UC Riverside: Squeezing every drop (almost 100%) of fresh water from waste brine (salt solutions)


squeezingeveHot brines used in traditional membrane distillation systems are highly corrosive, making the heat exchangers and other system elements expensive, and limiting water recovery (a). To improve this, UCR researchers developed a self-heating …more

Engineers at the University of California, Riverside have developed a new way to recover almost 100 percent of the water from highly concentrated salt solutions. The system will alleviate water shortages in arid regions and reduce concerns surrounding high salinity brine disposal, such as hydraulic fracturing waste.

The research, which involves the development of a carbon nanotube-based heating element that will vastly improve the recovery of fresh during membrane distillation processes, was published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. David Jassby, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, led the project.

While reverse osmosis is the most common method of removing salt from seawater, wastewater, and brackish water, it is not capable of treating highly concentrated salt solutions. Such solutions, called brines, are generated in massive amounts during reverse osmosis (as waste products) and hydraulic fracturing (as produced water), and must be disposed of properly to avoid environmental damage. In the case of , produced water is often disposed of underground in injection wells, but some studies suggest this practice may result in an increase in local earthquakes.

One way to treat brine is membrane distillation, a thermal desalination technology in which heat drives water vapor across a membrane, allowing further water recovery while the salt stays behind. However, hot brines are highly corrosive, making the heat exchangers and other system elements expensive in traditional membrane distillation systems. Furthermore, because the process relies on the heat capacity of water, single pass recoveries are quite low (less than 10 percent), leading to complicated heat management requirements.

“In an ideal scenario, thermal desalination would allow the recovery of all the water from brine, leaving behind a tiny amount of a solid, crystalline salt that could be used or disposed of,” Jassby said. “Unfortunately, current processes rely on a constant feed of hot brine over the membrane, which limits water recovery across the membrane to about 6 percent.”

To improve on this, the researchers developed a self-heating carbon nanotube-based membrane that only heats the brine at the membrane surface. The new system reduced the heat needed in the process and increased the yield of recovered water to close to 100 percent.

In addition to the significantly improved desalination performance, the team also investigated how the application of alternating currents to the heating element could prevent degradation of the carbon nanotubes in the saline environment. Specifically, a threshold frequency was identified where electrochemical oxidation of the nanotubes was prevented, allowing the nanotube films to be operated for significant lengths of time with no reduction in performance. The insights provided by this work will allow carbon nanotube-based heating elements to be used in other applications where electrochemical stability of the nanotubes is a concern.

Explore further: Researchers develop hybrid nuclear desalination technique with improved efficiency

More information: Frequency-dependent stability of CNT Joule heaters in ionizable media and desalination processes, Nature Nanotechnology, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nnano.2017.102

 

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NASA Data Suggests the World is Running Out … of WATER


water 061715 california-gettyThe world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.

Satellite system flags stressed aquifers

More than half of Earth’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted, according to gravitational data from the GRACE satellite system.

“The situation is quite critical,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and principal investigator of the University of California Irvine-led studies.

Underground aquifers supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. Demand is even greater in times of drought. Rain-starved California is currently tapping aquifers for 60 percent of its water use as its rivers and above-ground reservoirs dry up, a steep increase from the usual 40 percent. Some expect water from aquifers will account for virtually every drop of the state’s fresh water supply by year end.

Read more: The countries facing the worst water shortages
Lake Mead’s water level has never been lower

The aquifers under the most stress are in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa, where alternatives are limited and water shortages could quickly lead to instability.

The researchers used NASA’s GRACE satellites to take precise measurements of the world’s groundwater aquifers. The satellites detected subtle changes in the Earth’s gravitational pull, noting where the heavier weight of water exerted a greater pull on the orbiting spacecraft. Slight changes in aquifer water levels were charted over a decade, from 2003 to 2013.

“This has really been our first chance to see how these large reservoirs change over time,” said Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at Oregon State University, who was not involved in the studies.

But the NASA satellites could not measure the total capacity of the aquifers. The size of these tucked-away water supplies remains something of a mystery. Still, the satellite data indicated that some aquifers may be much smaller than previously believed, and most estimates of aquifer reserves have “uncertainty ranges across orders of magnitude,” according to the research.

Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains. Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed.

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” Famiglietti said. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

The health of the world’s aquifers varied widely, mostly dependent on how they were used. In Australia, for example, the Canning Basin in the country’s western end had the third-highest rate of depletion in the world. But the Great Artesian Basin to the east was among the healthiest.

Before and after pictures show the extent of California's drought (Getty) Before and after pictures show the extent of California’s drought (Getty)
The difference, the studies found, is likely attributable to heavy gold and iron ore mining and oil and gas exploration near the Canning Basin. Those are water-intensive activities.

The world’s most stressed aquifer — defined as suffering rapid depletion with little or no sign of recharging — was the Arabian Aquifer, a water source used by more than 60 million people. That was followed by the Indus Basin in India and Pakistan, then the Murzuk-Djado Basin in Libya and Niger.

California’s Central Valley Aquifer was the most troubled in the United States. It is being drained to irrigate farm fields, where drought has led to an explosion in the number of water wells being drilled. California only last year passed its first extensive groundwater regulations. But the new law could take two decades to take full effect.

©The Washington Post

World Economic Forum: Is Technology the Solution to Water Overuse?


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***  Regular Readers/ Followers of ‘GTFSM’ might want to also do ‘Key Word Searches’ on our Blog for: Water Filtration, Waste-Water Remediation, Desalination, Soil-Water Measurement, Nano-Water, Nano-Filters ***

Despite limited availability of freshwater for human use (in the right form, at the right place and at the right time – availability estimated at a worldwide total of 4,200 cubic kilometres), withdrawals continue to increase globally (not in the US, I will come back to this with a later post) and will probably reach an estimated 5,000 cubic kilometres this year. In a situation of secular overuse, drought turns into a much more severe crisis.

By 2030, without a substantial improvement in water management, this figure could be close to 7,000 cubic kilometres – an increase driven by growth in population and prosperity. If we want to avoid a much more severe water crisis in future, we will have to find ways to reduce freshwater withdrawals by 40% compared to this status quo extrapolation.

A 40% reduction within the next 15 years seems like a lot, but it is not impossible. Inseveral posts here on LinkedIn, particularly those about the 2030 Water Resources Group that I am chairing, I pointed to ways that would significantly and cost-effectively contribute to narrowing the gap between withdrawals and sustainable supply of freshwater.

Measurement of withdrawals – the first step

Measurement would be an important first step: if you want to save water, you must measure its consumption in each sector of usage. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

In many if not most countries, we have to start in agriculture, which accounts for about 70% of all freshwater withdrawals worldwide, and more than 90% of water consumption (in California, according to US government data, it is 80% of all freshwater withdrawals).

But in too many instances, measurements of withdrawals remain incomplete, often with virtually no measurement of withdrawals by farmers (and often also a lack of measurement elsewhere, e.g. water withdrawals of municipal water supply schemes, to compare with delivery for estimates of leakage), and no measurement of actual needs – just rough global estimates, which indicate that withdrawals of freshwater by agriculture exceed the actual physiological need of plants by 100-150%. Fields are flooded, sprinklers run at noon, pumps continue when energy is free and the way out to the field is too long to bother about the water overuse; all entirely rational behaviours when water is not given any value at all.

Technologies to monitor and steer efficient use of water exist and function

Actually, the technologies to monitor, measure and steer efficient use of water exist – and they function. A good example are air and soil moisture sensors in a wireless network controlling drip irrigation I’ve seen being used in South Australia (my readers no doubt know many other comparable stories).

The first thing being measured is the humidity of the air, to adapt the water flow exactly to the evapotranspiration needs of the plant (or to stop the irrigation if the air is for some time too dry and most of it would not enter the soil). You will see these simplified weather stations all over the fields and vineyards.

Second, special devices in the soil measure how far down the irrigation water is actually seeping, i.e., as far down as the roots go, but not beyond. This optimises the water supply, and it protects the groundwater, since the irrigation water is ususally already supplemented with fertilisers.

At the heart of all this: no longer a nice farmhouse and barn we know from Europe and children’s books, but a computerised control centre, based on real-time data, which steers irrigation and the addition of fertilisers according to the exact need in different parts of the farm and different points in time.

Set incentives for comprehensive, cost effective solutions to water overuse

As an incentive to invest in such sophisticated schemes, and in order to make measurement and management fully relevant, water needs a value. Not surprisingly, in South Australia this is the case. Its value is set in a market of water usage rights tradable among farmers (i.e., giving a value does not mean imposing a tax on water use paid to government). And, as a result, it is carefully and smartly managed, contrary to many other places where it is seen, overused and abused as a free good.

Giving water a value will also work as a strong incentive for more water efficiency in industry, the generation of energy, and, last but not least, for reducing leakage losses in municipal water supply.

I know there are a number of innovations going even further; this is only the beginning of smart water management. An increasing number of companies offer highly innovative technologies and concepts; companies from the water sector (irrigation, treatment, supply, etc.) but also from other sectors (such as IBM, Dow and Ecolab for instance).

We need comprehensive, cost effective solutions to water overuse; piecemeal approaches and witch hunts will not do. Proper sensoring will be the first step.

Your comments, in particular with more information about innovations in measurement for better management of water, would be welcome.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is the Chairman of the Board at Nestlé S.A.

Image: Tap water flows out of a faucet in New York June 14, 2009. WATER-BEVERAGES/ REUTERS/Eric Thayer.

by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Water is Our World: World Water Day 2015: Video


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Published on Mar 8, 2015

If you think about it, water links to almost everything in the world. Health. Nature. Urbanization. Industry. Energy. Food. Equality.

In 2015, the world will agree on how we want to shape our sustainable future. And for this future to happen we need water and sanitation. Learn more at http://www.worldwaterday.org

Graphene and Water Treatment


1-graphene water-treatment-img_assist-400x300Water treatment is the collective name for a group of mainly industrial processes that make water more suitable for its application, which may be drinking, medical use, industrial use and more. A water treatment process is designed to remove or reduce existing water contaminants to the point where water reaches a level that is fit for use. Specific processes are tailored according to intended use – for example, treatment of greywater (from bath, dishwasher etc.) will require different measures than black water (from toilets) treatment.

Main types of water treatments

All water treatments involve the removal of solids (usually by filtration and sedimentation), bacteria, algae and inorganic compounds. Used water can be converted into environmentally acceptable water, or even drinking water through various treatments.

Water treatments roughly divide into industrial and domestic/municipal.

Industrial water treatments include boiler water treatment (removal or chemical modification of substances that are damaging to boilers), cooling water treatment (minimization of damage to industrial cooling towers) and wastewater treatment (both from industrial use and sewage).

1-graphene water-treatment-img_assist-400x300

Wastewater treatment is the process that removes most of the contaminants from wastewater or sewage, producing a liquid that can be disposed to the natural environment and a sludge (semi-solid waste). Wastewater is used water, and includes substances like food scraps, human waste, oils and chemicals. Home uses create wastewater in sinks, bathtubs, toilets and more, and industry donates its fare share as well. Wastewater and sewage need to be treated before being released to the environment. This is done in plants that reduce pollutants to a level nature can handle, usually through repeatedly separating solids and liquids, which progressively increases water purity.

Wastewater treatments usually consist of three levels: a primary (mechanical) level, in which solids are removed from raw sewage by screening and sedimentation. This level can remove about 50-60% of the solids, and is followed by the second level – secondary (biological) treatment. Here, dissolved organic matter that escaped primary treatment is removed, by microbes that consume it as food and convert it into carbon dioxide, water and energy. The tertiary treatment removes any impurities that are left, producing an effluent of almost drinking-water quality. The technology required for this stage is usually expensive and sophisticated, and demands a steady energy supply and specific chemicals. Disinfection, typically with chlorine, can sometimes be an additional step before discharge of the effluent. It is not always done due to the high price of chlorine, as well as concern over health effects of chlorine residuals.

Municipal water consists of surface water and groundwater. surface water, like lakes and rivers, usually require more more treatment than groundwater (water located under the ground). Municipal/community water is treated by public or private water utilities companies to ensure that the water is potable (safe for drinking), palatable (have no unusual or disturbing taste) and sufficient for the needs of the community.

Water flows or is pumped to a central treatment facility, where it is pumped into a distribution system. Initial screening is performed to remove large objects and then the water undergoes a series of processes like: pre-chlorination (for algae control), aeration (removal of dissolved iron and manganese), coagulation (removal of colloids), sedimentation (solids separation), desalination (removal of salt) and disinfection (killing bacteria). Other processes that may be used are: lime softening (the addition of lime to precipitate calcium and magnesium ions), activated carbon adsorption (to remove chemicals that cause taste and odor) and fluoridation (increasing the concentration of fluoride to prevent dental cavities).

As water is both vital for life and in limited supply, many efforts are placed to find technologies that can help ensure the maintainability of water resources. Among the innovative methods that have been researched and developed are:

  • nanotechnology – the use of nanotechnology to purify drinking water can help remove microbes and bacteria. Many nano-water treatment technologies use composite nanoparticles that emit silver ions to destroy contaminants.
  • membrane chemistry – membranes, through which water passes and is filtered and purified. The pores of membranes used in ultrafiltration can be remarkably fine. This technology exists, and efforts are constantly being made to make it more dependable, cost-efficient and common. Membranes’ selective separation grants filtration abilities that can pose as alternatives to processes like flocculation, adsorption and more.
  • seawater desalination – processes that extract salt from saline water, to produce fresh water suitable for drinking or irrigation. While this technology is in use and also holds much promise for growing in the future, it is still expensive, with reverse osmosis technology consuming a vast amount of energy (the desalination core process is based on reverse osmosis membrane technology).
  • Innovative wastewater processing – new technologies aim to transform wastewater into a resource for energy generation as well as drinking water. Modular hybrid activated sludge digesters, for example, can remove nutrients for use as fertilizers, decreasing almost by half the amount of energy traditionally required for this treatment in the process.

What is graphene?

Graphene is a two dimensional mesh of carbon atoms arranged in the form of a honeycomb lattice. It has earned the title “miracle material” thanks to a startlingly large collection of incredible attributes – this thin, one atom thick substance (it is so thin in fact, that you’ll need to stack around three million layers of it to make a 1mm thick sheet!) is the lightest, strongest, thinnest, best heat-and-electricity conducting material ever discovered, and the list does not end there. Graphene is the subject of relentless research and is thought to be able to revolutionize whole industries, as researchers work on many different kinds of graphene-based materials, each one with unique qualities and designation.

Graphene and water treatment

Water is an invaluable resource and the intelligent use and maintenance of water supplies is one of the most important and crucial challenges that stand before mankind. New technologies are constantly being sought to lower the cost and footprint of processes that make use of water resources, as potable water (as well as water for agriculture and industry) are always in desperate demand. Much research is focused on graphene for different water treatment uses, and nanotechnology also has great potential for elimination of bacteria and other contaminants.

Among graphene’s host of remarkable traits, its hydrophobia is probably one of the traits most useful for water treatment. Graphene naturally repels water, but when narrow pores are made in it, rapid water permeation is allowed. This sparked ideas regarding the use of graphene for water filtration and desalination, especially once the technology for making these micro-pores has been achieved. Graphene sheets (perforated with miniature holes) are studied as a method of water filtration, because they are able to let water molecules pass but block the passage of contaminants and substances. Graphene’s small weight and size can contribute to making a lightweight, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly generation of water filters and desalinators.

It has been discovered that thin membranes made from graphene oxide are impermeable to all gases and vapors, besides water, and further research revealed that an accurate mesh can be made to allow ultrafast separation of atomic species that are very similar in size – enabling super-efficient filtering. This opens the door to the possibility of using seawater as a drinking water resource, in a fast and relatively simple way.

Recent commercial activity in the field of graphene water treatments

In November 2014, the Malaysian based Graphene Nanochem that is traded in the AIM of the London Stock Exchange signed an agreement with Singapore-based HWV to develop and commercialize the PlatClean V1 system – a graphene-enhanced water treatment system for the oil and gas industry. In August 2014, the U.S based Biogenic Reagents announced starting a commercial production of graphene-carbon compound based Ultra-Adsorptive Carbon products to replace traditional activated carbon products for air and water purification.

In March 2013, Lockheed Martin announced the development of a new graphene-based water desalination technology, with hopes to commercialize it by 2014-2015. Their system is said to be energy-efficient and include graphene filters with nanoholes to screen salt from water.

Recent research activity in the field of graphene water treatments

In September 2013, researchers from China’s Nanjing University of Aeronautics announced graphyne, an allotrope of graphene, a promising material for water desalination that may even outperform graphene. Its high throughput and rejection of ions and pollutants give it a great potential for this purpose, and it will require lower energy use than traditional technologies. Also in September 2013, researchers from Korea suggested a new simple, high-yield method of synthesizing a new graphene-carbon nanotube-iron oxide (G-CNT-Fe) 3D functional nanostructures. The researchers report that these structures can function as excellent arsenic absorbents.

In May 2013, researchers from the University of El Paso (UTEP) developed a new water-recycling technology based on graphene membranes. The researchers won $100,000 in the University of Texas System Horizon Fund Student Investment Competition and formed a new company called American Water Recycling (AWR) to commercialize this technology. In April 2013, the UK government funded a $5m graphene membrane research at the University of Manchester. The aim of this research was to advance feasibility of desalination plants and other applications. In January 2013, researchers from Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University discovered that graphene oxide can quickly remove radioactive material from contaminated water, as it binds quickly to natural and human-made radionuclides and condenses them into solids. This can naturally be useful in contaminated sites cleanup and other applications.

In January 2012, MIT scientists showed (in simulations) that nanoporous graphene can filter salt water at a rate that is 2-3 orders of magnitude faster than current commercial desalination technologies, reverse osmosis (RO). This opens the door to smaller and more efficient desalination facilities.

Further reading

Water Purification at the Molecular Level: Research at Tufts University


1-water nano water-filter2Fracking for oil and gas is a dirty business. The process uses millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals and sand. Most of the contaminated water is trucked to treatment plants to be cleaned, which is costly and potentially environmentally hazardous.

A Tufts engineer is researching how to create membranes for filters that may one day be able to purify the water right at a fracking site. Ayse Asatekin, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, is designing materials for sophisticated filters that would be more cost-effective and use less energy than current methods. They would work not only at fracking sites, but could also be used to clean industrial waste from manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies and to provide clean drinking water.

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Ayse Asatekin is experimenting with polymers that could one day be used in filters to distinguish between different chemicals. Photo: Kelvin Ma

Using filters to purify water isn’t new. Hippocrates, in the fourth century B.C., invented a bag filter to trap sediments that caused water to smell and taste bad, while Sanskrit writings from 2000 B.C. describe sand and gravel filtration. Water is still filtered using the same basic principle: force it through a porous membrane that traps large particles while allowing clean water to pass through.

But to catch certain chemicals, you need a membrane with pores that measure just one nanometer across. For perspective, a strand of human hair is some 60,000 nanometers wide.

For this nanotechnology, Asatekin has turned to polymers—molecules strung together to form long chains. “A polymer is like a necklace of beads,” Asatekin says. “You can make a long chain or a short chain; you can make branches going off it. By playing with all these things, you can control a polymer’s configuration and its properties.”

Ayse Asatekin holds a sample of a water filtration membrane in her lab. Photo: Kelvin Ma >>>

She’s using the polymer chains to create a grid of ultra-small pores capable of snaring the tiniest pollutants. These nano-membranes are working in the lab, and will soon be ready to be designed for specific uses, manufactured and tested in the field.

But someday, in addition to being small, Asatekin’s polymer filters will also be smart: she’s experimenting with polymers that could distinguish between different chemicals. “So even if two molecules were the same size, the polymer would ‘know’ that one has certain functional groups that the other lacks, and be able to block it,” she says.

Right now she is testing polymers that can recognize the difference between molecules using characteristics that define their structures. This could allow, for example, a smart membrane to separate a pharmaceutical from the chemical compounds that catalyze the reactions to create the drug.2-water nano nano1

Filters Go Mobile

Asatekin’s inspiration for the polymers came from observing bacteria. All bacterial cell walls, cell membranes and membranes that separate the nuclei from the cytoplasm have structures that allow one type of molecule to pass through their “doorways” while blocking others, she says.

“For example, there is one structure that allows a sugar to come in, one that allows calcium ions but no other molecules,” she says. “Each cell’s wall or membrane structure has its own target, and is very selective—this is what I am hoping my polymers will be able to do maybe 10 to 15 years from now.”

A polymer membrane looks like a piece of slightly shiny paper. To create a membrane, Asatekin takes her polymers and paints them onto a large-pore, paper-like material that is itself an acrylic polymer specially manufactured to suit each project. They might not look exciting, but it is these membranes that will allow filtration to go mobile.

For the membranes to be turned into actual transportable units to be used in the field at fracking, manufacturing or other sites, a company would need to scale up their production to make them as wide, long sheets. Then, several flat membranes would be rolled into large cylinders that could be one inch in diameter by one foot long or as large as eight inches in diameter by 40 inches tall, depending on the use. These pipe-like structures would be attached to a pump and secured on a rig, sometimes singly and sometimes stacked, and pressurized water would be forced through them, coming out clean on the other side.

Whether they are used for pharmaceutical purification, cleaning industrial wastewater or producing drinking water, the membranes Asatekin’s group is designing could be cleaned and last longer than current filters. More field testing is needed to define exactly how these systems would function. At fracking or industrial sites, the filtering process eliminates the need to transport contaminated water to a treatment facility. The purified water could be reused without ever leaving the site.

And the membranes’ mobility means they could purify water in remote areas of the world, a boon for the estimated 780 million people with no access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme.

The nano-membranes would also save energy by eliminating the need boil water to turn it into vapor and then distill it.

“The Department of Energy estimates that these industrial purification and separation processes account for 40 to 70 percent of energy costs generated by a chemical manufacturing process,” Asatekin says. “What we are working on is expanding the applications for polymer membranes that would improve the energy efficiency of many manufacturing processes by not having to use distillation, but instead, passing it through our selective filters.”

Asatekin’s polymer membranes have another quality important for industrial use—something called fouling resistance. This means that oil and other heavy substances can’t clog the membrane pores and foul the purification process. Clean Membranes, the Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, company that Asatekin co-founded and now consults for, is working with oil and gas companies across the country to develop polymer membrane applications tailored to their needs.

Source: Tufts University