“Water- a bequest of nature” bases all innovations in curbing water crisis to make our blue planet green and sustainable.
Life originated in water. Since its inception, the humanity has thrived around water bodies for nutrition and survival. The civilizations have continually worshipped water and considered it sacrosanct. The anthropological timeline since then has seen different ways of hydration.
With the advent of technology new ways of water generation, collection, purification and dispensing were established. The subsequent industrial revolution and population boom brought with them certain detriments that began eating up our planet like the way termites feast on the wood. Pollution, global warming and climate change are just to name a few.
Even our water has been engulfed with the reckless adventures of mankind. The freshwater bodies which were the prime hydration sources are either getting polluted or rapidly drying up. With all said and done, it is now time to find newer water solutions to keep the wheel of humankind moving. Most of the water technologies that are in practice now generate a considerable amount of water and carbon footprint. These solutions were developed because water generation and purification were the major challenges. Now, our mission ought to be ‘sustainable' hydration solutions so that the technologies do not have a damaging impact on our planet. Let's discuss some of the novel water generation systems.
Emerging Water Generation Systems
Fog harvesting: It is a relatively new technique of water generation. A large mesh is set up near the places for the purpose of gathering and storing the windblown moisture on foggy days. The tiny droplets cling to the mesh and merge together into beads. As they accumulate, they increase in size and weight. Hence, the gravity pulls them down. The fog droplets are then collected and could be diverted into a reservoir for storage. But, it is possible at places that are arid and humid with an ample number of foggy days. This technique has been successful in the Chilean mountain village of Chungungo. Scientific American reported that the nets gathered an average of 11,000 litres of water every day. The mesh screen design has been improving over time. A specially made coating is also applied to them to help water droplets slide down the mesh more easily. Therefore, fog harvesting technology continues to evolve and might someday become common at many arid and foggy places.
Hydropanel Water Collection: Earth's atmosphere contains nearly 13 trillion litres of fresh water. That number remains fairly constant with rain bringing moisture to the surface and with evaporation, mainly from the ocean, returning water to the air. An Arizona Company, Zero Mass Water, installs systems allowing people to collect water directly from the atmosphere around their homes. People have been drinking from natural springs and harvesting rainwater from time immemorial. Their system called ‘Source' draws moisture from air and filters it, producing about 10 litres of water a day and storing about 60 litres. The system runs on power from its small solar panel making it an energy-saving solution.
Water Generators: Even in India, the idea to get water from thin air has recently paced up. A Kolkata based company has come up with a generator that can create water out of the atmosphere by condensing moisture. It even claims to be energy efficient by producing water at the lowest cost per litre in terms of power consumption. As per Majid Barhami, Professor at Simon Fraser University, the atmosphere always has a bit of humidity due to which it is possible to generate water in a desert-like climate. He along with his PhD student Farshid Bagheri has designed the Hybrid Atmospheric Water Generator. Another air-water generator produced by a chemical engineer from IIT Delhi, Amit Asthana also depends on the humidity and ambient temperature.
Artificial Condensation: This technology doesn’t even require fog or moisture in the air for water generation. The WEDEW system by a team lead by UD architect David Hertz can create 2,000 litres of water per day by combining cold and hot air to create condensation, in a manner that replicates the way clouds are formed. This technology can be used to help areas affected by water scarcity and poor water quality. This system has an advantage over the other water generation systems since it can work in any climate.
Water from manure: What if we could turn cow manure into clean water? Michigan State University has this technology under development and almost near commercialization. It is known as McLanahan Nutrient Separation System. It uses anaerobic digester that takes waste such as manure, produces energy as a byproduct and couples it with ultrafiltration, air stripping and reverse osmosis system. One of the byproducts is water (About 90 per cent of the manure is water) clean enough for livestock to drink or at the very least, to dispose of in an environmental friendly manner. Currently, their system produces 50 gallons of water from 100 gallons of manure. Since we know that the agricultural sector is the largest water user in India, surpassing industrial and household use, imagine how much water we could reuse in agriculture!
The most of what we have discussed so far are the ways to generate water by establishing atmosphere as a new resource to exploit. Treatment, purification and renewal of ‘used' water are essentially rational and sustainable ways of utilizing the natural resource. The inventors have been developing eco-friendly technologies to reuse the water so that humans become a part of the hydration cycle which has minimum ejections in terms of water wastage. Let's now see how far the water purification technologies have advanced.
Emerging Water Purification/Treatment Technologies
Purification with sunlight: A team under Anne Morrisey from Dublin City University has come up with an easy water purifying system which utilizes sunlight. The system incorporates two ingredients, TiO2 and graphene. TuO2 usually relies on UV light and the sticky graphene catches the pollutants as they flow through. There is hope that the system could remove pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other possibly damaging pollutants from water. Since the system uses only sunlight, it is energy efficient and eco-friendly.
Euglena BioFiltration: Developed by an R&D company in Ontario, Canada has rolled out a filtration system utilizing a microorganism that consumes pollutants in water. Euglena can absorb a number of carried pollutants in water ranging from phosphates to lead. The system produces controlled algae bloom within wastewater and then ‘fooling' the Euglena into absorbing heavy metals, minerals, pollutants and nutrients from the environment.
Forward Osmosis: The winner of European Inventor Award, ‘Aquaporin’ uses natural movement of water between single cells in nature and the proteins termed as ‘aquaporins'. The proteins enable water between cell membranes while obstructing the passage of contaminants such as minerals and salts. This principle falls under ‘Biomembrane Technology'. This technology utilizes the ‘forward osmosis' process for carrying water molecules through a membrane involving aquaporins merged in a backing layer. It is an energy saving technique for purifying water into the ultra-pure state for industrial applications.
Ultrasound wave desalination: Invented by UK engineers and scientists, Aquavus is a system to purify and desalinate ocean water with ultrasound waves. According to the CEO, one unit of the purification system can treat 3000 litres of water each day. The system utilizes powerful ultrasound to explode unclean water into particles of a size below 10 microns. The microparticles evaporate and condense, resulting in pure water.
Vapour compression distillation: The water purification device called Slingshot developed by Dean Kame claims to create drinking water from nearly any source however dirty by way of vapour compression distillation. The device is powered by a Stirling engine running on a combustible fuel. It can work using cow dung as fuel and does not need filters.
Most of the aforementioned technologies are either prototypes or have restricted usage. Their commercial applications are scheduled way ahead in the future. But, the one thing that brings hope is that if there are people who are blind to water concerns, others are working day and night to find Earth-friendly and economical solutions of hydration. Emerging water technologies are indeed the best bet for a water secure future. As the inhabitants of Earth, we are all responsible for the ecological upkeep. Since not each one of us could be technologists or inventors; we could become responsible civilians by preventing water wastage around ourselves.
Water scarcity is a severe concern. We need to stand up for our planet and our future generations. If not now, then when?
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