Innovation like desalination technology, collecting dew, and wastewater recycling will be key to helping the world rise to the challenge of solving the water shortage.
Turning saltwater into freshwater—through a variety of processes known as desalination—is a potential solution for arid regions that could experience even greater demand for water in the future. The methods of removing the salt content from saltwater include distillation, electrodialysis, condensation, and reverse osmosis, a process by which water is filtered through membranes under high pressure. While effective, all of these technologies are expensive and highly energy intensive.
Innovation may soon change that. French inventor Jean-Paul Domen has developed a more energy-efficient way to collect condensation (i.e., fresh water), and others have proposed locating renewable energy production near desalination plants, in order to take dual advantage of both the electricity and heat they produce.
There is a lot of water in the air, and not just in clouds. Practically all the water in the atmosphere is in the form of vapor, and altogether represents millions of cubic meters. For at least the past century, scientists have been experimenting with different ways to try and collect that vapor, known as dew, with mixed amounts of success.
French researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) were recently able to harvest dew using a procedure that causes water in the atmosphere to condense on rooftops. Drawing from their observations that dew forms in the early morning in areas that are colder than the surrounding air, they used polyethylene paint and film that they “spiked” with titanium oxide and barium sulfate micro particles to collect 0.6 square meters of water per square meter of rooftop overnight. According to the researchers, that’s a record amount.
Experimentation is ongoing around the world. OPUR, a dew utilization organization, has set up research-rooftop collection in Croatia, Israel, and Tahiti; in India, a 15,000 square meter system is under construction; in Morocco, rooftop terraces are being converted to combine photovoltaic systems and dew collection. All in all, humans hope to approximate the solutions nature has already found to living in arid climates—the desert gecko, a small nocturnal lizard with bulging eyes, collects the morning dew on its large eyelids and only needs to lap up the water to hydrate itself for the day ahead.
Going green on the green
Increasing numbers of cities and businesses are exploring ways to implement wastewater recycling, which holds vast potential for reducing total water consumption. In fact, recent innovations are even taking place on golf courses. While golf isn’t the greenest sport on the planet, for the past few years its ecological footprint has been steadily declining.
In the US, the Big Creek Golf Course near Millington, Tennessee (which Justin Timberlake purchased in 2007) redeveloped into an eco-friendly course, renamed Mirimichi. Among other things, it implemented rainwater recycling, introducing indigenous vegetation, and created new wetlands. Since it’s eco-makeover, Mirimichi has won several awards, including being named the 3rd greenest golf course by Mother Nature Network, and an Environmental Stewardship Award in 2010.