Gates Foundation Water Energy Vision

Posted June 19, 2011 by nick2
Categories: Bill Gates Foundation

The healthy growth of mankind depends on continuously decreasing the cost and increasing the availability of water and energy everywhere.

Nice thought. Why mention it?

Its a mission statement.

For who?

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and through him America’s billionaires.

Why Bill Gates?

His passion; According to a recent interview

Understanding science and pushing the boundaries of science is what makes me immensely satisfied. What I’m doing now involves understanding maths, risk-taking. The first half of my life was good preparation for the second half.’

Now in the context of the interview he was talking about the development of a vaccine to cure a disease like malaria but its clear that energy is part of that picture too.

In 2010 at the annual Ted conference he said his greatest wish–greater even than the efforts of the Bill Gates foundation–was that a new energy source be invented that delivered power for less than half the cost of coal.

If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years… I could pick who’s president…. I could pick a vaccine —- which is something I love— or I could pick this thing that’s half the cost [of coal based electrical production] with no CO2 — gets invented — this is the wish I would pick. This the one with the greatest impact.

This year at his annual corporate executives conference–he included energy research as a core technology research investment goal.

What about water?

Mr Gates is half way to recognizing the importance of water. Over the last several years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given over $1.7 billion to support food security worldwide. At several conferences in the last year he has talked about the importance of grants to help poverty stricken small farmers in South Asia and Africa to grow more food. But at the same time he has emphasized the need for tech innovation.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Gates offers “a glimpse into his thinking and his hopes for the future. ‘Despite the tough economy, I am still very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead,’ he writes. ‘A combination of scientific innovations and great leaders who are working on behalf of the world’s poorest people will continue to improve the human condition'”

What innovation is foundational to the next great green revolution?


That is delivering water in massive volumes–cheap enough for farming –1000 miles from any seacoast.

Water is foundational to civilization. It always has been. Always will be. In this article 20 former world leaders talk about the looming global water crises. You can already read Wall St Journal articles about the return of 1970’s style ideas from scholars like Paul Ehrlich (Population Bomb) or the Club of Rome’s “Limits of Growth” (read by a million boomers as students in high school, college & graduate school. As it happened, these 70’s books coincided with the peak and initial decline in US (cheap) oil production as well as the end or the era of US dam building.)

Today, many large players through out the world including sovereign wealth funds are buying up agricultural land.

They are anticipating a world wide shortage of food supplies. But these food shortages have not been in rural Africa or Asia where many current poverty programs are targeted. Rather the shortages/high prices have been in big cities. There have been major food riots already. What has not been widely reported about the crises in Egypt this year is that it has been sparked by money –not politics. There were big increases in the cost of grain.

Mr Gates concluded the 2010 Ted conference speech by saying

If we don’t get this wish [for cheaper energy]the division between those who think short term and long term will be terrible between the us and china between poor countries and rich and most of all the lives of those two billion will be far worse

Why get other billionaires involved?

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are looking to get billionaires in the USA and the rest of the world to
give away at least half of their wealth.

Gates & Buffet have left it up to billionaires to decide what to give their money to. Many are agreeable to the idea. But all would love for their money to have a real impact. They want the same thing as Bill Gates. They want to make a difference. However, they don’t know what would have the greatest impact.

What difference does cheap water and cheap energy make?

Consider; If you collapsed the cost of water desalination and transport so as to make desert farming profitable 1000 miles from any seacoast, you could turn the world’s deserts green. That would increase the habitable size of the USA & China each by 1/3, double the habitable size of Africa, triple the habitable size of Mexico, increase by 10 fold or more the habitable size of Australia– and double the size of the habitable earth.

So there’s your vision thing.

Turn the world’s deserts green and double the size of the habitable planet.

Technologically and financially, this is much much simpler and doable than, for example, colonizing the moon. Turning the deserts green just involves lowering the cost of energy and water. (Lower the cost of water and power and market forces and governments will take over to do the rest.)How do you collapse the costs of water and power? I think Mr Gates understands the issues involved with energy. In order, to collapse the cost of delivered desalinized water–just two technologies need to be improved–membranes and pipelines.(Delivering water cheaply over great distances by pushing water uphill will require cheaper energy–as well as better/faster/smarter pipelines. Membranes are currently expensive and require a lot of energy to desalinate water. Their cost/efficiency/longevity is falling by half about once a decade or so. Already, the elements are in place to significantly accelerate that decline in price.) (There are subsidiary issues like finding ways to profitably turn Na+ Cl- and dozens of trace elements–into products. I talk about this in more detail here.)

Wouldn’t you think that this might be a proper thing for the very flowers of healthy growth –America’s billionaires — to devote their seed to? That is. isn’t this goal both worthy and doable? Wouldn’t this have a big impact?

Doesn’t this gives an organic role in civilization for America’s billionaires? (as opposed to say the inorganic role played by billionaires like Soros in promoting — one world government…)

What about the US federal government? Isn’t there a United States program for water desalination? Doesn’t this nation spend money on water R&D? Yes, about 50 million scattered through a dozen agencies. (This compares to 1.5 billion annually in today’s dollars spent on desalination research from roughly 1955-1975 –which research developed the semi permeable membrane that filters much of the installed desalination industry today.) US Corporate desalination R&D contributes another 50 million annually.

Isn’t energy research something that the Department of Energy does?

Yes– but just as with water–the feds are not doing nearly enough. According to Bill Gates in this interview:

Interviewer:You are a member of the American Energy Innovation Council, the AEIC, which calls for a national energy policy that would increase U.S. investment in energy research every year from $5 billion to $16 billion.


Interviewer:I was stunned that the U.S. government invests so little.

Gates: Yeah, particularly when you look at the DOE budget, and it looks so big–but the biggest part of that by far is dealing with the legacy of nuclear weapons production at various sites around the country. I was stunned myself. You know, the National Institutes of Health invest a bit more than $30 billion.

For a moment, lets discuss the Bill Gates Foundation because I think that Mr Gates– by way of his thoughts on global health and its relation to wealth– is already backing into the idea that I’m proposing.

The Gates Foundation funds medical research in diseases that are not common in wealthy countries. (Generally, the Gates foundation serves grant seekers seeking to bring innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community. This includes education scholarships to low income families.)

The Gates Foundation is in that health area, and when we pick a disease to work on, we pick a disease where for some reason the market is not working. Like malaria: rich people don’t need a malaria vaccine. They are rarely in malarial areas, and when they are, they can take prophylactic drugs and not worry about it.

Mr Gates reasons that there is a relationship between health and wealth. According to this article

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2011 ( –
Attributing the decline in the number of children who die before their fifth birthday from 20 million in 1960 to 8.5 million today to infant vaccination, Gates told the audience of more than 2,000 at the conference, “About one-third [of that improvement] is by increasing income. The majority has been through vaccines. Vaccines will be the key.

1/3 might be a little low for the influence of wealth on health. Certainly it could be reasonably argued that 1/2 might be more like it.

Its easy to show, for example, that there is a correlation between health and wealth. Consider this utube from from global health specialist Hans Rosling.

What you’ll see is that the west made huge gains in health and wealth before 1900 without ubiquitous vaccinations. From 1900 to 1960 the west continued to make huge gains in health and wealth –with vaccination–while the rest of the world wealth gains remained stagnant. But after 1960–the health and wealth of much of the rest of the world moved in lock step upward. There is no initial lag of either health or wealth which would suggest that either health or wealth was preponderantly causal.

(Now I am not advocating that the Gates Foundation do anything other than what it is doing currently. Vaccines save lives. Rather I’m suggesting that if America’s other billionaires became involved in research to collapse the cost of water and power–their work–because it increases the wealth of the world (which in turn funds health advances)– would be a proper adjunct to the work of the Gates Foundation.)

Even though Gates is more interested in charity with regards to poor countries–for several years he has recognized the importance of the energy to not only poor people — but also people all over the world.

Gates in the –energy ventures article — has said that

“I guess in a vague sense we can say that we want energy that costs, say, a quarter of what coal or electricity does. Why? Because that’s what it will take to raise the poorest of the poor in world to reasonable living standards. But it will also raise the living standards of the rest of the world.”

Energy costs directly effect productivity. The more productive people are the wealthier they are. The wealthier they are–the more they can afford things like health care. This is true for everyone.

Gates is doing some work along those lines –separately from his foundation work. Several years ago he invested in Sapphire Energy — an algae based biofuel company. As well he has invested in a unique nuclear reactor that has been developed by a company called TerraPower.

More recently reports are that he has invested in a software company called NEOS GeoSolutions which promises to take much of the guesswork out of onshore oil and gas exploration.

Just last month he invested in Liquid Metal Battery — a company that promises to store and release electricity in volume from intermittent sources like solar and wind.

While the cost of energy affects topline wealth–the cost of water reflects bottom line wealth. (For example, the cost of food represents maybe 8% of Americans home costs–however, food represents 40% of costs for say, people in Egypt.)

All the greatest advances in power and water in the 20th century were top down advances incubated mostly in the US and then moved to the rest of the world. This is true for oil-gas/internal combustion engine and hydro electric power, nuclear electric power/electric motors. The Hoover Dam in the USA provided the template for dams worldwide. According to T Boone Pickens this will likely be the case with fracking natural gas (and still more recently fracking oil). Because of new technologies the US now has the equivalent of three times the reserves of the Saudis. As happened with earlier water power technologies, hydraulic fracking will likely go overseas too after it has done its work here in the USA. However, except for natural gas temporarily this energy will not come in at anywhere near at the price points equivalent to 1/4-1/2 the cost of electricity from coal. That is oil & natural gas in the USA seem poised to become plentiful again but not cheap. Even Mr Pickens says that fracking natural gas (and oil) is a temporary solution.

According to Gates if the USA does not lead in research –it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

But unfortunately, when the U.S. doesn’t step up on basic research, the world at large doesn’t tend to step up and fill the gap. I wish they would, but they don’t.

So its not disingenuous or cute to say that charity begins at home.

Gates writes another article here in which he maintains that the key to energy success is distributed innovation.

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go

I think that Donald Rumsfeld used an intellectual construct that can be applied to this distributed approach to research.

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Known knowns are things we know we know. This would represent direct investment in companies and research that furthers the goal of cheaper water and energy. This is what Bill Gates and many other investors are currently doing. They find a tech that looks promising and invest in it.

Known unknowns: that is things we know we don’t know. Wouldn’t it be nice to say “Ok we have this problem and we will pay this much for a solution. A number of web sites have grown up in the last couple years that bring together Research organizations and problem solvers like InnoCentive, YourEncore, & NineSigma. There’s a lot of seriously interesting ways this can be used to accelerate energy and water research. Consider this article by Wired Magazine.

Unknown unknowns. The problem with any directed research is that its directed. Many times solutions can come from unknown directions. What’s the best way to harvest this?

With prizes.

Newt Gingrich in 2001 fleshed out this idea by saying.

Historically, prizes have been used to stimulate breakthrough technology. Prizes are particularly effective motivators of entrepreneurs, who use investment capital to test their ideas and generally invest four times the value of a prize to win the competition. The X-Prize Foundation was recently established to manage such prizes as the $10 million Ansari X Prize for Suborbital Spaceflight, the $10 million Archon X-Prize for Genomics, and the $20 million Google X-Prize to land and successfully operate an unmanned rover vehicle on the Moon. Such prizes must be big, even huge, to produce meaningful discoveries on a grand scale. Perhaps a prize of $1 billion could be the impetus for a 500-miles-per-gallon car. Robust incentives and prizes might produce a hydrogen-based economy much faster than would conventional R&D.

Gingrich was low in his calculations as to how much research the X-Prize actually produced. According to this ingenious article by Tim Hartford called called Cash For Answers–When the competition was completed:

The X Prize foundation claims that the Ansari X Prize directly stimulated $100m of spending on research and development, 10 times the value of the prize itself. That is clever, and for a handful of sexy challenges it is likely to be a trick that can be repeated.

So what do I suggest? What’s the best fastest way to produce energy & water miracles.

I would suggest doing all three.

1.)Continue to invest in start ups with promising energy and water technology.
2.)Put out bids online for anyone to solve specific energy and water problems
3.)Run high stakes water and energy contests. These contests would be as well publicized as American idol. So that the contest winners get get fame as well as fortune. But also contest contributors are honored.

I would suggest desalination contests: for desalination plants, pipelines and semi permiable membranes.

For energy, Mr Gates would have a better idea as to how to target prizes for energy. He mentioned three at the 2010 Ted conference: molten salt (thorium)reactors, TerraPower, portable nuclear reactors. More recently he has mentioned others.

The only thing I would add to this list is…. research funding and a prize should be given for the first internal combustion engine based on conversion of sodium ion (Na+) to sodium (Na) in water H20. This wouldn’t be used to power a car. Rather this could be used to power water pumps for pumping rivers of water inland. (For more info on this email me at ckilmer at gmail dot com.) As well Mr. Gates mentions here that the key to materials research (by which get to energy and water innovations)is to accelerate the power of computer modeling. I have found a way to do this. Its pretty obvious so likely there already other players working on it. But if not again see me at ckilmer at you know gmail dot com)

More generally Mr Gates has put the benchmark goal of producing energy at 1/2- 1/4 the cost of coal based electricity. So prizes might be given to walk down the cost.

DARPA has been a good at running prize programs so they might be consulted for running the program. The WateReuse association is well embedded in the desalination community so they would be good to publicizing efforts to the desalination community. Dancing with the stars might be consulted to somehow make the whole show sexy. The media production of the show should be world wide.

Now I began this article with the mission statement:

The healthy growth of mankind depends on continuously decreasing the cost and increasing the availability of water and energy everywhere.

However, I only talked about the next great leap forward.

This is a problem.

Likely in only ten years (but no more than 20 years) the basic science and technology for collapsing the cost of transported fresh water and energy will be developed. Mr Gates — and all the billionaires who follow his lead– who start out with the intent to do good –will wind up doing well.

What then?

Well then the idea would be to use the profits to fund a foundation whose mission statement is:

The healthy growth of mankind depends on continuously decreasing the cost and increasing the availability of water and energy everywhere.

This foundation would fund the R&D that makes for cheap water and energy on the moon and mars and in space.

How would you institutionalize Mr Gates passion?
“Understanding science and pushing the boundaries of science”

To handle known knowns You might have a bicameral research funding agency. Where one branch was based off of DARPA and the other was based off of crowdsourcing scientific research. To handle known unknowns you might farm out specific problems to be solved on the internet. For unknown unknowns third group would organize well publicized competitions

Does this sound like science fiction? Very well. Thank you Mr Assimov for your inspiration. And yeah. Thank you Mr Gates for your passion & vision.


Utah startup hits geothermal jackpot

Posted December 26, 2008 by nick2
Categories: Water Desalination Research and Development

This is what I was talking about as far as funding being proportional to visions & how federal officials will just wait for stuff to come to them. Further, it looks like there’s a consensus building around federal funding for a new power grid to link remote power stations to the network. From Washington Post 12/23/08

Senior aides in the new administration and the congressional leadership privately predict that they will be able to please both camps [spend infrastructure now vs spend green slowly]but suggest that there have been delays in identifying enough of the environmentally friendly projects to reach a dollar level that will truly jump-start the economy.

Why the delay? Its not clear. My guess is that not enough green power projects pencil for private capital due  to current tax laws and grid infrastructure constraints.  Also there is this.  Remember back in June the BLM put a two year freeze on solar development pending environmental review? Someone needs to have a heart to heart with those folk and maybe mention something about it to DOI secretary designate Salalazar.

Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has circulated a 41-page memo seeking $85 billion worth of projects over the next two years. The largest chunk of that money, more than $30.2 billion, would go toward highway funds, while $12 billion would go to local public transportation funds. An additional $14.3 billion would go toward “environmental infrastructure,” with most going to a clean-water fund.

Its not clear as yet what that clean water fund will consist of.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who supports both medical technology and wind farm projects, said it may take longer to pump the money into those projects, but said that is why Obama set out a two-year plan. In that time span, Nelson said, a “smart grid” could be funded that would connect wind farms and solar power hot spots around the country, delivering power in a cleaner fashion.

There is increasing talk of this grid funded by the government. So going forward– I would categorize this project as…likely.

The battle has Democratic negotiators on Capitol Hill trying to decide how to spend the money — and whom to please. Said Peppard: “One minute they want to spend it quickly, the next minute they want to spend it well.”

Curiously Geothermal energy development is taking off on BLM lands without much ado. Remember how Hawaii is harnessing 50 degree differentials between deep and surface ocean temperatures with heat exchangers off the Big Island? Same thing is happening with geothermal. Luke hot water (150 degrees)is being harvested with the help of heat exchangers– where it couldn’t be harvested before. They are financing the projects with private capital and using available infrastructure to get the electricity to market. I’ve copied and pasted the article below. It make for interesting reading because it shows you what is already in motion. How will this relate to water development –especially in the west? I’m not sure. But I know this. Water and power go hand in hand. With power due to come out of every hill, hollow and plain out West and some parts of the East -interesting possibilities for desalination seem more available. Might be a good idea to map over best solar, wind and geothermal resources — onto deep briny aquifers. Also, drop in the location of coal power plants. Oh and, as well, for fun, throw in the locations of   gypsum  in deep wide flat deposits near the surface of desert valleys.  Then overlay BLM lands on that.

Anyhow, check out what’s happening with geothermal.

Utah startup hits geothermal jackpot
Wed Dec 24, 2008 11:52 AM EST
geothermal, rush, business
Paul Foy, AP Business Writer

PROVO — Within six months of discovering a massive geothermal field, a small Utah company had erected and fired up a power plant — just one example of the speed with which companies are capitalizing on state mandates for alternative energy.

Anticipation of new energy policies has sparked a rush on land leases as companies like Raser Technologies Inc., based in Provo, lock up property that hold geothermal fields and potentially huge profits.

Raser’s find, about 155 miles southwest of Provo, could eventually power 200,000 homes.

The company said it will begin routing electricity to Anaheim, Calif. within weeks.

Earlier this month, California adopted the nation’s most sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“We made a pleasant discovery, let’s put it that way,” said Brent M. Cook, the company’s chief executive.

The number of government land leases and drilling permits have risen quickly, said Kermit Witherbee, who heads up the leasing program for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with more than two dozen companies now trying to make a score like Raser.

Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved 18 geothermal drilling permits. That number more than doubled in 2007 and has nearly quadrupled this year.

The government leased a staggering 244,000 acres for geothermal development in the past 18 months. Another 146,339 acres went up for bid Friday in Utah, Oregon and Idaho.

All of it was claimed.

Raser’s find “has the potential to become one of the more important geothermal energy developments of the last quarter century,” said Greg Nash, a professor of geothermal exploration at the University of Utah.

The company quickly redrew its business plan, bumping up its planned development of 10 megawatts of power to 230 megawatts. That is in line with the field’s power potential according to calculations by GeothermEX Inc., a consulting firm.

By comparison, the largest group of geothermal plants in the world are The Geysers, about 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Geysers geothermal basin produces about 900 megawatts of energy, enough to power the city, said Ann Robertson-Tait, a senior geologist and vice president of business development for GeothermEX.

Geothermal technology creates energy using heat that is stored in the earth. But geothermal still generates less than 1 percent of the world’s energy, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

“The outlook for geothermal is great,” said Brian Yerger, an energy analyst for New York-based Jesup & Lamont.

Geothermal companies are relatively small players in the energy market and have had to scramble to lock up financing, particularly during a recession.

Merrill Lynch & Co. has pledged to fund Raser’s first 100 megawatts of projects and says it is staying in the game.

“We’ve done a lot with Raser,” said Merrill Lynch spokeswoman Danielle Robinson. “We’re very committed to the company.”

Cook said his company can raise additional money from joint ventures and stock sales. “This is where the money flows, to alternative energy projects that pencil out,” he said. The company made its first major stock sale Nov. 14 to Fletcher Asset Management of New York.

“We are enthusiastic about our investment,” said Kell Benson, Fletcher’s vice chairman. The firm bought $10 million in stock at $5 a share, with an option to double the stake.

Raser and its supplier, UTC Power, plan to build another seven geothermal energy plants across the western United States by the end of 2009 and 10 plants a year for the next decade.

The push for geothermal power has been accelerated by state mandates like those in California, which this month said utilities must obtain a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Raser, which specializes in low-boil geothermal sites, started buying leases five years ago on hundreds of thousands of acres that had been passed over because of their lower heat potential.

New technology, however, has made low-boil water useable for geothermal power. Raser buys 250-kilowatt power units from UTC Power, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.

Geothermal is also being used on a smaller scale.

“These things are slot machines. They make money,” said Bernie Karl, owner of Chena Hot Springs Resort, off the grid 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. On geothermal energy from early UTC prototypes, Karl powers light bulbs, heats lodges and rooms for 210 guests, warms a greenhouse that grows food and spices, keeps an ice house frozen and makes hydrogen for resort vehicles.

Raser hit hot water at a few thousand feet below the surface circulating inside a zone of porous limestone a mile deep. The underground “lake” cycles hot water endlessly under the power of the Earth’s internal heat like a steam engine, throwing up loops of hot water intersected by wells that return it to the system.

The company holds rights to 78 square miles of land in the area and believes it has barely tapped the full potential.

Sen. Ken Salazar DOI Steven Chu DOE

Posted December 18, 2008 by nick2
Categories: LLNL Research, turning saltwater in fire, Water Desalination Research and Development

In my last post, I mentioned a number of popular ideas to advance alternative energy development. But I didn’t attribute them because nothing had been written of incoming administration officials as yet. A couple of days later several major newspapers mentioned ideas of incoming administration officials which included ideas I talked about. So I inserted these in my last post. If you went to my last post early check back. (Just skim down and check  the writing in block quotes.) This week’s post includes a piece from the Wall St Journal which mentions another popular idea I mentioned in my last post.

How about renewable energy? Dr. Chu already had a taste of Washington power-brokering, in a briefing with current Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. He pitched them on the idea of an interstate electricity transmission system to be paid for by ratepayers. That would solve one of the biggest hurdles to wide-spread adoption of clean energy like wind and solar power.

This is interesting because Dr. Chu is the president elect’s choice to lead the DOE.

The president elect’s choice for the Dept of Energy is Dr. Chu. Dr. Chu’s marquee work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is the Helios Project. That’s an effort to tackle what Dr. Chu sees as the biggest energy challenge facing the U.S. transportation. That’s because it’s a huge drain on U.S. coffers and an environmental albatross, Dr. Chu says. Helios has focused largely on biofuels—but not the bog-standard kind made from corn and sugar. The Energy Biosciences Institute, a joint effort funded by BP, is looking to make second-generation biofuels more viable. Among the approaches? Researching new ways to break down stubborn cellulosic feedstocks to improve the economics of next-generation biofuels, and finding new kinds of yeast to boost fermentation and make biofuels more plentiful while reducing their environmental impact.

Include algae to fuel in that mix. David Chu does not like coal.

Big Coal won’t be very happy if Dr. Chu gets confirmed as head of the DOE—he’s really, really not a big fan. “Coal is my worst nightmare,” he said repeatedly in a speech earlier this year outlining his lab’s alternative-energy approaches.

Ken Salazar is the president’s pick  to head up the Dept of the Interior. How will he affect water policy? Likely he will be very innovative.

He was raised on a ranch in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, and became an attorney with an expertise in water law. “In rural areas,” Salazar said in an interview this summer, “they understand water as their lifeblood.”

How will Salazar be on energy? He’ll be tough on oil  interests.

Earlier this year, Salazar criticized the department for decisions to open Colorado’s picturesque Roan Plateau for drilling. Salazar said the regulations to begin opening land for oil shale development would “sell Colorado short.”

He’s a fan of alternative energy.

The senator campaigned vigorously for Obama in Colorado, a swing state, barnstorming rural areas in a recreational vehicle while preaching alternative-energy development and its potential to revitalize rural economies. After the election, Salazar publicly urged Obama to build his planned economic stimulus package around investments in energy infrastructure.

It might be a good idea to invite Ken Salazar to the national salinity summit. So that he can see some slides that show the best places for solar and wind overlapped with the deepest briny aquifers. He’ll already know Senator Pete Domenici’s saying that you need water to make power and vice versa. He’ll also know that the hoover dam produces both power and water; that too, the hoover dam is the foundation for the economies of the southwest–and its profitable. He may see that the best way to get brackish water desalination plants is to site and budget them with solar and windmill power plants. Then it would be his job to sell the idea to DOE elect Dr. Chu.

“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” Obama said

Come to think of it, it might be a good idea to invite a bunch of solar wind and desal executives to the National Salinity Conference.

imho Senator Salazar will be interested in accelerated funding for all forms of desalination R&D from Proifera plus a dozen other cutting edge membrane companies to left handed ideas like low temperature cooking water out of gypsum. As well, I would think for experimental reasons both men would be interested in siting at least one solar/desal plant near a coal plant so as to pump the coal plant’s waste CO2 into algae geenhouses. I’ve mentioned this in posts here & here. Texas might be the best place for this because  they have CO2 emitting industrial plants there,sunlight and briny aquifers. There are others.

I think that both Senator Salazar and Dr Chu should be urged to fund research into cheap smart energy efficient water pipelines mentioned here, here and here. I mentioned an initial slant well experiment in the Santa Barbara channel with a Profiera membrane here. Further they should be appraised that the ultimate goal in +-7 years of nanotube and pipeline research are  pipes with one end in the salty pacific through which only fresh water flows inland to points all over the desert southwest. Toward this end, I could easily see several lines of solar power plants in the empty deserts there that point to Arizona. These might double as pumping stations in the future for water pipelines that push water eastward.

Finally it might be helpful to do a little more detailed ranking for best places to site desal/solarwind plants. Ranking might include:

1.)distance from electric AND water grids

2.) ease of getting federal state & local permissions.

3.) time to project ground breaking.

If the DOI was onboard, likely the quickest places to break ground would be BLM lands.
Herbert Hoover as Commerce Secretary signed the initial enabling legislation for the Hoover Dam on November 24, 1922. Ground was not broken on the Hoover Dam until 10 years later in 1932.

That’s a very leisurely pace to ground breaking. Things won’t be nearly so leisurely this time.

Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary who will head Obama’s National Economic Council, has said a fiscal stimulus will have to be “speedy, substantial and sustained.” Congressional leaders have indicated that spending could even be as large as the $700 billion bailout, but details of how and where the money will be distributed are unknown.

So be forewarned. In the next year or two — guys  will come into your office blue in the face with tension. Help them along their way. Why? Because the very best investment  the government can make is in water and energy. Why? Because water and energy provide the basis for growth in the economy and the government’s future tax base.

said Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google Inc. and an Obama economic adviser, in an interview. “You would want to invest in something that would not just physically build a bridge, but would help build businesses that would create more wealth.”

That would be water and energy. Why is this important politically? The reason is–this is not a settled issue. The talk is now for +-50 billion to allocate for green projects. But it could be more or less depending on the projects presented –and the vision thing.

Even so, the Obama team remains split over how much money to devote to green and high-tech projects, and how much to focus on traditional infrastructure.

In purely economic terms, a traditional infrastructure building spree might provide the biggest bang, Mr. Zandi said. But, he added, “there’s something to be said for an infrastructure program that captures the imagination, because confidence is just shot.”

The way to settle this in favor of green energy and water desalination projects is to present projects that can be implemented quickly. Oh and one more thing. The size of the investment will depend on the size of the vision.

A National Salinity Summit that can conclude with best sites for solar/wind/desal plants can give solar/wind/desal players legs. Even this is a step behind. Nor is it the big vision I’ve talked about for a couple years.

As it is the big cities already have their make work projects lined up.

Hawaii Governor Signs Ocean Thermal Energy Deal

Posted December 5, 2008 by nick2
Categories: turning saltwater in fire, Water Desalination Research and Development

I registered recently for the National Salinity Summit in Las Vegas in January. Its pretty convenient for me this time as I have an internet marketing conference to attend that week. All I have to do is hop from one hotel to another because the conferences come one right after the other.

I noticed that a theme of the desalination conference is water and energy projects combined. Before I get started on this post I think it should be mentioned that now is a very good time for financing public or private energy/water projects. On the private side– over a trillion dollars have come out of the stock market. People are really fried by their losses. Dull returns obtained by financing water projects can look pretty good to these folk now. All ya gotta do is create the investment vehicles, draw up the blueprints, get all the state federal and local permissions and show that the state or someone will buy the water. So investors can say this is a great way to preserve capital plus make a few points — plus do something green.

It also looks very much like the federal government is gearing up to spend several hundred billion dollars on public works and/or energy projects. Funding will not come slowly: According to the NY Times

Mr. Obama promised to set new rules to govern spending, such as a “use it or lose it” requirement that states act quickly

Democrats hope the new Congress that takes office in early January could pass such a measure in time for Mr. Obama to sign almost instantly after taking office Jan. 20.

These public works projects include solar and wind farms. According to the “>Washington Post.

President-elect Barack Obama is developing a plan to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs over the next two years by spending billions of dollars to rebuild roads and bridges, modernize public schools, and construct wind farms and other alternative sources of energy.

Obama said his plan would launch “a two-year nationwide effort to jump-start job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels,” as well as producing fuel-efficient cars.

President-elect Obama’s alternative energy plan, called New Energy for America, could have a significant impact on the U.S. solar industry. The plan’s provisions include:

* A federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires 10 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S. to come from renewable sources by 2012.
* A $150 billion investment over 10 years in research, technology demonstration, and commercial deployment of clean energy technology.
* Extension of production tax credits for five years to encourage renewable energy production.
* A cap-and-trade system of carbon credits to provide an incentive for businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A well designed package — that is not experimental–will attract public money. Someone, or some group with a really creative financing ability imho could just leverage public & private financing off each other across a variety of power projects. A model could be built that could be replicated. Really, this is one seriously opportune moment for this kind of thing. Is there an ambitious consulting agency in the house? Really. How do you do this? I don’t know. Invite some people from wall st to the conference. Fund a couple of different sharp consultants and or agencies. Pair them up with various federal and state officials. Really, this is one seriously opportune moment for this kind of thing. The kicker is to scale it. That is you know. Once you get a model you replicate it.

For example last year we were shown a very interesting slide –which I can’t find now. The slide shows the best places for solar and wind power projects. You can generally figure that the best places for solar are in the southwest and the best places for wind are in the midwest. Well, a great presentation would be to map over best places for energy and wind power plants onto deepest/widest brackish aquifers. Choose the 10-20 best places for both power and water generation. In terms of cost rank them by proximity to the grid and/or end users.

These places are usually far from the power grid. So you might get the federal government to pay for the utility lines to the grid–maybe even water pipelines–but not maintenance. (Certainly that would be cheaper than piping water down from Alaska or Canada.) Heck the government might be interested in funding the solar or wind farms outright. Certainly there are certain tax advantages that coal plants enjoy because the cost of their coal can be deducted whereas the wind and the sun cannot be deducted from taxes. Set these tax advantages aside. That is, don’t raise taxes on the coal plants but rather give solar power plants comparable tax advantages. Some of this is already in the works. According to the WSJ.

Green-technology advocates, for their part, want to include such elements as a multiyear extension of a tax credit for investment in wind power, plus another credit for solar-power makers. All told, they estimate the green component could be $50 billion, or 10% of the overall package.

Get the federal state & local governments to provide the permissions and right of ways. (And uh, someone will need to have a little heart to heart with the BLM.) A cheap energy source cuts into energy costs for desalination plants. Brackish water desalinizes relatively cheaply. Guarantee a buyer. Shouldn’t be too hard in the southwest. Might even be easy for the upper midwest. With that in place bring in the private investors fo fund the water desal plants (and whatever portion of the power plants the feds won’t do. (Maybe this could be funded/profited all publicly or all privately. I’m just throwing out one model.) Some of this is already in planning.

Some of the stimulus plan’s targets may be so complicated that the Obama team will need subsequent legislation to make it work, Mr. Schmidt said. The economic plan might set aside money for renewable-energy projects, and in subsequent legislation, mandate that utilities use electricity generated by sources such as wind and solar projects.

Now I’m ready to talk about the ocean. The deep ocean.

In my last post, I mentioned that membranes may be so efficient that maybe  five years from now you could drill a slant well out a couple hundred feet into the Santa Barbara Channel, attach an efficient membrane on the end and let fresh water flow downhill toward shore. Current membrane technology would require that you place the membranes at about 1700 feet–but in the future perhaps you would need only go down 100-200 feet.

Nice idea.

Interestingly, today there is a big business for deep desalinated water that comes from off the shore of the Big Island in Hawaii. Its expensive bottled water. The Japanese love the stuff.

The drop off from the big island is so steep that they don’t have to go far from shore to reach 1700 feet. However, the salt water is not desalinated at 1700 feet.

The state pumps the water using two pipes that go down 2,000 feet and then transports it to the companies, which do the desalination, filtering, bottling and packaging. The state will soon complete construction of a new 55-inch pipe that goes 3,000 feet deep.

That was written in 2004. There are now two pipelines that run up from the deep off the Big Island.

We’re talking bottled water here. The Japanese think the desalinated deep sea water is something special. That may well be the case. Why? A lot of sea creatures thrive on the mineral content provided by the deep water.There is a commercial experimental station on the Big Island with one very big idea. Deep water can be used for many commercial purposes. A great field trip for American water officials would be a visit to that Big Island Experimental facility. Why? Because discussions with businesses there will help water officials to think of brackish or seawater water salts and minerals not as waste but as a resource.

It looks like they’ll be adding energy production to that process.

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle Tuesday announced a new energy partnership to develop a 10 megawatt ocean thermal energy conversion pilot plant in Hawaii. Electricity will be generated from the difference in temperature between the ocean’s warm surface and its colder depths.

Now before I go to the article, notice how they will be combining water and power production together. But notice something further. Power and water production are the basis for a food chain. An ecosystem. That’s what the business experimental station on the Big Island shows. That’s what the Hoover Dam provides. It provides the basis of an ecosystem food chain. The Cadillac Desert. How? By providing both power and water. Same would go for solar/wind desal projects. They would become the basis for new ecosystem food chains.

Remember this language that I’m using. Ecosystem. Food chain. This language is the language that people in the incoming administration use when describing their online systems. Consider this discussion of Google strategy.

I am very impressed lately by Google’s commitment to open source. Specifically, I love their strategy of what I call the ‘Catch and Release’ strategy for developing their ecosystem of developers and partners.

They are certainly doing a lot of land grabbing, but they are releasing their innovations and improvements as open source. This strategy for ecosystem development is much different than Microsoft’s old model (closed ecosystem embrace and extend). Google is earning credibility in a new way by enabling key technology and then by releasing code for open for open collaboration and development – Catch and Release.

Now listen to Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google Inc–an Obama economic adviser, discuss the incoming administrations spending strategy,

“America’s unique excellence is innovation, and it’s easy to understand businesses that innovate are the ones that have the longest and largest kinds of impact,” said Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google Inc. and an Obama economic adviser, in an interview. “You would want to invest in something that would not just physically build a bridge, but would help build businesses that would create more wealth.”

Here Mr Schmidt is talking the language of real estate developers. You buy a piece of property on the outskirts of the city in the path of development, upgrade the land by putting in water and power (Sewage too, depending on how much time and money you have. And then rezone the land.)

While its clear that water and energy go together. They are basis of any food chain. Why is this important politically?

Even so, the Obama team remains split over how much money to devote to green and high-tech projects, and how much to focus on traditional infrastructure.

In purely economic terms, a traditional infrastructure building spree might provide the biggest bang, Mr. Zandi said. But, he added, “there’s something to be said for an infrastructure program that captures the imagination, because confidence is just shot.”

In terms of sales pitches — the Hoover Dam was emblematic of the New Deal. Solar/Wind/desal projects could be emblematic of the new Admin. There are others–like the Hawiian project below. The point is always the same. Water and energy projects go together, they create wealth and they capture the imagination.

Anyhow, here is the article. (Oh and notice how the DOE, the state of Hawaii, Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute, and Lockheed Martin work together. For future purposes substitute any American Laboratory for the TTRI.)

Hawaii Governor Signs Ocean Thermal Energy Deal
TAIPEI, Taiwan, November 20, 2008 (ENS) – Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle Tuesday announced a new energy partnership to develop a 10 megawatt ocean thermal energy conversion pilot plant in Hawaii. Electricity will be generated from the difference in temperature between the ocean’s warm surface and its colder depths.

Governor Lingle made the announcement from Taiwan, where she is meeting with officials to promote tourism and business partnerships as part of her ongoing 11 day trip to Asia.

During the Governor’s official state visit to Taiwan, she came to an agreement with the Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute and the Lockheed Martin Corporation to build the initial pilot plant in Hawaii.

OTEC systems work by converting solar radiation to electric power. As long as the temperature between the warm surface water and the cold deep water differs by about 36°F, an OTEC system can produce a significant amount of power, turning the oceans a vast renewable resource, with the potential to produce billions of watts of electric power.

“As island economies in the Pacific, Taiwan and the State of Hawaii share very similar challenges of overdependence on imported petroleum for their energy needs,” Governor Lingle said. “Taiwan and Hawaii also share a common vision and plan to increase renewable and clean energy generation based on indigenous energy resources.”

The current economics of energy production have delayed the financing of a permanent, continuously operating ocean thermal energy conversion plant. But OTEC technology is viewed as promising for tropical island communities that rely heavily on imported fuel.

Hawaii currently relies on imported fossil fuel for about 94 percent of its primary energy – the balance is from renewable resources such as wind, solar and geothermal power.

Ocean thermal energy conversion plants could provide islanders with much-needed power, as well as desalinated water.

Taiwan is even more dependent on imported fuels than Hawaii, with less than one percent of its primary supply derived from indigenous renewable sources.

The Bureau of Energy of Taiwan is working to increase conservation and energy efficiency, and to develop renewable energy so that it accounts for 12 percent of Taiwan’s total installed capacity by 2020.

The ocean temperatures and the subsea terrain make the waters surrounding both Taiwan and Hawaii superior locations for this technology.

This latest agreement with Taiwan complements the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, a partnership between the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy which will move the state away from its dependence on fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy that is intended to be a model for other states and regions.

Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corporation has developed and studied ocean thermal energy conversion technology for over 30 years. Its plans for a 10 megawatt OTEC pilot plant in Hawaii are already underway.

Most OTEC research and development in recent decades has been performed at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, or NELHA, located at Keahole Point, Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. It has become the world’s foremost laboratory and test facility for OTEC technologies.

Huge pipelines bringing cold, deep ocean water to the surface have enabled the demonstration of a variety of ocean thermal energy conversion components and pilot plants.

The first closed-cycle, at-sea OTEC plant to generate net electricity, was deployed in the waters off the NELHA lab in 1979. It was dubbed Mini-OTEC.

Lockheed Missiles and Space Company was a partner in that effort as well as subsequent research at NELHA.

In May 1993, an open-cycle OTEC plant at NELHA, produced 50,000 watts of electricity during a net power-producing experiment. This broke the record of 40,000 watts set by a Japanese system in 1982.

Today, scientists are developing new, cost-effective, state-of-the-art turbines for open-cycle OTEC systems, yet currently there is no facility in Hawaii producing electricity using OTEC technology.

In January 2008, Governor Lingle announced the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an unprecedented partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy that aims to have at least 70 percent of Hawaii’s power come from clean energy within one generation – by 2030.

Lingle says that as Hawaii is the world’s most isolated archipelago and is also the most oil-dependent state in America, a clean energy future for Hawaii isn’t simply a desire – it’s a necessity. in

LLNL Spinoff Porifera Uses Carbon Nanotube for Desalination

Posted November 9, 2008 by nick2
Categories: LLNL Research, membrane research, Water Desalination Research and Development

Wow. This is downright fun to report. Looks like the first generation (alpha)carbon nanotube membranes will come online within a year or two. Last time I posted a couple weeks back, I mentioned that the NanoTech Institute of the University of Texas at Dallas had learned to produce carbon nanotubes in industrial quantities. Then I opined  — wouldn’t it be nice if someone could adapt that carbon nanotube production method to the carbon nanotube desalination membranes that the LLNL team is working on

Well guess what?

Yep. Yeppers. Yup. Someone did. Now the press release below does not mention the industrial production method that they are using. But it does say that an LLNL spinoff called Porifera is going to be making carbon nanotube membranes for water purification. The first benefit that is touted is the anti fouling aspects of the membrane

The tubes are packed closely together and the water flows through them like it flows through straws. Chirality doesn’t matter, said company representatives I spoke to at the California Clean Tech Open, which held its award gala in San Francisco tonight. The opening of the tubes is so small (a few nanometers wide) that bacteria, biological material and other impurities get cleaned out of the water because they can’t fit where water molecules can. The filter will also likely be useful for desalinating seawater, although purifying waste water will likely be the first application.

Another added bonus: because the impurities get stuck outside of the tubes, membrane fouling is less of a problem. It is difficult to clean traditional membranes because material can be caught inside the membrane. If bacteria or salts accumulate on the outside [of the carbon nanotubes], they can just be swirled away with water.

Curiously the article only mentions the desalination abilities of the membrane as a secondary property. Its not clear why. Consider that  they make this astounding proposition:

Overall, Porifera’s array could cut the cost of desalination by 25 percent or more. In traditional purification and desalination systems, large amounts of energy are required to pressurize water and force it through a membrane. Here, gravity does a lot of the work.

Read that? Gravity does “a lot” of the work. Its not clear here how much “a lot” is. Current membrane technology requires pressures that are the equivalent of about 1700 feet of ocean water. Its too expensive to site desal at those depths. But what would happen to costs if you could site desal membranes in 100 feet of water a couple hundred feet offshore?   Here, look at this animate graphic of an undersea power & water producing unit using wave energy. Notice the desalting unit onshore. Just place the membrane on the ocean floor near the pumps. You let ocean pressures  press the water through the carbon nanotube membranes and let the wave action pumps force the fresh water ashore. (Hmm well some bright desal consultant would have to tease out the relative costs of onshore concentrate disposal/onshore membrane pumps vs offshore installation/offshore maintenance to figure out at what depth/pressure the nanotube membrane becomes more cost effective than onshore desal. Might help if  all the metal parts were coated these new nano scale coating products so as to kill maintenance costs. As well, it would probably be helpful to coat all the underwater machinery with thin layer of  cation-exchange groups. These cause electrostatic repulsion of organic molecules. That said, it might be best to just chuck the whole underwater electrical generation stuff, set the desal membranes offshore and pull the desalinated water onshore with onshore pumps powered by current generation solar cells that  make solar electrical production as cheap as coal.  In the next couple years those solar cell electrical generation costs will drop much further. Do enough solar electrical generation to use the grid as a battery. Another idea would be to have a California water official with seriously good social skills talk to The City of Carpinteria near Santa Barbara negotiating with Venoco over their proposed Paredon Project. The Paredon Project skirts the offshore drilling problem by siting the oil rigs onshore and then drilling down and sideways for a couple miles out into the Santa Barbara straights. California water guys might ask The City of Carpinteria to require of Venoco that they drill and maintain for four years (or the life of the oil wells–which ever is longer) a slant well for water desalination. This would be an experimental project. Whereas the oil wells go out several miles–the slant water well would go down and out only a couple hundred feet/yards. There would be a carbon nanotube membrane on the end of the pipe in the ocean. The state’s costs for the experiment would be to design nanotubes membrane fitting on the end of the well out in the ocean. From the membrane well head –fresh water would flow downhill toward the shore. Seperately, The Paredon Project will create a lot of waste salt water mixed with hydrocarbons and sulfer that needs to be treated. Clean up for this is already built into project costs. I would think If the carbon nanotube membranes can make that water fresh and clean for lower costs–then that might even make up for the costs of the experimental slant water well. )

Sorry about the tangent.

What else?

It would probably be a good idea for someone to mention the problem that evolving membrane technology creates for desal plant designers like Posiden. I mentioned this a couple blogs ago. They’ll need to be able to design new desal plant in such a way that they have has the ability to change over cheaply to future generations of membranes that don’t need pre treatment. For example, if you figure on the outside that these carbon nanotube membranes come out of alpha in 2 years and beta in 5 years…any desal plant coming onstream in the next five years is going to be outdated for much of its productive life.)

Oh and don’t forget to patronize  Porifera

Anyhow here is the article:

Michael Kanellos

Start-Up Cuts Water Purification Costs With Carbon Nanotubes November 6, 2008 at 10:32 PM

Single walled carbon nanotubes are the child prodigy of the material science world.

The tubes-which are spools of carbon atoms that resemble rolls of chicken wire–are stronger than steel and conduct electricity better than metals. They are also incredibly thin, only a few nanometers wide, which gives them an ability to transport other particles with very little energy.

Unfortunately, they also tend to be somewhat tempermental and difficult to control. Manufacturing them in large batches in a uniform manner has proved extremely difficult. The chirality, or how the carbon atoms are arranged in relation to one another in the wall, varies from tube to tube, which changes their properties in many applications. It’s one of the big reason that carbon nanotube semiconductors keep getting pushed further and further into the future. Other applications, such as tennis rackets, can get by with the less spectacular cousin, the multi-walled nanotubes.

Porifera, a spin out of Lawrence Livermore National Labs, has come up with a way to skirt the manufacturing problem and devise a product that leverages the unique thinness of single walled nanotubes. It has made a water filter of single walled carbon nanotubes. The tubes are packed closely together and the water flows through them like it flows through straws. Chirality doesn’t matter, said company representatives I spoke to at the California Clean Tech Open, which held its award gala in San Francisco tonight. The opening of the tubes is so small (a few nanometers wide) that bacteria, biological material and other impurities get cleaned out of the water because they can’t fit where water molecules can. The filter will also likely be useful for desalinating seawater, although purifying wastewater will likely be the first application.

Another added bonus: because the impurities get stuck outside of the tubes, membrane fouling is less of a problem. It is difficult to clean traditional membranes because material can be caught inside the membrane. If bacteria or salts accumulate on the outside, they can just be swirled away with water.

Overall, Porifera’s array could cut the cost of desalination by 25 percent or more. In traditional purification and desalination systems, large amounts of energy are required to pressurize water and force it through a membrane. Here, gravity does a lot of the work.

A nanotube membrane also has the advantage of simplicity. Some companies, such as Denmark’s Aquaporin, are working on molecular filters that rely on a synthetic version of a natural protein called an aquaporin. Although scientists have struggled with making reasonably uniform carbon nanotubes,they are farther along than trying to make synthetic aquaporin. (General Electric, which has been snapping up water companies in the past few years, is working on similar molecular straw membranes.)

Porifera by the way were the runner-up the air, water and waste award at the Clean Tech Open. The winner was Over the Moon Diapers, which is working on environmentally friendly diapers. The prize for Over the Moon came with a $100,000 value and attracts attention from VCs.

Carbon Nanotube Manufacturing, Experiments & Simulations

Posted October 10, 2008 by nick2
Categories: membrane research, Water Desalination Research and Development

Now we’re cooking with gas. This article in entitled Breakthrough for carbon nanotube materials lays out how

NanoTech Institute of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) – CSIRO has achieved a major breakthrough in the development of a commercially-viable manufacturing process for a range of materials made from carbon nanotubes.

The article gives their bonafides:

As reported in today’s edition of the prestigious international scientific journal, Science – the UTD/CSIRO team recently demonstrated that synthetically made carbon nanotubes can be commercially manufactured into transparent sheets that are stronger than steel sheets of the same weight.

How is it done? More importantly, what’s their production rate?

Starting from chemically grown, self-assembled structures in which nanotubes are aligned like trees in a forest, the sheets are produced at up to seven meters per minute. Unlike previous sheet fabrication methods – using dispersions of nanotubes in liquids – this dry-state process produces materials made from the ultra-long nanotubes required to optimise their unique set of properties.

How long will it be before this process is available for commercialization?

“Rarely is a processing advance so elegantly simple that rapid commercialisation seems possible, and rarely does such an advance so quickly enable diverse application demonstrations”, says Dr Ray H. Baughman of the NanoTech Institute.

Please someone make sure that funding is available to synch this manufacturing work with the carbon nanotube work being done at LLNL. My wag is that we’re talking about funding $.2 million- $2 million to adapt this process for carbon nanotube membranes. One guy on the ball is all it takes.

A while back I asked a member of the LLNL team what the best investment of dollars would be for research in this field. He said that the best investment currently would be “in coming up with scalable (economical) processes for producing membranes that use nanotubes or other useful nanomaterials for desalination.”

Now that we have the “scalable (economical) processes” –the next job is to adapt it to desalination membranes.
In what looks like a first for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill–a team there has produced some experimental results for the way water behaves inside carbon nanotubes.

The team of scientists, led by Yue Wu, Ph.D., professor of physics in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, examined carbon nanotubes measuring just 1.4 nanometers in diameter (one nanometer is a billionth of a meter). The seamless cylinders were made from rolled up graphene sheets, the exfoliated layer of graphite.

“Normally, graphene is hydrophobic, or ‘water hating’ – it repels water in the same way that drops of dew will roll off a lotus leaf,” said Wu. “But we found that in the extremely limited space inside these tubes, the structure of water changes, and that it’s possible to change the relationship between the graphene and the liquid to hydrophilic or ‘water-liking’.”

The UNC team did this by making the tubes colder. Using nuclear magnetic resonance – similar to the technology used in advanced medical MRI scanners – they found that at about room temperature (22 degrees centigrade), the interiors of carbon nanotubes take in water only reluctantly.

However, when the tubes were cooled to 8 degrees, water easily went inside. Wu said this shows that it is possible for water in nano-confined regions – either human-made or natural – to take on different structures and properties depending on the size of the confined region and the temperature.

How is this applicable to semipermiable membranes?

In terms of potential practical applications, Wu suggested further research along these lines could impact the design of high-tech devices (for example, nano-fluidic chips that act as microscopic laboratories), microporous sorbent materials such as activated carbon used in water filters, gas masks, and permeable membranes.

“It may be that by exploiting this hydrophobic-hydrophilic transition, it might be possible to use changes in temperature as a kind of ‘on-off’ switch, changing the stickiness of water through nano-channels, and controlling fluid flow.”

I would think too that the next experiment would be in which you varied the pressure on the carbon nanotube. Subsequently, you’d want to build a simulation that modeled for variations of temperature and pressure across a carbon nanotube membrane.

posted on this story back in June about how reseachers at LLNL were working at the 1.6 nanometer level. Their work confirmed simulations that showed salt would be rejected at these levels–and that the primary rejection driver would be charge.

What to do next? Well do a simulation.

This time simulations were done at the 1.0 nanometer level:

Professor N.R. Aluru at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Sony Joseph, who defended his Ph.D. thesis recently, have used computer simulations to explore a method by which water transport through smaller carbon nanotubes could be further enhanced.


“Until now,” Sony Joseph tells, “previous simulations had shown that single file water movement in short carbon nanotubes have net transport in both directions. But if you could get the water to orient in one direction, in a long tube, you could have net transport along that direction.

A second press release from the University of Illinois on the subject dated September 16, 2008 elaborates:

“Extraordinarily fast transport of water in carbon nanotubes has generally been attributed to the smoothness of the nanotube walls and their hydrophobic, or water-hating surfaces,” said Narayana R. Aluru, a Willett Faculty Scholar and a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the U. of I.

“We can now show that the fast transport can be enhanced by orienting water molecules in a nanotube,” Aluru said. “Orientation can give rise to a coupling between the water molecules’ rotational and translational motions, resulting in a helical, screw-type motion through the nanotube,” Aluru said.

Using molecular dynamics simulations, Aluru and graduate student Sony Joseph examined the physical mechanism behind orientation-driven rapid transport. For the simulations, the system consisted of water molecules in a 9.83 nanometer long nanotube, connected to a bath at each end. Nanotubes of two diameters (0.78 nanometers and 1.25 nanometers) were used. Aluru and Joseph reported their findings in the journal Physical Review Letters.

For very small nanotubes, water molecules fill the nanotube in single-file fashion, and orient in one direction as a result of confinement effects. This orientation produces water transport in one direction. However, the water molecules can flip their orientations collectively at intervals, reversing the flow and resulting in no net transport.

In bigger nanotubes, water molecules are not oriented in any particular direction, again resulting in no transport.

Water is a polar molecule consisting of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Although its net charge is zero, the molecule has a positive side (hydrogen) and a negative side (oxygen). This polarity causes the molecule to orient in a particular direction when in the presence of an electric field.

Creating and maintaining that orientation, either by directly applying an electric field or by attaching chemical functional groups at the ends of the nanotubes, produces rapid transport, the researchers report.

“The molecular mechanism governing the relationship between orientation and flow had not been known,” Aluru said. “The coupling occurs between the rotation of one molecule and the translation of its neighboring molecules. This coupling moves water through the nanotube in a helical, screw-like fashion.”

In addition to explaining recent experimental results obtained by other groups, the researchers’ findings also describe a physical mechanism that could be used to pump water through nanotube membranes in next-generation nanofluidic devices.

I would think that first generation carbon nanotube desalination membranes –in order to keep the flow in one direction–could obtain the charge by “directly applying an electric field”. Then later generation membranes membranes could obtain charge by “attaching chemical functional groups”.

Why is this important?

Joseph and Aluru, are especially interested in using this technology for water purification and nanofiltration. “We are trying to show how this would aid the process of reverse osmosis,” Aluru says.

Joseph and Aluru emphasize that, right now, this work is largely based on computer simulations with theoretical models. Joseph explains that right now water transport through nanotube membranes of two nanometers have been achieved, but that scientists are working toward pumping water through membranes that are less than one nanometer.

“We’ve shown that it is theoretically possible to get this sort of water transport,” Joseph points out. “The next step is getting to the point where this could be tested.”

This looks like it builds on the work of Jason Holt mentioned in my last post on LLNL work.

However, if manufacturers are already able to get commercial production volumes for the longer nanotubes–it may not be so important to do further work with the shorter nanotubes.

Anyhow, the simulation articles are here:

Orienting Flow in Carbon Nanotubes

Simulations help explain fast water transport in nanotubes

Faxing Pipelines

Posted September 11, 2008 by nick2
Categories: pipelines, Water Desalination Research and Development

An interesting article here. Arizona Mulls New Water Source: Ocean

According to the article:

The water for Arizona’s future needs may lie off the coast of a popular Mexican resort, in the Gulf of California.

State officials are studying the idea of importing filtered ocean water from an as yet unbuilt desalination plant in Puerto Peñasco, 60 miles south of the U.S. border.

Such a project would raise a host of political, economic and environmental issues, and it’s not clear who would pay the construction costs, which could top $250 billion.

Did you read that: 250 billion. That’s with a B. I figure that has to be a typo. But I don’t know.

The New York Times discusses Alaska Governor Palin’s gas pipline from the North Slope. The cost is 40 billion for a 1700 mile pipeline. Its a long way from being built.

Gallon for gallon — gas is more valuable than water. So water pipelines need to be cheaper than gas pipelines. How to do that?

Recently I posted a piece about the importance of cheaply researching (by way of computer modeling)a new kind of energy efficient, easy to manufacture, easy to repair kind of pipeline   for shipping water inland 1000 miles and more at little extra cost –beyond the cost of desalination.

There’s another step to the process. So what would happen once you had several different material and design specs for a pipeline in the computer… what then. Well the way to get down costs for a big project is to do a 3D fax of the pipeline–maybe changing the material and design specs as the pipeline snaked its way up through the inland desert.

This technology is already in fast forward.

USC’s ‘print-a-house’ construction technology

Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment, is starting to support research on the “Contour Crafting” automated construction system that its creator believes will one day be able to build full-scale houses in hours.

This technology would easily adapt to the creation of pipelines by way of this extrusion mechanism.

Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, says the system is a scale-up of the rapid prototyping machines now widely used in industry to “print out” three-dimensional objects designed with CAD/CAM software, usually by building up successive layers of plastic.

They want to move from plastic to concrete.

“Instead of plastic, Contour Crafting will use concrete,” said Khoshnevis. More specifically, the material is a special concrete formulation provided by USG, the multi-national construction materials company that has been contributing to Khoshnevis’ research for some years as a member of an industry coalition backing the USC Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT), home of the initiative.

The feasibility of the Contour Crafting process has been established by a recent research effort which has resulted in automated fabrication of six-foot concrete walls.

Consider if they can go from plastic to concrete–it won’t be long before they can do just about any material. Not just any material. Any design as well. They can already extrude walls.

The feasibility of the Contour Crafting process has been established by a recent research effort which has resulted in automated fabrication of six-foot concrete walls.

The project has major backing:

Caterpillar will be a major contributor to upcoming work on the project, according to Everett Brandt, an engineer in Caterpillar’s Technology & Solutions Division, who will work with Khoshnevis. Another Caterpillar engineer, Brian Howson, will also participate in the effort.

The goals for the project are really everything needed to develop pipeline extrusion machines.

Goals for this phase of the project are process and material engineering research to relate various process parameters and material characteristics to the performance of the specimens to be produced. Various experimental and analytical methods will be employed in the course of the research.

Future phases of the project are expected to include geometric design issues, research in deployable robotics and material delivery methods, automated plumbing and electrical network installation, and automated inspection and quality control.

Somebody needs to be developing a pipeline script to be ready when these machines are ready to read the instruction set.