Back from 2030 – Lessons from the Future to Address Present Desalination Challenges!
“No company that wants to have a future can afford to slight the breakthrough opportunity,” Peter Drucker wrote in Managing for Results. “This typically is the opportunity to make the future happen.” (the Drucker Exchange) –
The 2020s combination of increasingly severe droughts, aging infrastructure and the depletion of underground aquifer was endangering millions of people around the world. The on-going population growth was only exacerbating this, with global freshwater supplies continually stretched to their limits. This forced a rapid expansion of desalination technology. The overall situation was in the red zone. In 2015 the pending disaster was becoming A Looming National Issue for the world’s most developed country, it was high time for the scientists and policy makers to seriously address the issue before letting it go beyond control. By the early 21st century, the world’s demand for resources was growing exponentially. The UN estimated that humanity would require over 30 percent more water between 2012 and 2030. Historical improvements in freshwater production efficiency were no longer able to keep pace with a ballooning population, made worse by the effects of climate change. In the 2040s and beyond, desalination will play an even more crucial role, as humanity adapts to a rapidly changing climate. Ultimately, it will become the world’s primary source of freshwater, as non-renewable sources like fossil aquifers are depleted around the globe.
In the year 2015 according to the World Bank, 1.6 billion people were living in countries and regions with an absolute water crisis and the number was expected to rise to 2.8 billion people by 2025. Some coastal and low lying areas such as Bangladesh, Maldeep and parts of India and Sri Lanka were already facing massive sea water intrusion and increased salination in their estuaries, rivers, lakes and other forms of surface water. Much of the developed countries including the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe had to cope with droughts and on growing risk of storms, floods and forest fire. Asia had already been the worst region of storm, flood and drought stricken area of the world with poor infrastructure facilities to cope up the on growing stress.
Amid the turmoil, even greater advances were being made in desalination. It was acknowledged that present trends in capacity – though impressive compared to earlier decades – were insufficient to satisfy global demand and therefore a major, fundamental breakthrough would be needed on a large scale.
Unfortunately, patents were secured by corporations that initially limited desalination’s wider use. A number of high-profile international lawsuits were brought, as entrepreneurs and companies attempted to develop their own versions. With a genuine crisis unfolding, this led to an eventual restructuring of intellectual property rights. However, thanks to Genesis Nanotechnology Business Model (GNT), many companies and entrepreneurs benefited in the leveraging of Nanotechnology Intellectual Properties, Trade Secrets, and Processes. Acquiring, holding and developing technologies to mature, GNT was well positioned to take full advantage of the emerging commercial opportunities for fabricated and integrated nano-materials by partnering with Universities and Corporations with a vested interest in key technology development. Any company desirous of accessing and scaling-up nanotechnologies – especially for 80-90 percent reduction of costs for water desalination and remediation purposes was talking to GNT’s Founding Managing Partner, CEO – Bruce W Hoy.
By 2030, graphene-based filtration systems had closed most of the gap between supply and demand, easing the global water shortage. But the delayed introduction of this revolutionary technology had caused problems in many vulnerable parts of the world. The author asks, “Can we hasten or change the outcome of ‘Our Future’?”
Nanotechnology’s influence to alleviate and address societal water challenges had been proven – “Imagine getting fire-hose volumes and velocities out of your garden hose” – Graphene Nanotechnology Makes Desalination 100 Times More Efficient.
The motivation [was] there to solve the world’s water needs, companies [said]. “According to the U.N., the No. 1 cause of death and illness in developing nations is waterborne diseases,” [said] GE’s Jones. “We have the technology to fix these problems. It’s very easy to get motivated because of the great opportunity to do good.” Aside from GE, International Power, Suez and Veolia, other companies that construct, own and/or operate desalination systems worldwide include The AE S Corp. (AES), Crane Co.’s (CR) Crane Environmental, Siemens AG’s (SI) Power Generation unit and ITT Corp. (ITT). ABB Ltd . (ABB) provides electrical systems for desalination plants, and Met-Pro Corp.’s (MPR) Fybroc division manufactures pumps used in reverse-osmosis plants.
By 2030, there are an additional two billion people, most of them from poor countries. Humanity’s footprint is such that it now requires the equivalent of two whole Earths to sustain itself in the long term. Farmland, fresh water and natural resources are becoming scarcer by the day. A combination of increasingly severe droughts, aging infrastructure and the depletion of underground aquifers is now endangering millions of people around the world. The on-going population growth is only exacerbating this, with global freshwater supplies continually stretched to their limits. This is forcing a rapid expansion of desalination technology. This exponential progress was dwarfed by the sheer volume of water required by an ever-expanding global economy, which now included the burgeoning middle classes of China and India. The world was adding an extra 80 million people each year – equivalent to the entire population of Germany. By 2017, Yemen was in a state of emergency, with its capital almost entirely depleted of groundwater. Significant regional instability began to affect the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, as water resources became weapons of war.
Nanotechnology Offered Just Such A Breakthrough
The use of graphene in the water filtration process had been demonstrated in the early 2010s. This involved atom-thick sheets of carbon, able to separate salt from water using much lower pressure, and hence, much lower energy. This was due to the extreme precision with which the perforations in each graphene membrane could be manufactured. At only a nanometre across, each hole was the perfect size for a water molecule to fit through. An added benefit was the very high durability of graphene, potentially making desalination plants more reliable and longer-lasting.
Although it is not easy to get to this point, it has reached the junction where the technology makes it possible to switch from the traditional route. The potentiality of CNT membranes to replace RO, NF and UF membranes is depicted in Fig. 7 and comparative advantages are discussed. It is anticipated that the commercial success of the nano-enabled membrane technologies would catalyze the long term economic prosperity by enabling the continuation of sustainable development while also creating industries with valuable new opportunities.
If such development is bridged with a proper platform for innovative technologies and management practices, it is quite certain that the technology and investments can be scaled up to generate paramount economic and environmental impacts for years to come. The unprecedented quantum leaps evidence the versatility of nano materials and their nano composites to provide the alternative route for sustainable development. This serves the main reason for the industries and stakeholders to be optimistic with the capability of these new generation technology to make a large difference for modern, affordable and environmentally sound remedy for water shortage crisis. Undeniably, the transformation to the era of nanotechnology has the potential to bring the capacity of membrane science and engineering a big step forward for the desalination technology to flourish.
Although considerable effort is still needed to fill the gaps and reduce disparities between the pipe-dream and the reality, with the accelerating knowledge and technological transfer from academic to industries, it is envisaged that in the next five to ten years, the fundamental science and applied engineering knowledge in nanotechnology R&D and infrastructure development will help to obtain ultimate solutions to develop and commercialize the next generation of sustainable membrane products as well as desalination technologies.