The Pipeline

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, as to the goal of seawater desalination research — my favorite idea is just a pipe with a semi permiable membrane that you stick out in some part of the ocean with a good coastal current or rip tide.

There’s nothing like it out there right now. What’s currently being built is an Under Ocean Floor Intake and Discharge Demonstration System at Long Beach California.

Together with its funding partners, Long Beach Water is also undertaking design and construction of an Under Ocean Floor Intake and Discharge Demonstration System, the first of its kind in the world, that will seek to demonstrate that viable, environmentally responsive intake and discharge systems can be developed along the coast of California.

That plant incidently expects to save 20%-30% in energy costs for RO.

Using a small 9,000 gallon-per-day pilot-scale desalter, the Long Beach Water Department has reduced the overall energy requirement (by 20 to 30 percent) of seawater desalination using a relatively low-pressure two staged nano-filtration process, developed by Long Beach Water engineers, known as the “Long Beach Method.”

This unique process is now being tested on a larger scale. With funding assistance from the United State Bureau of Reclamation and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Long Beach Water is conducting research at a constructed 300,000 gallon-per-day, fully operational facility incorporating the two-stage nano-filtration process. This large-scale facility is needed to verify the energy savings when employing full-scale membranes and energy recovery units, among other things. The goal is to verify energy savings of the two-stage nano-filtration process and to optimize the process so that it can be duplicated.

But the Long Beach intake discharge system should only be considered first generation. So what’s the next generation? Interestingly enough, according to this article in photonics.com some researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have used steel tubing to grow carbon nanotubes.

NEWARK, N.J., Aug. 7, 2006 — In less than 20 minutes, researchers can now seed, heat and grow carbon nanotubes in 10-foot-long, hollow thin steel tubing. The ground-breaking method will lead to improvements in cleaner gasoline, better food processing and faster, cheaper ways to clean air and water, the scientists said.

Mitra.jpg“The work took us three years to develop and get right, but now we can essentially anchor nanotubes to a tubular wall. No one has ever done anything like this before,” said lead researcher Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) department of chemistry and environmental science. Graduate and post-doctoral students who worked on the project are Mahesh Karwa, Chutarat Saridara and Roman Brukh.

This is especially interesting because of the work at Lawrence Livermore announced back in June.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a membrane made of carbon nanotubes and silicon that may offer, among many possible applications, a less expensive desalination.

Methane Molecules Flowing Through Carbon Nanotube
Artist’s rendering of methane molecules flowing through a carbon nanotube less than two nanometers in diameter. (Click here to download a high-resolution image.)

The nanotubes, special molecules made of carbon atoms in a unique arrangement, are hollow and more than 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. Billions of these tubes act as the pores in the membrane. The super smooth inside of the nanotubes allow liquids and gases to rapidly flow through, while the tiny pore size can block larger molecules. This previously unobserved phenomenon opens a vast array of possible applications.

The team was able to measure flows of liquids and gases by making a membrane on a silicon chip with carbon nanotube pores making up the holes of the membrane. The membrane is created by filling the gaps between aligned carbon nanotubes with a ceramic matrix material. The pores are so small that only six water molecules could fit across their diameter.

“The gas and water flows that we measured are 100 to 10,000 times faster than what classical models predict,” said Olgica Bakajin, the Livermore scientist who led the research. “This is like having a garden hose that can deliver as much water in the same amount of time as a fire hose that is ten times larger.”

Of course anything you stick out in the ocean is going to quickly encrust in barnicles algae and such. One solution, I’ve mentioned previously is sharkote — a US navy funded coating announced last year.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida engineers have developed an environmentally friendly coating for hulls of ocean-going ships based on an unlikely source of inspiration: the shark.

UF materials engineers tapped elements of sharks’ unique scales to design the new coating, which prevents the growth of a notoriously aggressive marine algae and may also impede barnacles, according to preliminary tests.

If more extensive testing and development bear out the results, the shark-inspired coating — composed of tiny scale-like elements that can actually flex in and out to impede growth — could replace conventional antifouling coatings. These coatings prevent marine growth but also leach poisonous copper into the ocean.

“The copper paints are wonderful in terms of keeping the ship surface clean, but they are poisonous and they accumulate at substantial rates in harbors,” threatening marine life, said Anthony Brennan, a UF professor of materials science and engineering and the lead developer of the coating. “By contrast, there are no toxins associated with our surface.”

Brennan’s project is being sponsored by the U.S. Navy, the world’s largest maritime ship owner, which has contributed at least $750,000 to the effort so far.

A National Science Foundation funded project at Rutgers Camden has recently developed a new polymer-coating process which might be appropriate for sharkote and the desalination pipes.

As gas prices continue to soar, the Navy will be eager to learn of research underway at Rutgers University–Camden. “Barnacles that attach to naval ships are a huge cost to the Navy. Imagine if you drove a car with a parachute attached; this extra drag force requires more gas,” says Daniel Bubb, an assistant professor of physics at Rutgers-Camden, who has developed a new method for coating polymers.

Used in a variety of industries, including protecting battleships from freeloading barnacles, polymers are materials made from long chains of molecules.

Thanks to a $129,463 National Science Foundation grant in its third year, Bubb and his team (including a post-doctoral fellow, undergraduate, and graduate students) are refining this new coating process. By employing a pulsed laser deposition technique, a high-power laser is focused onto a target material in a vacuum chamber, creating a plume of vaporized material. The object that is to be coated is placed in the path of the vapor. The Rutgers-Camden research team then tunes the laser to a specific vibrational mode of the polymer to ease the vaporization process and limit photochemical and photothermal damage.

This research will benefit many industries that rely solely on the most commonly used method of spin-coating, a viable technique for certain applications but inefficient for coating devices that are too large or small for its apparatus.

“With spin-coating, it’s difficult to layer and adhesion can be a problem” says Bubb, whose research also could improve biocompatibility in devices that require coating only on very specific and sensitive areas.

The Rutgers-Camden researcher also has advanced coating polymers that are too thermally sensitive by treating materials with a solvent before using the laser. This aspect of the research is funded through a $35,000 Cottrell College Science Award.

A model for moving from R&D to manufacturing might be a deal signed by Los Alamos National Labratories and CNT Technologies Inc. in which CNT bought the rights to some nano tech developed by the Los Alamos Labs.

Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman

LANL has big plans for nanoscience
By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
August 22, 2006 A Seattle company has bought the rights to a nanotechnology development at Los Alamos National Laboratory and plans to manufacture a new product in the city’s research park based on lightweight nanotubes that are 100 times stronger than steel.

The lab has made some longer carbon nanotubes, which makes them easier
to weave into super-strong materials. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter in size. A nanotube is a long carbon molecule and its typical size is about two to three nanometers in diameter and up to five millimeters long. The company has developed a product called SuperThread made of these nanotubes.

“What we’re working with is nanotubes that are one to five millimeters long,” Tremper said. “But those are longer than anybody else’s at the moment. It’s the longer length that allows us to spin the fibers into threads and make a usable product.”

Tremper said his company plans to have a pilot plant based at Los Alamos Research Park within six months that will produce one kilogram of SuperThread a day.

“And that will allow us to give major quantities of samples to companies and government agencies that need material that is ultra strong and ultra light,” he said.

Full-scale production — if everything goes smoothly with the pilot project — would come in about 18 months.

Tremper said the pilot plant in Los Alamos would have 15 to 20 employees. He said it’s unclear where a full-scale production factory would be located, but he said the factory would have hundreds of employees. The company is seeking investors.

The lab researchers working on the technology and the company will be in the same building, Peterson said.

Kudos to Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman for pushing nanotechnology research.

Also Monday, U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., announced a new federal nanotechnology research effort that will be based at New Mexico’s national laboratories.

Los Alamos National Laboratory received $18.3 million for a research center, and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque received $57 million. The U.S. Department of Energy is establishing research centers at three other labs as well.

“It is vital that our nation remain competitive with the rest of the world when it comes to science and technology, so the work being done at DOE labs is particularly important,” Domenici said in a news release.

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2 Comments on “The Pipeline”


  1. […] On September 14 in a blog called The Pipeline I speculated about how to develop a number of the pieces for a 1000 mile long pipeline. I had a lot of fun anyway. But really, how much would such a project cost? Last week I discussed Changing World Technology’s thermal depolymerization process — which today produces diesel fuel profitably from biomass–including city sewage– with fresh clean water as a byproduct. But once again, it would be nice to have a breakout on its costs for any given particular location and feedstock. There are number of power plants up and down the California coast for which a number of different technologies can be used to harvest waste heat and waste carbon dioxide to make fresh water and energy. It would be nice to have a tool that would enable you to easily cost out the variables. All over the west oil men are pulling up brackish water with their oil. How much would it cost to clean up that water for public use per any given location. Once again it would be nice to have a tool that answered that question. Then there’s the big research question: How much would it cost to develop a cheap low maintenance semi permiable membrane that desalinised water at room temperaterature and pressure. Likely a company like GE has some kind of in house software that they use to predict costs of big projects. But what about everyone else? How do people comfortably bid on big projects. How do government agencies evaluate those bids. MIT News put the problem this way in this article entitled […]


  2. […] come in contact with air & water maintenance free. I have mentioned in a previous post called The Pipeline that there is a product called Sharkote– a US navy funded coating announced in 2005 that immitates […]


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