22 Dec 2016

Renewable reliable desalination

I asked Sid Vollebregt to write a guest post about his young company's technology, which sounds exciting (they've got projects running!), but I have not checked out the company's financials or technology. Please ask for details if you have a project or partnership in mind. -- David

In a recent TEDx Talk, we explained how we can produce fresh water sustainably.

Desalinated water production usually requires lots of fossil energy. Desalination already accounts for 1 percent of the global electricity consumption, while it currently only supplies half a percentage of our global water needs. This means that desalination powered by renewable energy is basically the only way forward in order to truly provide a sustainable source of freshwater.

The problem with renewable energy driven desalination is the coupling of fluctuating renewable sources (sun, wind, waves) with the preferred desalination technology, reverse osmosis, which is designed for constant operation. Existing solutions either use batteries or operate discontinuously, resulting in high cost, limited scalability and variable water quality.

Elemental Water Makers delivers affordable, renewable-energy-driven desalination.

Our system uses the renewable energy, for example, solar energy generated by solar panels, which are connected to a seawater pump which displaces the seawater towards an elevated water buffer. This buffer delivers the required pressure for the reverse osmosis process. The elevation difference required is reduced by 80 percent using a mechanical form of energy recovery, re-using the excess pressure still present in the brine flow. For seawater, 90 m is required. Brackish water requires about half the elevation. The elevated water buffer is filled throughout the day and will be able to cover the nights, producing fresh water without any auxiliary power, leading to affordable fresh water.

Here is a summary of our benefits (for details, go here)
  • Up to 70 percent savings on electricity usage
  • Scalable for community & municipal sized water production
  • Reliable and independent water supply
  • Green solution without fossil fuels, preventing any greenhouse gas emissions
  • Off-grid operation with limited maintenance
  • Stress-free operation through remote monitoring
  • Silent operation by excluding high pressure pumps & generators
In 2015, Elemental Water Makers delivered their first commercial project in the British Virgin Islands, producing 12.5 m3/day. The end-user saves 63 percent in comparison with his former, conventional fossil electricity driven reverse osmosis unit. Besides cost savings, the project reduces CO2 emissions by 25 tons per year. Here's a video tour of the installation.

Brine can be a big environmental issue, which is mostly caused by the large difference in salt concentration between the brine itself and the environment (often sea) it is disposed in. In order for our system to allow for an 80 percent decrease in required elevation, the system is forced to run at a low recovery ratio, resulting in more energy to be recovered from the brine and thus a lower required elevation. This 80 percent decrease is only possible when using a very efficient (95 percent) energy recovery process. If we add this together, we get a system, which runs at a low recovery ratio, leading to only a slightly more saline (less than 20 percent) brine discharge, while still being able to run a very efficient desalination process.

Elemental Water Makers does not only provide adaptability on a technological aspect, but also in a social and economical way. Renewable energy driven products will always involve higher investment costs than conventional powered systems, due to the fact that energy is "purchased" up-front, instead of spreading it out over the operational years, as is the case with fossil fuel or grid powered products. Governments, municipalities and general end-users in need for a fresh water solution often do not have the means to cope with these high up front costs. Therefore Elemental Water Makers is also working on Water Purchase Agreements (DBOT). By entering into an agreement for the purchase of the produced water for a certain amount of years, financing can be obtained to cope with the investment. Currently an agreement is entered with a municipality in Cape Verde for a village of 1300 people, who will soon enjoy a 50m3/day reliable and affordable potable water supply, without having to invest. The strength of this project is the combination of immediate cost savings while enabling a safe and sustainable water supply. Simultaneously the Cape Verde system will be used for educational purposes about fresh water scarcity, desalination and renewable energy. This should be an example for all 57 Small Island Developing States who can benefit from this solution.

Bottom Line Elemental Water Makers has a solution, but we need help reaching end-users, decision makers, international agencies, developers, architects and NGOs who can benefit from our technology and knowledge. Please contact us if you want to know more or have some people for us to meet.

21 Dec 2016

Introducing the City Water Project!

I'm working with four students on a project to empower local groups seeking to promote (their good) or improve (their bad) water quality.

Watch this video (in HD, with subtitles of your choice) to learn more.

This project is just emerging from beta testing, and we're looking for partners in new cities. Check out the website for more!

19 Dec 2016

Life Plus 2 Meters is out!

I started this project about five months ago, and it's gone better than I expected.

I've just finished editing and assembling the first set of visions into another Aguanomics Press publication, Life Plus 2 Meters (volume 1). From my preface:
I began the Life Plus 2 Meters project in August 2016* after reading Martin Weitzman's 2011 paper "Fat-tailed uncertainty in the economics of catastrophic climate change" and Hansen et al.'s 2016 paper "Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous." The two papers led me to believe that our economic models severely understate the risk from climate change and that the IPCC's estimated increase in sea level ("1 meter by 2100") is far too optimistic. Hansen et al. say that sea level may rise by 6-9m by 2100. Even worse, that rise may arrive in an abrupt shock (e.g., "3-4m in a couple of years") that would make retreat, rather than adaptation, the only response.

This project aims to engage the public in planning for changes far more dramatic than those discussed in governmental and international forums, and it uses "climate fiction" methods of bringing different potential outcomes to life.

This edited volume presents a series of 29 "visions" by 27 authors of how we might (not) adapt to life in a climate-changed world where sea levels are 2 meters higher, weather patterns have shifted, storms have grown stronger, food systems are strained, and so on.

These visions may not agree with each other: their authors come from different academic, social and philosophical backgrounds. They will not be 100 percent accurate: our lives are affected by a complex mix of environmental, social, political and economic forces. They may not change your mind: everyone will read and interpret them differently. Our only goal here is that these visions help you think about how you, your community and your world -- our civilization -- might adapt to life in a climate-changed world.
The book is now available as a free PDF as well as cheap ($4) paperback and Kindle versions.

Bottom Line: Read the book and recommend it to others. We need more people thinking of how we will adapt to climate change.

* I registered the URL on 30 April, but only began in earnest in August :)

Monday (not so) funnies

America's (perhaps not-duly-elected) Assclown-in-Chief is going to be delivering enough crazy to keep the comedians busy for years.

I'm glad to see Noah Trevor calling the bad economics like it is.

16 Dec 2016

Friday party!

I've had a lot of respect for Madonna over all these years of her career (34!), as she's been a consistent innovator.

But her recent speech is really a fine example of how smart and hard working she is, in the face of sexism and discrimination from people in the industry and people in society.

Why do her complaints matter (besides the fact that they represent real suffering)? Because she -- and others facing discrimination -- could have accomplished so much more if they did not face the additional challenge of discrimination.

Watch it, share it.

And then watch this to get an idea of her creative genius:

14 Dec 2016

Interesting links

  1. Q: Why do research papers have so many authors? A: Academics are padding their CVs
  2. Academics Without Borders works to promote development. I signed up.
  3. Flint, two years (and not fixed) later. By my calculations, it will be around $650 million to replace pipes ($25,000/house). My question is whether that money would be better spent helping people leave the city "that's a 'hood everywhere."
  4. "Fidel Castro is dead" - a long obituary of a liberator and tyrant
  5. How to Hide $400 Million -- The Rich are different from us, they have more money pay no taxes.
  6. An Arabic view of Trump
  7. "How did you get your job, testing hallucinogenic drugs?"
  8. Speaking of entrepreneurs, watch this video I took of Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank founder, Nobel Peace Prize winner) explaining why we ALL can be entrepreneurs
  9. "When is desalination the right choice?" (including some of my comments)
  10. IBNET has water tariffs for 4,000+ utilities in 188 countries. IWA has them for 170 cities in 40 countries. IWA should merge their data with IBNET and help us all.

H/T to JM

13 Dec 2016

Before the Flood -- the review

I was originally hesitant to watch Leonardo DiCaprio's film on climate change (the trailer is a little too Hollywood), but I am glad that I saw it at a screening last week in Den Haag.

I recommend that you watch it (it's no longer free online but there are copies around), as ol' Leo has done an excellent job at exploring the problem, what needs to be done, and what's being done. (There's definitely some "gee whiz" hyperbole, but it's not totally inappropriate.)

As a post-screening discussant, I had the following comments:
  • The 20/80 rule: Most people watching the movie -- the 20 percent -- want to do the right thing (eating less meat, not flying, etc.) but "the rest of us" -- the 80 percent -- can't be bothered to act. That's why a carbon tax would be so useful, as it prods everyone into finding ways to use less. (Same holds for "raise prices" with water.)
  • REAL global agreements to reduce GHG emissions will stumble over (a) accounting for emissions via production or consumption (if consumption, then China looks better and the EU does worse) and (b) deciding rights/reductions via existing emissions ("grandfathering") or population (global environmental justice). Those aspects block agreement on cap and trade regimes that will depend on some countries (citizens) paying others, which is politically unpopular.
  • I favor carbon taxes because they are more transparent and raise revenue that can be returned to citizens. Crooked politicians hate the transparency, businesses dislike paying, and environmentalists dislike rebating the money to citizens rather than directing it to "green" projects they favor.
  • In the movie, a guy from the Sierra Club says we need to cut GHG emissions, but the Sierra Club joined with fossil fuel interests to oppose Washington State's W-732 carbon tax initiative. That's pretty sad.
  • Senator Inhofe (OK) is shown in the movie, claiming that the existence of a snowball "proves" climate change is a hoax. That was bad enough, but Trump has named Pruitt, Oklahoma's Attorney General, as his head of the EPA. They are already asking for the names of climate scientists (presumably to fire them). Just terrible.
  • Finally, the movie was not nearly as aggressive as it should be, in my opinion, as they did not go over the increasing probability (as "all the predictions are being surpassed") of more than the 2m of sea level rise IPCC forecasts for 2100. Shouldn't we think about how to prepare (or react) to the quite possible 6-9m of increase? Yes, we should, so head over to my Life plus 2 meters project to subscribe to new posts and -- more important -- the soon to come book and Kickstarter campaign to raise prize money for authors of works for the NEXT book!
Bottom Line: I give this movie FIVE STARS for giving a useful overview of the challenges we face due to our failure of collective action.

8 Dec 2016

Oily water does not make for good salads!

BB sent me this report ("Hazard Assessment of Chemical Additives Used in Oil Fields that Reuse Produced Water for Agricultural Irrigation, Livestock Watering, and Groundwater Recharge in The San Joaquin Valley of California: Preliminary Results" [pdf]), to whose authors I sent the following questions:
Do I read your report correctly, that you are merely enumerating the chemicals but NOT measuring their concentrations?  And am I right to assume that produced water use/discharge is occurring WITHOUT any purification treatment? Or is there some treatment that’s not detailed?
Seth B.C. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH replied with:
You are correct that we did not evaluate concentrations of these chemical additives in the produced water. The first step that we undertook in this hazard analysis was to compare the recently reported chemical constituents to toxicity, priority pollutant, and other databases to identify what should be monitored for and then how. To date the only chemical constituents monitored for were naturally occurring constituents (e.g., boron, arsenic, heavy metals) as well as some others less frequently (annually or every 5 years). This is the first assessment of chemical ADDITIVES used during oil and gas production in fields that are reusing their water for these purposes.

There is very limited treatment prior to irrigation, groundwater recharge and livestock watering. The produced water undergoes oil-water separation and then is run through walnut shells prior to application. Depending upon water availability from other sources it is mixed with between 20% to 50% other water sources prior to application.
In other words (my summary), scientists are merely identifying which chemical additives and related byproducts may be present in the Central-Valley-oil-field wastewater now used for irrigation. The concentrations and impacts of those chemicals are yet to be understood.

Bottom Line Higher water scarcity results in greater use of sources that are farther, dirtier and potentially more harmful to public health and the environment. Policies dating from an age of abundance may not consider the costs of those sources to health or the environment. They need to be updated.

H/T to BB

Does LA have a shortage of water or imagination?

Tim Smith's ever helpful "notes on sustainable water resources" contained this tidbit:
Bureau of Reclamation's Los Angeles Basin Study looks at the changing demographics, climate change and competing interests for available water supplies and identifies options to meet the water needs of the Los Angeles area into the future. The study [pdf] found that there is a potential water supply deficit for the region of approximately 160,000 acre-feet-per year by 2035 and 440,000 acre-feet-per-year or 25-percent less water than the region is projected to need in 2095.
I'm always curious about these "needs" and "deficits", so I skimmed through the study, which uses "low, medium and high (business as usual)" projections for future demands that are 63 gallons/capita/day (gcd), 99 gcd and 136 gcd, respectively (page 34).

Translated in to liters/capita/day (LCD), you get 240, 376 and 517 LCD, respectively. Is this reasonable? Not when you consider that consumption is about 100 LCD in Amsterdam and 160 LCD in Australia's hot, dry cities.

Bottom Line: Los Angelenos can easily avoid water deficits and shortages by reducing their demands, i.e., lawns. How do you get them to do that? Raise prices.

5 Dec 2016

Let's choose a cover for Life plus 2m!

We need to choose a cover for the first collection of visions that will help people think about and prepare for adapting to climate change.

The goal is to get people interested in reading the book.

Feel free to forward this post to anyone who has opinions on the matter :)

VOTING CLOSED! There's a winner!

Monday (not) funnies

The Dutch "tradition" of Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) dates back to the 1850s when slavery was still legal (and accepted). The interesting point of this video is its clarification of some Dutcher's vehement defense of blackface: many Dutch associate it with their childhood excitement and happiness.

I see no reason why today's Dutch children need to grow up with men in blackface. They can be happy with any version of a gift-giving sidekick to Sinterklaas.

Addendum: The EU network against racism debunks just about every "defense" of Zwarte Piet.

1 Dec 2016

How to Start a Business & Ignite Your Life -- the review

I assigned this 2012 book to my "entrepreneurial production" class because I like Ernesto Sirolli's perspective on start ups and entrepreneurs.

(His 1999 book, Ripples from the Zambezi: Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies is really great for understanding how he learned to just "shut up and listen" -- watch his TED talk -- but it's not as pragmatic as this book.)

The main point of this book (subtitle: "a simple guide to combining business wisdom with passion") is that few entrepreneurs succeed on their own. Teamwork is useful necessary because:
  1. A startup product or service needs attention to production, marketing and finance. Pretty much everyone is better or worse at each of these skills.
  2. Teams share the burden of work as well as limiting (not) brilliant ideas that can derail or distract efforts to produce value for customers.
  3. Communication among team members forces them to quantify and qualify ideas that may be "obvious" in their head but make little sense when explained to others.
The book is short (100pp), clear and useful. Rather than discuss it chapter by chapter, I will leave a few notes that may interest potential readers.
  • Passion ("suffering") is important for entrepreneurs, as success is neither quick nor inevitable.
  • Outsiders are usually ignorant of what a community needs (the development aid trap), so they should try to find and enable passionate locals with solutions.
  • Entrepreneurs often have good ideas but little experience. That's why they may need partners who can speak from experience and/or fill in areas where the entrepreneur is weak.
  • Every team must have at least one person with a comparative advantage in each of the big three roles: production, marketing and financial management (P, M and FM). A division of labor improves time allocation, speeds decisions, and drives innovation on each of these critical margins.
  • If you don't like (or can't do) P, M or FM, then find someone who can. They may even work for free if they have passion.
  • Good production people are always looking to improve but don't let perfection prevent sales!
  • Good marketers genuinely want to help people, not dump crap on them.
  • Good financial managers can help you understand where you are and where you might go, using only realistic numbers.
  • Investors back teams, not ideas. A good team will write a good business plan. A bad business plan means the team is too weak in talent or cooperation.
  • "Entrepreneurship is much more a social game than an individual one. The most striking characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is perhaps the ability to identify, cultivate, and use other people’s competencies."
  • If you need a partner for P, M or FM, then find someone you like in that area and ask for a referral. They may not be free, but they probably know someone who is.
  • "Solitude is the death of the entrepreneur. Just as you must look inward to understand your passion, you must look outward to find others to help you. Success in business rests primarily on these two actions. Never be reluctant or embarrassed to seek assistance, and do so with prudence and optimism. Remember, there are “magical helpers” out there waiting for a passionate “hero” to commit to the entrepreneurial journey."
Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS for providing useful advice to would-be entrepreneurs and insight to those of us who want to understand the elements of success. Find partners and bring value to the world!