any short fall in their production of renewable energy. It is two-way traffic. There is an opportunity for people to generate revenue by sale of surplus power. It is an incentive for people to invest on renewable energy and that is why the investment on renewable energy has steadily increased over a time. But this is not the case with many developing and under developed countries. The situation is still worse in many islands where there is no centralized power generation at all or power distribution through grids. They depend on diesel generators. Even to transport diesel from mainland they have to use diesel operated boats. They have no drinking water even though they are surrounded by sea. I happened to visit a remote island in PNG few years ago and saw the plight of those people first hand. They live in absolute poverty and nobody cares to offer them a solution. Their voices are never heard and permanently drowned in the deafening roar of the sea.

The problems of supplying clean power and water to these remote islands are not only political but also technical and commercial in nature. One has to use only commercially available systems and components which are meant for a single or three-phase grid connected power supplies. Even though renewable energy sources basically generate only direct current (DC), one has to convert them into alternate current (AC) for easy distribution and to use appliances which are designed for AC operations. Isolated communities like islands can use direct current and also use DC operated appliances because they are commercially available and they are more efficient. Anyhow most of the house appliances need DC supply and AC/DC converters are commonly used for this purpose thus sacrificing efficiency in the process. They also need better storage solutions because they are not connected to the grid and they have to necessarily store power for several days. Some of these islands are connected with inefficient wind turbines backed by diesel generators. It is an absolute necessity to incorporate a long-term storage capabilities in the system if one has to offer a continuous power and clean water. If the wind velocity is not enough (during off seasons) or if there is no sun (cloudy) for days together and if there is not enough storage capacity, then all the investment made on the project will be of no use. Any half-baked solutions will not serve the real purpose.

There are also commercial problems because a well designed system will cost more, which will eventually increase the power tariff. Unless the Government subsidizes the power   sufficiently, people cannot afford to pay for their electricity or water. It requires a careful planning and community consultations to set up a ‘stand alone renewable energy projects in islands’. Governments in the pacific islands should act with great urgency because there is also a risk of inundation by sea level rising due to global warming.

We are in the process of designing a solution to provide such islands with clean power, clean drinking water and even wireless connectivity for schools so that children can get education. It may sound ambitious but it is the first step one has to take into long journey of sustainability and self-reliance by these isolated communities. There is a good possibility that such island may one day become completely independent and self-sufficient with clean power and water.

The same solution can be implemented in other countries too. Many countries have necessary infrastructure to generate and distribute power yet they suffer regular power cuts and black outs due to inefficiencies in their system.

Our proposed solution can provide uninterrupted clean power and water because the system will have long duration centralized energy storage. We have made a detailed analysis of various alternatives available for the above purpose using Homer hybrid solution software. The solution proposes a PV solar with storage solutions using battery bank as well as Fuel cell back up. The solution also proposes a long duration of storage ranging from few hours up to a fortnight .It is a standalone system with complete energy management and suitable for remote operations. The solution can also incorporate wind turbine in addition to PV solar depending upon the site and wind velocity profile.

The model is to supply clean power and drinking water for 600 families with an average 3 people in a family. The system will supply power at the rate of 1.50kwhrs/day/person (1800 x1.5 = 2700kwhrs/day) and drinking water at the rate of 200 lits/day/person (1800 x 200 lit/person= 360,000 lits/day).The power for a desalination plant will be 1980 kwhrs/day. The system is designed for a total power generation capacity of 4680Khwhrs/day.

The model is based on battery storage as well as based on Hydrogen storage with varying durations. Comparative analysis is shown in the figures.

The first window is based on PV solar with  2 months Hydrogen autonomy.

The third window is based on PV solar with battery storage 5 days and Hydrogen 17hrs autonomy.

The fourth and fifth window is based on PV solar with battery 12hrs and Hydrogen 17hrs storage autonomy with varying panel costs

The sixth window is based on PV solar with 172 hrs (one week) battery autonomy.

The resulting analysis indicates that a centralized Hydrogen storage with Fuel cell back up offers the most economical solution even though the power tariff is higher than a system with battery storage. The investment for long duration battery storage is almost double that of Hydrogen based solution. The cost can further be reduced if and when the Electrolyzers as well as Fuel cells are manufactured on mass scale. The added advantage with this system is it can also provide Hydrogen fuel for Fuel cell cars and boats substituting diesel. One day it may become a reality that these isolated islands can become completely self sufficient in terms of water, fuel and power with no greenhouse gas emissions. This solution can be replicated to all the islands all over the world.

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The above system can also be installed in many developing countries in Africa which is an emerging market. An Africa-Australia Infrastructure Conference  will be held in Melbourne, Australia on 2-3 September  2013 and it will offer a platform for Australian companies to invest in Africa on infrastructural projects.

We have used Hydrocarbon as the source of fuel for our power generation and transportation since industrial revolution. It has resulted in increasing level of man-made Carbon into the atmosphere; and according to the scientists, the level of carbon has reached an unsustainable level and any further emission into the atmosphere will bring catastrophic consequences by way of climate change. We have already saw many natural disasters in a short of span of time. Though there is no direct link established between carbon level in the atmosphere and the global warming, there is certainly enough evidence towards increase in the frequency of natural disasters and increase in the global and ocean temeperatures.We have also seen that Hydrogen is a potential candidate as a source of future energy that can effectively substitute hydrocarbons such as Naphtha or Gasoline. However, hydrogen generation from water using electrolysis is energy intensive and the source of such energy can come only from a renewable source such as solar and wind. Another issue with electrolysis of water for Hydrogen generation is the quality of water used. The quality of water used for electrolysis is high, meeting ASTM Type I Deionized Water preferred, < 0.1 micro Siemen/cm (> 10 megOhm-cm).

A unique desalination technology has been developed by an Australian company to generate on site Hydrogen directly from seawater. In conventional seawater desalination technology using reverse osmosis process only 30-40% of fresh water is recovered as potable water with TDS less than 500 ppm as per WHO standard. The balance highly saline concentrate with TDS above 65,000 ppm is discharged back into the sea which is detrimental to the ocean’s marine life. More and more sweater desalination plants are set up all over the world to mitigate drinking water shortage. This conventional desalination is not only highly inefficient but also causes enormous damage to the marine environment.

The technology developed by the above company will be able to recover almost 75% of fresh water from seawater and also able to convert the concentrate into Caustic soda lye with Hydrogen and Chlorine as by-products by electrolysis. The discharge into the sea is drastically reduced to less than 20% with no toxic chemicals. This technology has a potential to revolutionize the salt and caustic soda industries in the future. Caustic soda is a key raw material for a number of chemical industries including PVC.Conventionally, Caustic soda plants all over the world depends on solar salt for their production of Caustic soda.Hydrogne and Chlorine are by-products.Chlrine is used for the production of PVC (poly vinyl chloride) and Hydrogen is used as a fuel.

In the newly developed technology, the seawater is not only purified from other contaminants such as Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfate ions present in the seawater but also concentrate the seawater almost to a saturation point so that it can be readily used to generate Hydrogen on site. The process is very efficient and commercially attractive because it can recover four valuable products namely, drinking water, Caustic soda lye, Chlorine and Hydrogen. The generated Hydrogen can be used directly in a Fuel cell to generate power to run the electrolysis. This process is very ideal for Caustic soda plants that are now located on seashore. This process can solve drinking water problems around the world because potable water becomes an industrial product. The concentrated seawater can also be converted in a salt by crystallization for food and pharmaceutical applications. There is a growing gap between supply and demand of salt production and most of the chemical industries are depending upon the salt from solar pans.

Another potential advantage with this technology is to use wind power to desalinate the water. Both wind power and Hydrogen will form a clean energy mix. It is a win situation for both water industry and the environment as well as for the salt and chemical industries. In conventional salt production, thousands of hectares of land are used to produce few hundred tons of low quality salt with a year-long production schedule. There is a mis match between the demand for salt by large Caustic soda plants and supply from primitive methods of solar production by solar evaporation contaminating cultivable lands.

The above case is an example of how clean energy technologies can change water, salt and chemical industries and also generate clean power economically, competing with centralized power plants fuelled with hydrocarbons. Innovative technologies can solve problems of water shortage, greenhouse gases, global warming, and environmental pollution not only economically but also environmental friendly way. Industries involved in seawater desalination, salt production, chemical industries such as Caustic soda, Soda ash and PVC interested to learn more on this new technology can write directly to this blog address for further information.

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