99: A Tall Drink of Computations – Nanotech Water Desalination

Matt and Sean talk about tech, water consumption, and some interesting desalination techniques that could address the fresh water crisis.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “How Nanotech Can Help Solve the Fresh Water Crisis”: https://youtu.be/D1kqGyPGsF8

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Hey everybody welcome to the still to be determined podcast. This is the podcast that follows up on topics from the Youtube channel undecided with Matt ferrell I’m sean ferrell I’m Matt’s older brother I’m a writer I’ll be asking him the questions with me is of course Matt matt say hi.
Hi good. How are you doing.
Ah, doing I’m doing okay, it’s been a very long week as in my household we had a breakthrough case of covid my son came down with covid thankfully he’s doing much better. But.
I think it’s a testament to the science of the vaccines and everything that’s been going on in everybody’s attempts to make us all safer but it has been an exhausting week and that’s why this episode is dropping a little later than usual normally this would have already been on the air and so. Got derailed. But we’re back I’m just happy that we’re in a place where we can be back and we’re back to talk about Matt’s most recent episode. Well no Matt’s penultimate
It’s It’s a little laughter. The most recent episode there you go.
Episode this episode of our podcast. We’re going to be talking about how Nanotech can help solve the freshwater crisis this is from Matt’s channel that dropped on december fourteenth twenty twenty one and it is of course talking about desalinization. And the issues around water that we are dealing with not only here in the us but worldwide this is going to become a more pressing issue in the years to come.
And it is going to be 1 that we are going to feel immediately I don’t think and Matt you can jump in at any point with your thoughts on this I think that global warming is even if you accept the science is to a very large degree.
So. Oh yeah, very much and this is not going to hit us. It’s not going to hit us equally around the globe. That’s the other thing. It’s like where you like I live in the northeast we’re not going to get hit that hard by upcoming droughts but the southwest to the west coast they’re going to get hit really hard.
Remains an abstract concept for most people and I.
Right? right? I think that this is this is an area where the immediacy of it and the longevity of it is going to be felt in a way that’s different from changing weather patterns like here in the northeast you mentioned we won’t deal with Drought we do deal with the fact that.
And coming years by this stuff so it depends on where you live.
I’ve brought this up on the channel before new york city is no longer considered part of a temperate zone. We’re now subtropical. That’s a change due to climate change. We feel it in Muggier hotter longer summers warmer winters here. We are. The final part of December you know the Christmas season is is here. New Year’s is right around the corner and there hasn’t been a single snowflake in New York city let alone temperatures that even feel like they’d be close enough. Creates no. But again that remains kind of abstract but I think when it comes to the day when a major city. Let’s say phoenix is put down on water lockdown.
When there simply is not enough water for our community to continue to function even close to normal when Households are requiring to purchase bottled water in order to sustain themselves that is going to be a thing that people are going to feel immediately and in some cases. Probably it will feel rather permanent.
Yes, yeah, that’s the that’s the scary part about it. It’s like a lot of the climate stuff we’re experiencing right now. It’s very chaotic so it’s like like you know how texas got that cold snap that caused that horrible issue. But it’s like that’s a 1 ne-off it feels like a 1 ne-off thing
Right? A hurricane is terrible but a hurricane feels like well now it’s done or the tornadoes that ripped through the Southeast a couple of weeks ago. Absolutely devastating and.
Like okay this is just a rare occurrence this happens from time to time. That’s okay, yeah, yes, yes.
Described at the time as we’ve never seen storms like this in our lifetime but it’s easy Once the storm is over for people to say Well, it’ll be a long time before that happens again. But if a city goes into lockdown for drought. Yeah.
But when it comes to these when it comes to droughts. Yes, it’s coming. It’s becoming more and more normal year after year after year, it’s building and these are clearly permanent changes that are really starting to build and so it’s like in the coming Decade It’s going to be interesting to see how. Different areas. The world react to this and it’s part of the reason why I wanted to make this video because the scarcity of fresh drinking water is going to become harder and harder for certain regions and it’s it’s it’s kind of scary when you look at the trends where things are going. Um, like I said you and I are probably not going to experience a lot of this. But.
You know I have friends that live out the southwest they’re going to be dealing with this in the coming decade. So it’s it’s kind of scary.
And you talked about in particular you drilled down on Nanotech and how it could help with desalinization plans and you mentioned it a number of different comp.
Companies around the world and saudi arabia being a leader in this because Saudi arabia really kind of in perfect position. 1 way that they’re in a perfect position is due to a negative clearly desert society.
The positive is they are an incredibly wealthy society as well. So they have the potential to say we need to solve this therefore we’re gonna have to pump money into this to fix it and really kind of creating a.
I mean all of this has that sci-fiish feel to it. But when sci-fi is Nanotech it becomes just part of the oh. There’s a filter in there. There’s a filter that takes the salt out as opposed to this goes back to the neome project.
This is.
Which is their strange sci-fi City built on a line with an artificial moon like we’re going to ignore the the linear aspect of the city. We’re going to ignore the artificial moon being flown over the heads of the citizens by drones.
Yes, yes.
You mean we’re going to ignore the crazy the crazy flights of fancy. That’s.
We’re going to ignore. Yeah, we’re going to ignore the how many Angels can you get to dance on the head of a pen questions and instead we’re just going to focus in on. They’ve got an idea around creating effectively a giant covered pot. In the middle of the desert that will be heated via solar energy.
Yeah, it’s it’s a solar dome and it’s I believe it’s a uk company. That’s came up with this concept. It’s the pilot project is going to be in Saudi arabia as part of this newome project to kind of prove out the concept and part of what’s hard about desal nation is that it’s expensive and it takes a lot of energy. Because reverse osmosis which is the most common form takes a lot of and of energy because you have to create a lot of pressure to push the water through the membrane to filter out the salts and there’s other technologies that take less energy to get the same result out and the solar dome is claiming that it can do that because it’s using solar power. To basically heat this pot to create steam that then collects literally on the roof and then just drips down. It’s like this is the kind of stuff that you see like in like a survival movie of like somebody’s straed on the desert island and they put up a tarp and they’re like capture. It’s literally that’s what they’re doing. They’re just capturing the water vapor on the top of this dome and they collect it and in theory.
Um, yeah. Um, bright.
It’s going to take far less energy and effort to get that water which means it’s cheaper and it will. It will be cleaner because it won’t take a lot of like fossil fuel energy from power plants to generate all the energy they need in theory and that’s where I keep saying in theory because it’s like it’s still not proven. There’s a lot of. Skepticism around what they’re Claiming. So The question is can they do it. My thought looking at it is that they probably will be able to make it work. But then there’s still the question of which we can probably get to and a little bit later but the brine. What do you do with the leftover salts that you’re getting because what we’re doing no matter what the process is that you’re using.
Um, right.
Matter whether it’s nanotechnology or just literally heating water and collecting the steam you’re going to be left over with all these salts and this leftover brine and it’s like what do you do with that because when you just dump it in the Ocean it’s like pouring salt into water. It’s like it kind of goes to the bottom of the the water first before it slowly disperses back into the the main source. And so it creates a concentrated area of extra salty water which suffocates the sea life. So it’s like you can’t just dump it into the ocean because you’re going to basically kill all the sea life. That’s at the where you’re dumping it so you have to find solutions to better disperse it into the water or to reuse the salts and other methods and that’s what solar dome is.
Claiming they’re going to do take those salts and use it for get the lithium out of it for battery production. Take the other salts out of it for grit and fertilizer and things like that that can be used in other industries but I had somebody reach out to me and they did the calculations of how much salt is going to be produced by these facilities and it’s. like ah ger it’s like I can’t remember how many times like 4 times more salt than we actually need. So. It’s like you’re basically going to flood the market with all the salts that you don’t need which is going to crash the price of salts and then you’re just still going to have to figure out what to do with It’s going to have too much of it. So it’s this this we have to find a way to to deal with it.
Right? right.
Um, try.
Whether it’s dumping the ocean or what so it’s like that is the giant question Mark that I could not find a good answer on and it seems like nobody really has a good solid grasp of what to do with it yet.
Um, well, there’s always it seems like there’s always that hey I’ve got a crazy idea and then that crazy idea creates a byproduct and the crazy idea very often revolves around solving a problem so we don’t have enough water.
What are we going to do about that. Well we could take salt out of this water that would be fantastic. What do we do with all this salt. Well, that’s somebody else’s problem. So do you think that there is a do you think there is a movement underway.
That’s yeah, that.
That says the water is the important part. We can figure out what to do with the salt later.
That seems to be what’s going on because there’s such a desperate need in certain regions like we just need the water. It’s like we will figure this out later is the attitude that right now but then somebody like me who’s concerned about the environment. It says like I’m like well is anybody working on this problem because we need to be working on it. It’s kind of the same thing around batteries and solar panels. It’s 1 of the downsides that people say oh you can’t recycle solar Panels. You can’t recycle batteries. Well now there’s actually battery recycling companies springing up to fill that void and they’re going to make lots of money in recycling batteries and then there’s on the solar panel side. That’s just starting now where there’s companies that are trying to find better ways to recycle solar panels because there’s going to be a flood of solar panels which means there’s going to be a lot of money to be made there too same things can probably be here. But it’s 1 of those. It feels like in this race. It feels like we’re racing much further down the path than ah.
Then the other 2 examples I brought up. It felt like those 2 feel like they’re kind of kind of keeping pace and this 1 feels like desalination is like racing way off ahead and figuring out what to do with the brian has not been figured out.
Yeah, 2 questions. Do you think that’s because desalinating water at a certain at a certain level isn’t actually super complicated. It’s not like inventing solar panels. It’s it’s literally like I could take a pot of Salt water and if I had the right contraption with the little coiled yeah metal tube to like I could boil off the water and end up with clean water in a salty pot and I would have done what I needed so it’s like this isn’t new technology. This isn’t a new idea. Um, so do you think it’s because that technology the nuances of the higher tech version of it are built upon something that is already pretty much a well-known tech that is always been out there.
I mean this is just my guess but I have a feelings a little calm and and little column b I think it’s what you just said. It’s like it’s a simple process. It’s like you have reverse Osmosis. You have this this membrane distillation method and then you have basically like. Evaporating the water off and capturing it. It’s like we have these known techniques that are proven to work and some of them are better and more energy efficient and faster and it’s it’s some of them are better than others but it’s like it’s 1 of those those are getting hashed out so quickly because we have a basic understanding of how to do it.
And on the flip side. It’s also I think there’s this abstract nature to this like we talked about in the beginning where people haven’t been. They’ve kind of taken our eye off the ball. It’s it’s a topic that really hasn’t been looked at because it’s in the background. It’s like we haven’t been looking at it and so it’s like as desalination becomes more and more prevalent and more of more of a need of it. Becomes obvious I think that’s when you’re going to start to see more eyes on it going. Holy holy crap. What do we do about those. So I think it’s it’s think it’s I think the coming flood of of Brine. What to do? The brine is coming who knows when it’s goingnna happen. But there’s go I think there’s gonna be an epiphany of we have to figure this out.
My other question is do you think that the solution to what to do with all that brine would simply be I don’t know like do we just need a lot of pretzels.
Yes, ah.
I don’t know just throwing that out there if it if it works I’m glad I did my part so I think 1 thing that’s important to point out and this follows in the the.
Will popcorns pretzels. Yes.
Trail that’s been blazed by your previous videos the past few weeks. All of this is still in the lab even the 1 that is going to be a big installation in Saudi arabia that is effectively the lab.
Well, it’s 1 step past the lab. It’s a pilot project. So it’s it’s graduated from being in the lab to actually hey we’ve actually built something at scale. But we’re still trying to figure out if it works so it’s it’s a pilot project. Yeah, very much in the lab. Yep yeah.
Right? But the Nanotech is still very early days. So this falls into the area that we talked about last week which was ah we know it works when it’s just 1 little filter and 1 little glass of water. But trying to scale that up. You broke our brains especially with the graphic where you’ve got 2 different types of water going through a nozzle and it turns into a filament and it gets wrapped around it. Well.
Whole different ball game.
Yeah, the coaxial spinning.
Yes, the coaxial spinning and you end up with something that looks like a bath scrub and then that can be used the salt doesn’t get through it because it doesn’t get wet which I love like it’s too small to get wet all right. I’ll take your word for it. All of that The goal there is to end up with what what is the? What is the ultimate focus of that project to end up with effectively just using the filtering process.
And having I would imagine massive amounts of water going through a filtering a little physical filtering process. That’s the goal.
Yeah I mean that that the 1 I kind of focused on is Membrane distillation which unlike reverse osmosis where you’re basically jamming the water through the filter this is basically like using heat the the heat difference the temperature difference between the 2 sides to basically. Hold the water through for you. So it’s it’s it’s more energy efficient than the reverse osmosis process. So that’s the kind of goal they’re going for is it’s like okay reverse osmosis works. It’s proven. We’re using it today all over the place but this could be a better solution because. It’ll use less energy. It makes it more efficient and can make it cheaper and easier to do this process so that’s what the goal is is to come up with a cheaper more efficient method of creating fresh water than what we can do today.
There was a lot of interesting conversation around this video and I wanted to share this 1 comment from Mar o braditch who I think distilled you’ll excuse that completely inadvertent pun.
Yeah I sort to say nice. It’s the ferals. Do it by accident. We don’t even try and we can do puns. Oh.
Yes, he distilled a lot of of the thinking into a few bullet points which I wanted to get your thoughts on. He started off by saying thank you for the great synopsis and the freshwater shortage. Definitely the great existential 1 of the great existential problems facing our future. There are a couple of additional points to consider efficient dilution of brine could mitigate the environmental impact of discharging it after all the fresh water extracted is minimal compared to the volume in the ocean and the salt was already dissolved in it. So efficient dilution of brine I think that’s an interesting. Concept because what we’re starting off with is actually the removal of water so this would be the suggestion of a process where you would be reintroducing water into the brine to actually dilute it a little bit before putting it back in the Ocean so would that be in the form of like a dilution station where you might take the brine and take it somewhere where there would be access to the ocean. In the form of maybe vats of seawater that you would slowly add brine to and raise the level of salt in those vats and then re-release those into the ocean would that be the kind of process that we’re looking at.
Um, yeah, yeah, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about these are the solutions that have to become Up. We have to come up with because if you just take the brine and you dump in the ocean you’re creating that problem so you have to It’s kind of like um in cooking you know, like where you’re taking the hot liquid and you’re pouring it into like eggs. If you dump it all on at once you create scrambled eggs but you do it a little bit at a time and you can kind of slowly work. The temperature. Yeah exactly it’s kind of like that’s the basic Concept. He’s describing for kind of adding that salt back into the ocean we have to find a way to get it.
Get a meringue right.
To a point where when we’re actually putting it back in the Ocean it’s already been kind of watered down and gotten to a level where it’s not going to create the problems that we’re seeing if you put very high salt content back in too quickly. So it’s like there’s these different techniques I had ah 1 of my patrons actually reached out to me. And said he has a whole idea of how it could work and he described how his idea could work and it’s like I’m not an engineer but what he described sounded very viable and it was just like there are different ideas that have to be tried because it’s it’s going to be a difficult problem but it’s not an impossible problem. Just have to try different things and it’s going to depend on where the desalination plant is and where they are going to have to dump that Back. So some locations. It’s not going to be possible to do that other locations. It would be so we have to have many different kind of tools in the tool to us to to crack that but I love that that right up because that’s a very good. Good explanation of how we could deal with it.
There was also this in his comment pointing out that a few years back there was big hype about potential graphene membranes able to filter Salt water at very low pressure and then the news went silent but perhaps there is more going on there. And do you have any more information about what might be happening with graphene in potentially being it used as a filter for something like this.
It’s still. It’s we were finding in the research on this we were finding that exact thing come up and again and again, but there hasn’t been a ton of movement. Um, there’s been different things that have been tested in the lab and they work and the research looks promising but again going back from the Lab. Like a pilot project to an actual thing is a huge journey and 1 of the problem with all graphene all Graphene I don’t care what you’re talking about is literally the production of Graphene is tough um and how to make it reliably and make it consistent for exactly what you need and how you need to use. It is very difficult. So.
Um, right.
Scaling up any kind of graphene product. Product is a tough road for whoever’s attempting it right now. Um, it’s getting better but it’s still tough. So I think that’s 1 of the biggest things holding that 1 back where the Korean research I brought up. There’s not a graphene issue. It’s all known products. The coaxial spinning is something that’s used a lot in different techniques for different products and different things. So it’s using a lot of things that already exist and we know how to use so it feels like that’s going to be potential to get to the market faster than something like that’s made from graphene so I think that’s the reason why we’re not. Seeing much about it. But.
Right? And tomorrow’s final point is to bring up renewable energy being used to power desalinization plants I think this also goes into renewable energy. The. You mentioned Graphene Producing Graphene being difficult. All of the things that are being done right now would require manufacturing of the tech to do the filtering that very manufacturing of the tech to do that. Could potentially. Use not only fossil fuels that could impact the environment but also use up water in production. So it becomes then the the part of the cycle of the solution is to exacerbate the problem where do you see.
This is this is.
Renewable energy entering into that cycle. Do you see it only standing on the side of the active running of the desalinization or do you see it having a role throughout the entire lifecycle of the plan like can renewable energy be a part.
Oh I see what you’re saying.
Of the production of the tech itself in order to to solve this problem.
It. There’s There’s no reason it couldn’t I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t I think it could be part of the whole package. Yeah.
It is as we started off this conversation. This is going to be an issue that is going to impact huge parts of the world and it is going to impact them for a long time and solutions like. The ones that have been described in this video are the beginning but I’m wondering as Matt pointed out 1 of his patrons jumping in and saying I’ve got an idea do any of our listeners have ideas of their own. Do any of you see plans in your own local environs to. Be a part of this kind of change. Do you live in a city that is looking at introducing something like this or do you so live in a city that has water so conservation plans that are being put into place. Let us know you can find the contact information in the podcast description. If you’re watching us on youtube you can just scroll beneath the video and find the comments section. Don’t forget, there are ways you can directly support the podcast you can visit still tbd dot fm and you’ll see a support the podcast link there that allows you to throw quarters at our head. You can also just on Youtube. Scroll down to find the join button and there you will join us join us join us and while you’re doing all of that please be sure to give us a rating a review share us with your friends all of that really does help the podcast. The podcast helps the channel the channel helps Matthew and then Matthew. Gives me a big refreshing glass of Salt water. We’ll talk to you later everybody thanks for much tune in.
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