134: Hold the Salt – Breakthrough Fresh Water Tech

Matt and Sean discuss desalination breakthroughs that could make a big difference in developing areas and natural disasters. 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “2 Breakthroughs That Could Solve the Fresh Water Crisis”: https://youtu.be/OB9waxBe4CQ?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7UWp64ZlOKUPNXePMTdU4d

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On today’s episode of still to be determined, we’re gonna talk about some breakthroughs that will lead to an abundance of pretzel salt. Hi, everybody as usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I am a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids, and I’m also curious about technology. And luckily for me, Younger brother.

I almost said older brother for some reason. And that would’ve been weird. my younger brother is Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell. Matt, how you doing today?

I’m doing pretty well. The weekend’s going well. How about

you? I’m doing okay. Other than humid weather moving in and such abundance. I feel like I’m swimming right now, but that kind of fits in perfectly with today’s discussion.

That’s right. We’re gonna be talking about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about desalinization, including one process that takes water straight from the air and into our waiting. Drinking glasses. But before we get to that, I wanna talk about a recent comment from our most recent episode in which we discussed sand batteries.

And this comment from Alan Tupper was in direct response to my comment that. Sand battery technology, district heating technology would be difficult to implement in our larger cities, which are built around an infrastructure that does not include the ability to easily put in something like this. But Alan has a different take on it.

And I appreciated his feedback. Alan wrote regarding your comment on having to rework cities for district heating. Two things come to mind first for sufficiently dense cities with large buildings, a single building. Or a single block could be considered a district that at least breaks apart the project into manageable chunks.

If there are any significant shift away from cars and cities, unused underground parking could be used as storage location. I really like that. I really like the forward thinking the repurposing of ex of existing spaces. And it brought to mind a lot of the repurposing. Sites that are going on here in New York city, we have the Highline, which is a public park, which was made out of an old highway overpass.

And there is also an underground park, which is being built from an unused subway. area. So these spaces exist and if we don’t use them and just allow them to decay, that doesn’t serve any greater purpose, but reusing them in these ways does offer us some interesting ways in investing in the future. So thank you, Alan, for that.

And just a reminder, a big part of the discussion of this show and of Matt’s show in general comes from the comments. So please jump into the comments, let us know what you’re thinking. Let us know when you agree or when you disagree. Or when, like, Alan, you just have a brilliant idea of your own. We’d love to hear from you for today’s episode.

We’re gonna be talking about Matt’s most recent episode. This was from September 6th, 2002, two breakthroughs that could solve the fresh water crisis. And it revolved around two different technologies. One being a portable desalinization device, which. Is effectively a large suitcase at this point. Yeah.

But I imagine it could be ramped up in size to more industrial sizes and the other technology being a gel, which is made out of readily available product. So these are two technologies that could be hitting the market. Soon. Matt also referred to a third technology, which is effectively a dehumidifier built into solar panels, which.

I find fascinating in two ways. One how much water can this effectively? Uh, collect, where does that water get collected? How does all of that work? Yeah. And the other aspect of this that I found interesting is Matt, your response to this being well, these are effectively just dehumidifiers and you didn’t give ’em a lot of attention.

Was it because it was basically just, well, there’s not a lot to talk about here. These are dehumidifiers.

Yeah. I, it was partly that. And I, in the video, I should have pointed people to a friend of mine, Ben SOS. He has a YouTube channel. He’s lived with these things on his house, in San Diego for a couple of years.

And so he talked about them when he first got them. And then he had like a year later, like what’s been like living with them and there’s definitely pros and cons to them. So there’s, it’s a mixed bag as to what it is. And one of the big, biggest negatives. They are loud. I was gonna say, it’s , it’s a of fire.

He has a couple of them on his roof, above his, I think it’s above his garage or an extension to his house. And he said, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty noisy. Yeah. And his neighbors may not really appreciate them because of how loud they are and for the cost and the benefits that you’re getting out of it for him in San Diego.

It’s kind of like, um, he did have a positive view on it, but it’s like a mixed bag and it makes more sense maybe for areas where you don’t. Easy access to fresh water already. It might make more sense. So that’s kind of why I was kind of like giving a, just kind of glazing over it little quick, cuz it’s like, I think it’s either a dedicated video talking about it or I could have just pointed people to Ben Holland’s videos, where he went to a deep explanation as to how they work and what it’s like to live

with them.

I imagine that the water you would collect out of them goes into some sort of storage cistern, and it’s got a holding tank and then it would be used almost like gray. Is that

well, no, it’s like you basically run a line into, into your house and have like a little tap. Like he installed a little tap in his kitchen.

That’s like right next to his regular tap. And it’s like, you can just fill in some drinking water out of that little tap. So it’s like, so it is

used as drinking water. correct? Yes. Interesting.

But it’s not, it’s not tied into the homes, water system directly. It’s its own isolated thing, but it’s in the house.

So you can just pretty quickly just fill out jar of water and have fresh drinking water. Mm-hmm .

So regarding the other two technologies that you talked in more depth about in your video, the, the portable desalinization device, which you pointed out is headed toward. Uh, they’re in the very earliest stages of getting it to


Yes. I mean, these are like coming out of the

lab right now. Right? Who do they envision is their market.

They, both of them seem to be focusing on developing countries and areas that don’t have easy access to water, disaster areas, things like that. It seems to be where they’re focusing first, because these are kind of more individualized sized solutions.

They’re not necessarily. For, you know, I have a city of a hundred thousand people. How do we get them fresh water, right. It’s not that kind of solution at this point, they’re more of a 50 bucks. Here’s the thing. You could take it into a little, um, village in the middle of a, a desert area and say here’s some, here’s how you can get some fresh, safe drinking water.

Um, that’s more what they seem to be focused on right now.

The amount of drinking water, you can get from one of these portable desalinization devices, as you mentioned is limited, and it would require like 12 hours of running. You mentioned it can be run from a small portable solar panel so effectively.

Okay. If you’ve got enough sunlight, you’ve got a one of these devices you could have enough drinking water for. Was it one person for one day?

Yeah, I was kind of, I ran through some numbers just to kind of give a sense of how much water it produces. And like, if you had one of these things, you can produce enough water for a person or two to have enough drinking water over the course of a day.

But that kind of shows you why . Yeah. It may not scale to hundreds of thousands of people. Yeah. Because they’re more individual.

I’m trying to envision like getting these to where they’re needed. Yeah. Suddenly it looks like you’ve got a cargo plane full of a thousand of these. And I’m just wondering about total cost, total cost as it scales up to.

Like transporting these things, like, is this something that is envisioned and you may not know the answer to this. Are they looking at this as something that governments would have on hand for emergency situations? This is something that they envision being taken and given to people by organizations that would be paying the costs, or they expecting these to be things that somebody might be able to go and purchase on their own from some site.


the, like the, um, the one that’s the gel, they do envision a time where you could in the future go to your local drug store and pick up some of these right. Gel packs. So this is something that they do envision being mass market for whoever wants to get their hands on it. I have a feeling, and this is just me speculating that like for the suitcase one that they would probably be starting on what you just described as to.

Foundations that are buying large quantities of these or governments that are buying them for disaster areas or recovery. Uh, you know, having ’em on hand, I have a feeling that’s probably where they would most likely start, because that would be an easy way to kind of get seed money, to scale things up quickly, and then slowly branch out into more commercialized.

You and I can go to the home Depot and pick one up right. Kind of a, kind of a scenario, but it, it seems to be like, that’s kind of where it looks like it’s starting, but that’s based on my speculation. I don’t, I don’t have a exact. I couldn’t find exact details on that,

that meshes with a lot of the comments around this video, including this one from the Northern light who wrote, I honestly think that power, the powerless option would be amazing for regions hit by natural disasters, floods, hurricanes, et cetera, where the local water system has been compromised.

It may take weeks to get back online, having a few dozen shipping containers set up in a way to produce semi large volumes of refillable drinking water would be literally a lifesaver. So I think that for the most part, the way that this hits me and many of the other people watching the video was this would be a short term solution, not a large term.

One of the things that you talked about regarding the portable version of the desalinization device, is that one of the negatives is Brian and mm-hmm, the creation of Brian. As a result of all of this, I wanted to loop back to something you’ve talked about in the past. Brian in and of itself is not a bad thing, is it?


No, it’s what we do with it. Yeah. Because we’re gonna be creating a lot of it doing

this. Yeah. And some of the things you’ve talked about in the past around Brian did involve large scale desalinization. So it was yes. Creation of multiple pools and allowing the water to move from one section to another and eventually desalinization taking place as a result of just the natural process of evaporation.

Is that correct?

Yeah, it, by the way, it’s desalination. There’s no

Z , I’m gonna keep adding a Z because like Zora, I like to leave my mark.

Yeah. It’s it’s there’s different ways. Like what you were talking about, the different pools that lithium extraction, how they concentrate the brain down to get the lithium and the other salts out.

There’s like the solar dome that’s being built in the neon project in Saudi Arabia. Where it’s basically gonna have massive amounts of Brian leftover from the way it produces, uh, fresh water, but they have plans, which. I don’t wanna say unconfirmed if they can actually pull this off, but using the leftover Brian for industrial processes, cuz there are leftover salts and things like that that could be used like lithium, if there’s lithium in there, there’s other kinds of salts that could be used for industrial processes.

So there are other use cases for the leftovers that could be commercialized and used elsewhere. The question is, is there enough of a market to take all that leftover material to actually use it all? Or are we still gonna have leftover stuff? We have nothing to do with, that’s the big question about

some of this stuff?

A little fun fact about the neon project, which Matt has a video on roughly maybe was it nine months ago or so?


it was, it was almost a year ago. Yeah. Yeah. And we had a conversation at that time about it, and I have begun seeing social media ads for really neon. They have a oh, Twitter handle and they are out there with really good looking videos that look like something from inception.

Of a linear city being put together, uh, magically on its own. They do not include any images of the artificial moon flying over on drones and for new listeners who have no idea what I’m talking about. I recommend you go back through Matt’s videos and find the neon video, because I didn’t just pull that little detail out of my fiction, writing hat.

That’s the real. Yep. Also from the comments I wanted to share this from dataless dream journal who writes these are technologies that definitely have a place in the future, especially in water stressed areas. It might help if people had a solution like this at home to further lower the strain on water resources, of course, recycling used water should still be an important part of the process of generating fresh water.

So there’s another case of somebody pointing out, not every, not one tool. For every job. This is another case of somebody pointing out. Okay. You’ve got your, you know, gel pack or something in your home. That’s providing you with a certain measure of drinkable water. How are you repurposing water? That’s already been reused and recycling water that’s been used.

That’s like the gray water solution of collecting things like bath water, and then using that to water your lawn or, or having the ability to have someone. Used water, but it’s not, it’s not contaminated to be able to repurpose around your house. And I’m wondering, have you seen in your plans for building your own home, has that come into the discussion or have you seen options around that?

Oh yeah. That have been available on the.

Yeah. I talked to my, um, general contractor about gray water systems, rainwater harvesting systems, and what it would take to integrate that into my house build. And I opted not to do it at this point because of the cost. It was simply came down to cost the house.

building a house at this time point at this point in time is very expensive. And so it’s like I had. you know, crossed some things off my wishlist. And that was one of the things that got crossed off, which was gray, water harvesting and, uh, rainwater harvesting. Although I am planning to add rainwater harvesting.

as a project, I’ll do myself in the future, but, uh, I had to take gray water off because it adds a lot of complications to how you have to plum the house and how you collect it and where you collect it. And it was just, it was just suddenly, it was like, oh, this already expensive project is getting even more expensive.

And I can’t afford that. So I had to kill something.

The nice thing about rainwater harvesting is that it has for a long time. Been a thing that can be an add-on. So this is not, it’s easy to do. Yeah. It’s not gonna be, it’s not gonna be something that would be outside of the realm of possibilities. And I mean, you want to go back to some of the earliest forms of it.

Just think about the old west, the barrel at the bottom of a gutter, as simple as that people would collect rain water in that fashion, simply to be able to use that water. In whatever kinds of gardening or farming projects that they were doing. So even if Matt just has a wooden barrel at the bottom of a gutter, he’s trying his best.

Yep. There was also this comment from MK who wrote, Hey, Matt. I think you should do more interviews with the researchers of these projects. I think you could give them a spotlight have great conversations on your channel. I don’t know how they’d feel about it, but I would love to see more scientists becoming rock stars.

In this day and age, you have had many interviews. I wondered about this one in particular. Did you make any attempts to reach out to any of the developers of these texts to be able to have a convers.

We are typically making that part of our process. We have now for the past, I don’t know, four or five months, like typically when we see these, we immediately reach out to them.

See if we can arrange something. We weren’t able to do it for this one. And. It is what it is. So it’s like, I’m not gonna not talk about a topic cuz I can’t get ahold of the researcher. But if I can, I do try to include them. Like I talked to, uh, Casper about his, you know, the, the, that molecule he created for collecting solar energy.

It’s like, I, I reached out to him. I’ve been doing interviews recently with other researchers in things like nuclear fusion and other areas of interest of mine. So it’s like, I am trying to make the interview with the researchers and scientists. A common practice right in my video production. So expect to see more and more of it on the channel.

Do you have any right now that you’d be willing to tease about a couple of topics where you do have interviews

coming up? The one I’m most excited about is nuclear fusion and talking to several different nuclear fusion companies like Heian, general fusion, and a few others. They’re all taking very different takes tax at trying to solve the nuclear fusion, electricity conundrum we’re in.

And they’re all kind of privatized companies that are all in this mad dash saying, we got it in the next, you know, five to 10 years we got this and I was talk, I’ve been talking to all of them. Like, how are you so confident? Why are you so confident and what is, what makes your way you’re doing it so special?

And so there’s gonna be a video coming. I’m not exactly sure when yet, but there’s gonna be some interviews, some, uh, stuff around that coming out in the next few weeks and months.

Sounds good. Just to wrap up this conversation around the water collection process that you’ve talked about. One thing that went unsaid in your video and I can’t help, but just wonder.

Hmm. How do you squeeze the water out of that gel?

okay. What do you do? No, this, this is, I released a video and then started seeing comments come in. I was just like doing a, a jungle Picard face Palm. Like I should have talked about how you get the water back out. So when I said it doesn’t take power to collect the water.

I should have been very explicit and said it doesn’t take doesn’t necessarily take electricity to get the water out, but it does take power in the form of heat. So it does take heat. You apply heat to the gel and it becomes hydrophobic and the water comes out. So it’s like you basically heat it. Get the water out, let it cool off, set it out.

It just absorbs the water from the air. Heat it again, get more water out. So it’s like you go through this process of basically ringing it out with. So, so you have

a device, you could have a device that almost might look like a coffee maker where it could be gel pack goes in the top, heats up, and then water comes down into a craft of some sort,


So. It technically does take power. I just wanna make that clear. It doesn’t necessarily take electricity cuz there is ways we generate heat that there’s waste heat that could be used to be applied to extracting the water from this. Right. So it’s like there’s, there’s different things we could do to make it super energy efficient

via, via solar.

Just leaving something out in the sun. Yes. Yeah.

Potentially. It’s like there’s different ways we could, we could extract the water out of the material. So it’s I should have been, I should have been crystal clear on that in the video and I was not so on that, on that point, I apologize.

So listeners, what do you think about desalinating and sucking water out of the air?

Do you think that these can all be part of the solution? No pun intended. Let us know in the comments, as you’ve already heard, the comments are a huge part of the discussion here. We appreciate your weighing in, and if you’d like to support us further, you can. View us on apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was.

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