Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: April 2013

Brine dischage in Gulfchemical usage in desalinationDesal capacityDesalination capacity in the worldsalinity levels in Gulf regionwater cycle

Water and energy are two critical issues that will decide the future of humanity on the planet earth. They determine the security of a nation and that is why there is an increasing competition among nations to achieve self-sufficiency in fresh water and clean energy. But these issues are global issues and we need collective global solutions. In a globalised world the carbon emission of one nation or the effluent discharged into the sea from a desalination plant changes the climate of the planet and affects the entire humanity. It is not just a problem of one nation but a problem of the world. The rich and powerful nations should not pollute the earth, air and sea indiscriminately, hoping to achieve self-sufficiency for themselves at the cost of other nations.  It is very short-sighted policy. Such policies are doomed to fail over a time. Next generation will pay the price for such policies. Industrialised countries and oil rich countries should spend their resources on research and development than on weapons and invent new and creative solutions to address some of the global problems such as energy and water. With increasing population and industrialisation the demand for energy and water is increasing exponentially. But the resources are finite. It is essential that we conserve them, use them efficiently and recycle them wherever possible so that humanity can survive with dignity and in peace. It is possible only by innovation that follows ‘Nature’s path.

The earth’s climate is changing rapidly with unpredictable consequences .Many of us are witnessing  for the first time in our lives unusual weather patterns such as  draughts, flash flooding,  unprecedented   snow falls, bush fires, disease and deaths. Although we consider them as natural phenomena there is an increasing intensity and frequency that tells us a different story. They are human induced and we human beings cause these unprecedented events. When scientists point out human beings cause the globe to warm there were scepticism. We never believed we were capable of changing the entire weather system of the globe.

We underestimate our actions. By simply discharging effluent from our desalination plants into the sea, can we change the salinity of the ocean or by burning coal can we change the climate of the world? The answer is “Yes” according to science. Small and incremental pollution we cause to our air and water in everyday life have dramatic effects because we disturb the equilibrium of the Nature. In order to restore the equilibrium, Nature is forced to act by changing the climate whether we like it or not.

Nature always maintains“equilibrium” that maintains perfect balance and harmony in the world. If any slight changes are made in the equilibrium by human beings then Nature will make sure such changes are countered by a corresponding change that will restore the equilibrium. This is a natural phenomenon. The changes we cause may be small or incremental but the cumulative effect of such changes spanning hundreds of years will affect the equilibrium dramatically.

We depend on fossil fuels for our energy needs. These fossils were buried by Nature millions of years ago. But we dig deep into the earth, bring them to surface and use them to generate power, run our cars and heat our homes. Our appetite for fossil fuels increased exponentially as our population grew. We emitted Carbon into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels for hundreds of years without many consequences. But the emissions have reached a limit that causes a shift in Nature’s equilibrium and Nature will certainly act to counter this shift and the consequences are changes in our weather system that we are now witnessing. The only way to curtail further Carbon emission into the atmosphere is to capture the current Carbon emissions and convert them into a fuel so that we can recycle them for further power generations without adding fresh fossil fuel into the system while meeting our energy demands.

We can convert Carbon emissions into a synthetic natural gas (SNG) by using Hydrogen derived from water. That is why I always believe ‘Water and energy are two sides of the same coin’. But cost of Hydrogen generation from water will be high and that is the price we will have to pay to compensate the changing climate. Sooner we do better will be the outcome for the world.

In other word the cost of energy will certainly go up whether we price the Carbon by way of trading or impose Carbon tax or pay incentives for renewable energy or spend several billions of dollars for an innovative technology. There is no short cut. This is the reality of the situation. It will be very difficult for politicians to sell this concept to the public especially during election times but they will have no choice.

Similarly serious shortage for fresh water in many parts of the world will force nations to desalinate seawater to meet their growing demand. Saudi Arabia one of the largest producers of desalinated water in the world is still planning for the highest capacity of 600,000m3/day. This plant will discharge almost 600,000 m3/day of effluent back into the sea with more than double the salinity of seawater. Over a time the salinity of seawater in the Gulf region has increased to almost 40% higher than it was a decade ago. What it means is their recovery of fresh water by desalination will decrease or their energy requirement will further increase. Any increase in salinity will further increase the fossil fuel consumption (which they have in plenty) will increase the Carbon emission. It is a vicious cycle and the entire world will have to pay the price for such consequences. Small island nations in pacific will bear the brunt of such consequences by inundation of seawater or they will simply disappear into the vast ocean. Recent study by NASA has clearly demonstrated the relationship between the increasing salinity of seawater and the climate change.

According to Amber Jenkins Global Climate Change Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

“We know that average sea levels have risen over the past century, and that global warming is to blame. But what is climate change doing to the saltness, or salinity, of our oceans? This is an important question because big shifts in salinity could be a warning that more severe droughts and floods are on their way, or even that global warming is speeding up...

Now, new research coming out of the United Kingdom (U.K.) suggests that the amount of salt in seawater is varying in direct response to man-made climate change.  Working with colleagues to sift through data collected over the past 50 years, Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office in Exeter, England, studied whether or not human-induced climate change could be responsible for rises in salinity that have been recorded in the subtropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean, areas at latitudes immediately north and south of Earth’s tropics. By comparing the data to climate models that correct for naturally occurring salinity variations in the ocean, Stott has found that man-made global warming — over and above any possible natural sources of global warming, such as carbon dioxide given off by volcanoes or increases in the heat output of the sun — may be responsible for making parts of the North Atlantic Ocean more salty.

Salinity levels are important for two reasons. First, along with temperature, they directly affect seawater density (salty water is denser than freshwater) and therefore the circulation of ocean currents from the tropics to the poles. These currents control how heat is carried within the oceans and ultimately regulate the world’s climate. Second, sea surface salinity is intimately linked to Earth’s overall water cycle and to how much freshwater leaves and enters the oceans through evaporation and precipitation. Measuring salinity is one way to probe the water cycle in greater detail.”

It is absolutely clear that the way we generate power from fossil fuels and the water we generate from desalination of seawater  cannot be continued as business as usual but requires an innovation. New technologies to generate power without emitting Carbon into the atmosphere and generating fresh water from seawater without dumping the highly saline effluent back into the sea will decide the future of our planet. Discharge of concentrated brine into sea will wipe out the entire fish population in the region. The consequences are dire. Oil rich countries should spend their riches on Research and Developments to find innovative ways of desalinating seawater instead of investing massively on decades old technologies and changing the chemistry of the ocean and the climate forever.

 

The Carbon emission in the atmosphere is steadily increasing.  The latest statistics indicates that it has reached a staggering 35.6 billion tons/yr, a 2.6% increase over the previous year, thanks to the growth of China. It is becoming clear that there is a relationship between the Carbon emission, global warming and erratic weather patterns around the world. According to ‘The Guardian’,

“The chances of the world holding temperature rise to 2C – the level of global warming considered “safe” by scientists – appear to be fading fast with US scientists reporting the second-greatest annual rise in CO2emissions in 2012. Carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii jumped by 2.67 parts per million (ppm) in 2012 to 395ppm, said Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas measurement team for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The record was an increase of 2.93ppm in 1998.

The jump comes as a study published in Science on Thursday looking at global surface temperatures for the past 1,500 years warned that “recent warming is unprecedented”, prompting UN climate chief, Christiana Figures, to say that “staggering global temps show urgent need to act. Rapid climate change must be countered with accelerated action.” Tans told the Associated Press the major factor was an increase in fossil fuel use. “It’s just a testament to human influence being dominant”, he said. “The prospects of keeping climate change below that [two-degree goal] are fading away.

Preliminary data for February 2013 show CO2 levels last month standing at their highest ever recorded at Manua Loa, a remote volcano in the Pacific. Last month they reached a record 396.80ppm with a jump of 3.26ppm parts per million between February 2012 and 2013. Carbon dioxide levels fluctuate seasonally, with the highest levels usually observed in April. Last year the highest level at Mauna Loa was measured at 396.18ppm. What is disturbing scientists is the acceleration of CO2concentrations in the atmosphere, which are occurring in spite of attempts by governments to restrain fossil fuel emissions. According to the observatory, the average annual rate of increase for the past 10 years has been 2.07ppm – more than double the increase in the 1960s. The average increase in CO2 levels between 1959 to the present was 1.49ppm per year.

The Mauna Loa measurements coincide with a new peer-reviewed study of the pledges made by countries to reduce CO2 emissions. The Dutch government’s scientific advisers show that rich countries will have to reduce emissions by 50% percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if there is to be even a medium chance of limiting warming to 2C, thus preventing some of climate  change‘s worst impacts.”The challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult”, said Kelly Levin, a researcher with the World Resources Institute in Washington. “But even with an increased level of reductions necessary, it shows that a 2° goal is still attainable – if we act ambitiously and immediately.” Extreme weather, which is predicted by climate scientists to occur more frequently as the atmosphere warms and CO2 levels rise, has already been seen widely in 2013. China and India have experienced their coldest winter in decades and Australia has seen a four-month long heat wave with 123 weather records broken during what scientists are calling it ‘angry summer’. “We are in [getting] into new climatic territory. And when you get records being broken at that scale, you can start to see a shifting from one climate system to another. So the climate has in one sense actually changed and we are now entering a new series of climatic conditions that we just haven’t seen before”, said Tim Flannery, head of the Australian government’s climate change commission, this week. Earlier this week the Met Office warned that the “extreme” patterns of flood and drought experienced by Britain in 2012 were likely to become more frequent. One in every five days in 2012 saw flooding but one in four days were in drought”.

The biggest question now is how to put this Carbon genie back into the bottle? renewable energy may be an answer to curtail future Carbon emissions but what about the existing coal-fired power plants that constitutes 60% of the existing power generation in the world? There is no easy solution. But the “Law of conservation of mass” gives us a clue.The Carbon we dig from the earth in the form of coal, combusted into the atmosphere as Carbon dioxide may be captured and recycled back into the system in the form of a fuel.By this way, we may not need fresh coal to be mined.To achive this feat,we need Hydrogen from a renewable source.The renewable Hydrogen can be combined with Carbon dioxide captured from the coal-fired power plants to generate synthetic natural gas (SNG).The SNG generated by this method can be used for future power generation, substituting Coal and future carbon emission can be recycled in the form of SNG. This approach will open up a range of possibilities and potentially cut the carbon emission to zero.Annual CO2 growthAtmospheic Carbon increaseCO2 emissionsGlobal Carbon emissionHydrosol cycleHydrosol thremocycle

Many companies round the world including DOE (Department of energy,Govt of USA) are trying to develop an economically viable method to generate Hydrogen with an estimated cost of poduction at  $ 2.50 /kg of Hydrogen. One potential method is to generate Hydrogen by splitting water using a thermo-chemical process using concentrated solar therml energy developed by European Union called “Hydrosol cycle”. The method by which Hydrogen is generated should be free from any Carbon emision. To clean up  1 Kg Carbon dioxide one will require at least 0.2kg Hydrogen. For example, a 100Mw coal fired power plant emitting about 2256 Mt CO2/day will require about 451 Mt of Hydrogen/day, costing about $1,127,500 per day.It will cost roughly $500/Mt of C02 to  put the ‘ Carbon genie’  back into the bottle! One can imagein the cost of cleaning up  35.6 billion tons of Carbon dioxide  from the atmosphere.Only a Carbon free Hydrogen derived from water can save the world from a potential catastrophe.

%d bloggers like this: