While traditional methods of water conservation are valuable, especially in countries like India, in our urbanised densely populated world, we do have many innovative solutions for water saving, purification and collection that are emerging. While high tech solutions are often high carbon solutions (such as desalination of sea water) there are many solutions which may become essential to see us through the future decades of water stress.
Nanotechnology in Filtration:
According to the World Health Organisation, 1.6 million people die each year from diarrhoeal diseases attributable to lack of safe drinking water as well as basic sanitation. Researchers in India have come up with a solution to this perennial problem with a water purification system using nanotechnology.
The technology removes microbes, bacteria and other matter from water using composite nanoparticles, which emit silver ions that destroy contaminants. “Our work can start saving lives,” says Prof Thalappil Pradeep of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. “For just $2.50 a year you can deliver microbially safe water for a family.” It is a sign that low-cost water purification may finally be round the corner – and be commercially scaleable.
Although holding much promise for the future, seawater desalination is still extremely expensive, with reverse osmosis technology consuming a vast amount of energy: around 4 kilowatt hours of energy for every cubic metre of water.
One solution being explored in Singapore, which opened its first seawater desalination plant in 2005, is biomimicry – mimicking the biological processes by which mangrove plants and euryhaline fish (fish that can live in fresh briny or salt water) extract seawater using minimal energy. Another new approach is to use biomimetic membranes enhanced with aquaporin: proteins embedded in cell membranes that selectively shuttle water in and out of cells while blocking out salts.
Harry Seah, chief technology officer for PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, says: “If science can find a way of effectively mimicking these biological processes, innovative engineering solutions can potentially be derived for seawater desalination. Seawater desalination can then be transformed beyond our wildest imagination.”
Smart monitoring: In developing countries alone, it is estimated that 45m cubic metres are lost every day in distribution networks. Leaks are not only costly for companies, but increase pressure on stretched water resources and raise the likelihood of pollutants infiltrating supplies.
“It does not make commercial sense to invest billions in additional reservoirs and water catchment, treatment plants [and] pumping stations, when as much as 60% of water produced is unaccounted for,” says Dale Hartley, director of business development at SebaKMT, a water leak detection specialist.
New monitoring technologies help companies to ensure the integrity of their vast water supply networks. Electronic instruments, such as pressure and acoustic sensors, connected wirelessly in real time to centralised and cloud-based monitoring systems will allow companies to detect and pinpoint leaks much quicker.
Approximately 70% of the world’s freshwater is used by the agricultural industry. Applying a more intelligent approach to water management by deploying precision irrigation systems and computer algorithms and modelling is already beginning to bring benefits to farmers in developed countries.
However, while this approach embraces new instrumentation and analytical technologies, innovation comes from a change in mindset that emphasises the importance of measuring and forecasting.
“In the old days there was not so much stress on measuring because we thought we had plenty of water,” says Carey Hidaka, smarter water management expert at IBM. “It’s a bit of a paradigm switch for the water industry, which like others is used to throwing new engineering developments at problems.”
Engineering still has its place in eco friendly solutions. Many people living in urban areas, even in advanced economies, still do not have their sewage adequately treated and wastewater is often discharged, untreated, into rivers and estuaries or used as irrigation water.
New technologies are promising to transform wastewater into a resource for energy generation and a source of drinking water. Modular hybrid activated sludge digesters, for instance, are now removing nutrients to be used as fertilisers and are, in turn, driving down the energy required for treatment by up to half.
“There is an urgent need for wastewater systems that are more compact, so that new plants can be built in urban areas where land is scarce and for upgrading and expanding extant facilities,” says Dr David Lloyd Owen, an advisor to the board of Bluewater Bio, a specialist in wastewater treatment.
HYBACS Units at Ashbourne Sewage Treatment Works. The HYBACS system is a green, more efficient way to deal with sewage.
Mobile Recycling Facilities:
An unexpected by product from the explosion of the global hydraulic fracturing industry has been demand for highly mobile water treatment facilities. Investment is being channelled into reverse osmosis units that will allow companies to treat high volumes of water to extract gas and injected into the subsurface.
“There will be knock-on benefits as products [will be developed] with new applications where the price tolerance is much lower,” says Peter Adriaens, professor of environmental engineering and entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan.
Adriaens adds: “As these technologies develop and learn to treat high volumes of water, we will see cheaper, more potable treatment systems and we will start to move away from massive centralised treatment systems.”
Same tap. 98% less water. The Altered:Nozzle is the worlds most extreme water saving nozzle. It installs easily into your existing tap. By atomizing water we can use 98% less water and still retain full functionality. And if you need a little more, then you switch to our regular saving mode. Still 75% savings, but all the water you need. Perfect for filling glasses, pots and pans.
The mind behind the Altered Nozzle is Prof. Kaj Mickos of Sweden, who is a professional inventor with a stake in 14 companies and more than 30 individual patents. Along with Johan Nihlén, Mikael Abbhagen and Kickstarter.com, that helped them crowd source funds to manufacture an initial batch of nozzles, this group has launched their unique water saving tap. The old solution for saving water has been to restrict the flow of water. But that only works up to a point. When you’re left with only a drizzle, you need a shift in technology. This technology allows enough water to be used, without millions of litres of water going down the drain.
When atomizing the water we break it up into millions of tiny droplets. Creating a high speed, heavy mist, shooting out of your tap. This increases the surface area of the water drastically and makes it possible for you to come in contact with almost all of the water coming out of your tap.
Prof. Kaj Mickos says, “The result was even more extreme than we thought. We could have full functionality in washing hands, doing dishes, brushing teeth etc, with only 2% of the water compared to a standard saving tap!”
This nozzle is certainly expensive for the Indian Pocket now, but one hopes that if it succeeds commercially, we will soon have an affordable version in India as well.
Plant based Sewage Treatment:
In plant based sewerage treatments, plants and microorganisms are chosen purposefully to help break down pollutants within the water. The treatment is performed by the action of micro-organisms that takes 4-6 days and in which organic and mineral substances, toxic substances, fecal and other bacteria are removed from the waste water. Plant based treatment plants consists of three pools arranged in cascades treating waste water, where between 95 and 99 percent is treated by using biological, chemical or physical processes. The treated water is safe enough to be discharged into streams, lakes, the sea, or retained in puddles and artificial accumulations and used for irrigation. The system requires no maintenance except that new seeds must be planted periodically.Plant-based treatments can treat all waste-water, but the most common uses are for:
- Households and institutions – where the treated water can be re-used.
- Protection of drinking water sources, underground waters and lakes
- Leachate waters from landfills and waste depositories
The Benefits of using a plant based treatment for waste-water include:
- Eco-friendly use of original plants and natural materials, where no mechanical equipment or energy is required for operation
- No unpleasant odors
- Cheap and easy maintenance
Sources: www.theguardian.com and www.Kickstarter. com – Camp Bijar and Biophilic Cities
All images courtesy above websites and hydrocreatives.com