An Idea to Solve the Salty-Water Conundrum

There is no end to what human beings can do, and yet there is little we do better than growing on a consistent basis. This tendency to improve, no matter the situation, has fetched the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for a second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence and initiate a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution then went on to scale up the human experience through many different directions, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

The researching team at National Renewable Energy Laboratory has successfully developed a new methodology called low-salt-rejection reverse osmosis, which is designed to treat water of high salt quotient. To understand why this is such a significant development, we must acknowledge how, as of 2018, nearly 80% of the country’s wastewater, including water used in agriculture, power plants, and mines, was getting dumped backed into the world without being properly treated, thus rendering it outright unusable. Now, while we have looked at the problem, we must also take into account that, today, we have technologies to treat seawater and briny groundwater. However, mind you, we still don’t have a single proven technique to treat the saltiest of waters present on our planet. The stated gap poses a major challenge, as our depleting and already polluted water resources have made it difficult to reintroduce the salty stock back into the mix. So, what did the researching team do to solve this conundrum? Well, it developed a mathematical model, which can leverage the power of a supercomputer to quickly evaluate the cost, clean water output, and energy consumption of more than 130,000 potential water treatment system designs. The results we got here indicated that, in many cases, low-salt-rejection reverse osmosis could be the most cost-effective alternative, potentially reducing the overall cost of producing clean water by a whopping 63%.

As for the granular-level factors that make the stated technique an ideal solution, the answer talks to the way low-salt-rejection reverse osmosis systems allow more salt to pass through each membrane, something which ensures it would require less force and less energy. In case the water is still too salty after going through the system, it is recycled back to the membrane, and once the salt content is low enough, the process lands under the wing of standard reverse osmosis technique where we can finally produce  high-quality drinking water.

“The ultimate goal of this research is to conduct a thorough techno-economic evaluation of a new technology that hasn’t been tested in the real world yet but has the potential to enable high-water-recovery desalination,” said Adam Atia, a senior engineer at the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the paper’s lead author.

For the future, the researchers will likely partner with several other experimental teams, as they gear up to build and evaluate how low-salt-rejection reverse osmosis systems function in the real world. Interestingly, it is not expected to be a snag-free affair, with a lot of practical factors still not actively considered. To give you an example, we don’t know about the strategy for keeping potential mineral buildup from slowing the system down. Nonetheless, it is, no doubt, an achievement of epic proportions.

“To me, it’s a demonstration of what we can do with a little bit of computation and a little bit of optimization,” said Bernard Knueven, a researcher at National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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