Thursday, December 6, 2012
Seawater desalination is a technology that provides drinking water for millions of people around the world. With increasing industrialization and water usage and lack of recycling or reuse, the demand for fresh water is increasing at the fastest rate. Industries such as power plants use bulk of water for cooling purpose and chemical industries use water for their processing. Agriculture is also a major user of water and countries like India exploit ground water for this purpose. To supplement fresh water, Governments and industries in many parts of the world are now turning to desalinated seawater as a potential source of fresh water. However, desalination of seawater to generate fresh water is an expensive option, due to its large energy usage. However, due to frequent failure of monsoon rains and uncertainties and changing weather pattern due to global warming, seawater desalinations is becoming a potential source of fresh water, despite its cost and environmental issues. Seawater desalination technology has not undergone any major changes during the past three decades. Reverse osmosis is currently the most sought after technology for desalination due to increasing efficiencies of the membranes and energy saving devices. In spite of all these improvements the biggest problem with desalination technologies is still the rate of recovery of fresh water. The best recovery in SWRO plants is about 50% of the input water. Higher recoveries create additional problems such as scaling, higher energy requirements and O&M issues and many suppliers would like to restrict the recoveries to 35%, especially when they have to guarantee the life of membranes and the plant. Seawater is nothing but fresh water with large quantities of dissolved salts. The concentration of total dissolved salts in seawater is about 35,000mgs/lit. Chemical industries such as Caustic soda and Soda ash plants use salt as the basic raw material. Salt is the backbone of chemical industries and number of downstream chemicals are manufactured from salt. Seawater is the major source of salt and most of these chemical industries make their own salt using solar evaporation of seawater using traditional methods with salt pans. Large area of land is required for this purpose and solar evaporation is a slow process and it takes months together to convert seawater into salt. It is also labor intensive under harsh conditions. The author of this article has developed an innovative technology to generate fresh water as well as salt brine suitable for Caustic soda and Soda ash production. By using this novel process, one is able to recover almost 70% fresh water against only 40% fresh water recovered using conventional SWRO process, and also recover about 7- 9% saturated brine simultaneously. Chemical industries currently producing salt using solar evaporation are unable to meet their demand or expand their production due to lack of salt. The price of salt is steadily increasing due to supply demand gap and also due to uncertainties in weather pattern due to global warming. This result in increased cost of production and many small and medium producers of these chemicals are unable to compete with large industries. Moreover, countries like Australia who have vast arid land can produce large quantities of salt with mechanized process competitively; Australia is currently exporting salt to countries like Japan, while countries like India and China are unable to compete in the international market with their age old salt pans using manual labor. In solar evaporation the water is simply evaporated. Currently these chemical industries use the solar salt which contains a number of impurities, and it requires an elaborate purification process. Moreover the salt can be used as a raw material only in the form of saturated brine without any impurities. Any impurity is detrimental to the Electrolytic process where the salt brine is converted into Caustic soda and Soda ash. Chemical industries use deionized water to dissolve solar salt to make saturated brine and then purify them using number of chemicals before it can be used as a raw material for the production of Caustic soda or Soda ash. The cost of such purified brine is many times costlier than the raw salt. This in turn increase the cost of chemicals produced. In this new process, seawater is pumped into the system where it is separated into 70% fresh water meeting WHO specifications for drinking purpose, and 7-10% saturated pure brine suitable for production of caustic soda and Soda ash. These chemical industries also use large quantities of process water for various purposes and they can use the above 70% water in their process. Only 15-20% of unutilized seawater is discharged back into the sea in this process, compared to 65% toxic discharge from convention desalination plants. This new technology is efficient and environmentally friendly and generates value added brine as a by-product. It is a win situation for the industries and the environment. The technology has been recently patented and is available for licensing on a non-exclusive or exclusive basis. The advantage of this technology is any Caustic soda or Soda ash plant located near the seashore can produce their salt brine directly from seawater without stock piling solar salt for months together or transporting over a long distance or importing from overseas. Government and industries can join together to set up such plants where Governments can buy water for distribution and industries can use salt brine as raw material for their chemical production. Setting up a desalination plants only for supplying drinking water to the public is not a smart way to reduce the cost of drinking water. For example, the Victorian Government in Australia has set up a large desalination plant to supply drinking water. This plant was set up by a foreign company on BOOT (build, own and operate basis) and water is sold to the Government on ‘take or pay’ basis. Currently the water storage level at catchment area is nearly 80% of its capacity and the Government is unlikely to use desalinated water for some years to come. However, the Government is legally bound by a contract to buy water or pay the contracted value, even if Government does not require water. Such contracts can be avoided in the future by Governments by joining with industries who require salt brine 24x7 throughout the year, thus mitigating the risk involved by expensive legal contracts.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Water makes up seventy one percent of the planet earth and ninety eight percent of it constitutes the ocean. It is a single source of water for all forms of life on earth and it also plays an important role in climate changes in the atmosphere. Ocean is the biggest heat sink and absorbs sun’s heat and also a carbon sink absorbing excess carbon dioxide from atmosphere. The surface temperature of seawater is warmer than the temperature at the bottom of the ocean. Sun supplies solar energy to the ocean. In fact the water temperature in Deep Ocean is about 15-20C less than the surface temperature, and it is used as a working fluid to cool buildings by evaporative cooling without using any electricity like commercial air-conditioning. OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) system is a potential method of generating power using the temperature gradient between ocean’s surface water and ocean’s deep water. A temperature difference, as small as 15 -20C is sufficient to generate power using Kalina cycle, similar to geothermal energy systems. Commercial plants using this technology are already in operation in few countries. The biggest advantage with open cycle ocean thermal energy conversion system is the fresh water (desalinated ocean water) as a by-product. This technology is unique because it can generate not only power but also drinking water from sea without polluting the air with greenhouse gas emissions. In fact this technology should be deployed commercially is many islands around the world, where there is always a demand for power and drinking water. “Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink”. It is the situation in many islands and many parts of the world. Islands like Maldives and Mauritius should adopt this technology to generate power and supply drinking water without burning fossil fuels like diesel or setting up desalination plants. Of course, the economy of scale and finance is an issue in many islands. PNG (Papua New Guinea) is one of the biggest islands in Pacific Ocean where there is s severe shortage of power and water. The country is endowed with rich minerals, oil and gas but the basic necessity like power and water are in short supply. OTEC will be an ideal solution for such islands. Fresh water supply is going to be a major issue in parts of the world due to global warming and climate changes. In countries like India, drinking water is in short supply and a number of seawater desalination plants are coming up. Bottled waters are expensive and unaffordable to a common man. This will only increase the power requirements in the country when there is already a massive shortage of power. OTEC is an ideal solution for India with its long coastal line. One of the major issues with current power generation technologies is the pollution. In any combustion process involving fossil fuel the combustion products like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and Oxides of Nitrogen (the greenhouse gases) will contribute global warming. What is the level of such emission and how fast the globe is warming is a futile argument. The pollution can be small in term of PPM (parts per million) but the cumulative effects over several decades is a major issue and that cannot be simply dismissed. There are many places where the Arsenic content in drinking water is above certain acceptable levels (only in ppms) but such small excess cause debilitating health conditions. This is the same argument with greenhouse emission and global warming. It can be gradual and insignificant but it will reach a tipping point and dramatic changes can happen all of a sudden. Nature has got its own mechanism to adjust any imbalances and maintain certain equilibrium. But humans cannot take them for granted and pollute the air and water indiscriminately. There will be a price to pay. Ocean is the largest and inexhaustible source of Hydrogen. Currently Caustic soda plants use sodium chloride (salt) brine as the raw material for conversion into Caustic soda; the by-products are Hydrogen and Chlorine. Caustic soda plants are currently using Hydrogen as a fuel or use to manufacture Hydrochloric acid. They can generate onsite power using Hydrogen to offset their energy cost. In both water electrolysis as well as brine electrolysis, Hydrogen is a product and Ocean water is the largest source of such Hydrogen. In fact countries should generate Hydrogen using desalinated water and OTEC power. The stored Hydrogen is a stored energy that can be used as and when required. That is why we believe ‘water and energy are two sides of the same coin’.