Energy, Resources, Money, and Technology

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I’ve made some statements lately that I’d like to reprise.

• There is never a shortage of resources. It’s a shortage of cheap enough energy to get the resources economically.

• Energy and money are inextricably linked.

• Making energy expensive hurts, impoverishes, and even kills the poor.

• Technology is not bulldozers. It’s getting more production using less energy.

People say, well, what about water? What if there’s a shortage of water? How does that relate to your statements above? You figure out how to manufacture water?

grapheneFigure 1. Graphene is a one-molecule-thick form of carbon, arranged in a hexagonal pattern. SOURCE

I’d like to illustrate all four of these statements with a recent news article, from Reuters:

Pentagon weapons-maker finds method for cheap, clean water

(Reuters) – A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

As you might guess, they make it out of graphene.

“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”

Damn … a factor of a hundred? Two orders of magnitude less energy required? Are you aware what that will do?

Well … without cheap energy, it won’t do much at all, will it? … it takes a large amount of energy to pump the seawater through the reverse osmosis filters, even new graphene filters.

But with cheap energy? It can make the deserts bloom, quite literally. Israel’s doing it now, they are currently desalinating about three hundred million (300,000,000) cubic metres of water per year. That’s seventy-nine billion gallons, (79,000,000,000). And plants are now under construction to more than double that amount.

How much water is that? Well, when the new Israeli plants are at full capacity it will be enough to cover all of Israel’s current agricultural land with about 6″ (15 cm) of water. And they’re already doing it at a reasonable cost, even before the latest development. Right now, it’s about five gallons for one cent ($0.01).

cost efficiency isreal desalinationFigure 2. Cost per cubic metre (black) for desalinated water around the world. I have added the cost per 100 US gallons in blue. The four outlined plants are in Israel.

Now, with the new graphene filters, the cost of water should be dropping, perhaps even by a factor of ten, for people from Algeria and Cyprus to Trinidad and Israel. And since this is just a filter and can be made in any shape, it can be made as a pin-to-pin replacement for filters in existing desalination plants. This can only be good news for the poor of the world.

Let me look at all of that discussion of desalination in terms of my statements reprised above:

• Technology is not bulldozers. It’s getting more production using less energy.

This is at the heart of the new development of the graphene filter for the reverse osmosis desalination of seawater.

• Making energy expensive hurts, impoverishes, and even kills the poor.

If a country has to pay twice as much for its energy, it will pay twice as much for its water. This hurts everyone, particularly the poor.

• Energy and money are inextricably linked.

The cost of the water is a function of the cost of energy.

• There is never a shortage of resources. It’s a shortage of cheap enough energy to get the resources economically.

If energy is cheap, then with technology many, many things are possible … including using endless seawater to turn the deserts green. On the other hand, if energy is expensive, resources are no longer economical, water costs more, and people suffer.

That’s all,

w.

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151 thoughts on “Energy, Resources, Money, and Technology

  1. Hey Willis …. something I’ve been thinking about for years now ….. maybe you can tell me why it wouldn’t work or why nobody’s done it already (or maybe they have.)

    Use gravity to create the pressure for osmosis. Specifically, build huge silos in water several hundred feet deep, have filters down near the base, pump the water out of the silos, and let the weight of the ocean refill the silo through the filters.

    If someone can engineer strong enough support for the filter medium and a way to easily swap out filters, the only energy necessary is that which pumps the water ashore from the constantly refilling base of the silo.

    Patent # xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Kevin Hilde

    (It can’t be that easy, can it?)

  2. Nice article, Willis. I agree. We have abundance. That governments the world over are insisting on expensive energy is suicidal. We’ve been brought up to trust in fear, believe in scarcity and hate our own human nature. We HAVE the technology now to unleash cheap energy the world over. The whole world would bloom. We really have to shift the scaremongers out of the way, they are destroying everything for everyone – worse, most of them know they are doing exactly that – they really have to go.

  3. Sorry Mark, that is incorrect.

    Shortages also exist where consumption (market size) exceeds supply (production). This can be temporary (due to distortions eg hoarding) or permanent (due to commodity rarity like the supply of passenger pigeons). In the later case, no possible increase in price will increase the supply.

  4. The primary resources needed by civilization are water, energy, metals, hydrogen + carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.

    Water is illustrated well in this article.

    On energy, there is all from the surge in natural gas reserves by fracking now to what even Wikipedia notes on thorium: “Even common granite rock with 13 PPM thorium concentration (just twice the crustal average, along with 4 ppm uranium) contains potential nuclear energy equivalent to 50 times the entire rock’s mass in coal,[82] although there is no incentive to resort to such very low-grade deposits so long as much higher-grade deposits remain available and cheaper to extract.[83]”

    13% of even the average rock, amongst quadrillions of tons in Earth’s crust, is comprised of the metals used most: iron and aluminum.

    Hydrogen and carbon are abundant, from methane hydrates to H2O+CO2 to other available sources. Those plus an energy source allow Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of plastics if needed.

    Nitrogen (such as for Haber process fertilizer) is nearly 4/5ths of air, with the rest mostly oxygen.

    As even part of Wikipedia notes, under criticisms of peak element claims:

    “As some illustrations, tin, copper, iron, lead, and zinc all had both production from 1950 to 2000 and reserves in 2000 much exceed world reserves in 1950, which would be impossible except for how “proved reserves are like an inventory of cars to an auto dealer” at a time, having little relationship to the actual total affordable to extract in the future.[58] In the example of ‘peak phosphorus,’ additional concentrations exist intermediate between 71,000 MT of identified reserves (USGS)[59] and the approximately 30,000,000,000 MT of other phosphorus in Earth’s crust, with the average rock being 0.1% phosphorus, so showing decline in human phosphorus production will occur soon would require far more than comparing the former figure to the 190 MT/yr of phosphorus extracted in mines (2011 figure).[58][59][60][61]

    Anti-industry ideologues speak in terms of vague “resources,” but, if looking at specifics accurately, the BS in their claims is exposed.

  5. I guess my question is ….

    Assuming water level inside the silo is kept below filter level ….. is the energy required to pump the fresh water to the surface equal to the energy that would otherwise be required to desalinate at the surface?

  6. Reverse osmosis is not only for desalinization. The EPA’s recent redefinition of what constitutes drinkable water has forced my local water company, at great expense, to pipe all water sources, ground and surface, to a central location where it is then mixed with water from a reverse osmosis unit to bring it into compliance with the new standards. If the EPA continues behaving like the nation’s homeopath, nearly all the water may need to go through reverse osmosis in a few years.

  7. Desalination is already becoming competitive with drilling, pumping and piping for some markets if I remember correctly. More irrigated agriculture results in more rain down wind due to transpiration and water-nucleating aerosols from plants. As water condenses to make this rain I seem to recall it would create low pressure that could draw more moist air inland from the coasts but maybe that is too much speculation and wishful thinking on my part. Add the info described here recently about higher CO2 greening the planet and livestock being used to green deserts and there is a lot of potential.

    Before disposing of the higher salt water made in the process, it might be possible to regain some of the energy used. There have been companies experimenting with using salinity differences between water from rivers and water from the sea to generate electricity. If you had a desalination plant some distance from a river supplying one area, the river supplying another, you could send some of the river water to meet the higher-salt waste water at an electrical plant halfway between them. As it combined the fresh and briny water it would have better efficiencies than just using seawater and it would mean no extra dilution would be needed to dispose of the desalination waste brine need shore.

    Whether all that is practical is not for me to say. But a large decrease in desalination costs will alter our world for the better.

  8. ” Israel’s doing it now, they are currently desalinating about three hundred million (300,000,0000, cubic metres of water per year. two hundred billion gallons, 200,000,000,000). And plants are now under construction to more than double that amount.”

    Yes, and that is why the leftists are against Israel, and pro Arab countries. Even though Israel is the only democracy in the area. They are anti capitalism/democracy. Even though that is the only system we have today that can help the poor. Inject some capitalism and everyone benefits. Inject priesthood systems, and everyone suffers.

  9. Kevin Hilde says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    I guess my question is ….

    Assuming water level inside the silo is kept below filter level ….. is the energy required to pump the fresh water to the surface equal to the energy that would otherwise be required to desalinate at the surface?

    Depends partly on geography.
    Potentially if you had a coastline reasonably close to a depression lower than sea level, for example, the dead sea, you could construct a series of tunnels that would gravity feed, and you could potentially generate energy by using turbines in the tunnels.
    The up side is, you get clean water, power, and it is a passive design.
    It would work for example in california where the “salton sea” is shrinking from lack of water.
    It was a large rift valley, below sea level,mostly barren desert.

    The Salton Sea was made accidentally when a flood overwhelmed sluice gates on the Colorado river ,and for 3 years the entire flow flooded what was previously a desert.
    For a while, towns sprang up along the edges , but with the river flow corrected, evaporation began shrinking the sea.

  10. Mark says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm
    BioBob says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    More pertinent to this post, shortages exist where the resources are there for the taking but governments forbid the taking.

  11. The idea behind making energy expensive is the same idea that led to Bretton Woods. The whole point IS to keep the poor poor!! This is how socialism is maintained and propagated. It’s not difficult to see. The World Bank and IMF lend money to even the most undemocratic bananarepublic, in exchange for ‘austerity measures’, in order to make sure the poor stay poor. Poor people vote for the socialist candidate and for further control by the state. The money from the IMF and World bank never goes to the population, only ever to governments. When money goes from one government to another it can only ever lead to the expansion of government. The climate change myth is just another tool in their arsenal to make sure socialism will continue. The fact that the World Bank is a huge driving force in propagating the climate change myth is not coincidental. Perhaps you think this is another conspiracy theory, but do your own research and you’ll see what I’m saying here is supported by facts.

  12. A.D. Everard said @ March 17, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Nice article, Willis. I agree. We have abundance. That governments the world over are insisting on expensive energy is suicidal.

    Agree… apart from that last sentence. Governments are hardly committing suicide — more like murdering their constituents. Perhaps if we started killing them in power it could be considered suicidal.

  13. Good post. But I have serious doubts that possibilities like this which are conducive for supporting more people on this planet will be embraced by whoever it is that sponsors the UN IPCC. Iow, I think there is a touch of Malthusianism affecting some members of our race at the top end of the food chain.

  14. The Pompous Git says:
    March 18, 2013 at 1:04 am
    Agree… apart from that last sentence. Governments are hardly committing suicide — more like murdering their constituents. Perhaps if we started killing them in power it could be considered suicidal.

    More like self defence!

  15. Willis, if a Lockheed-Martin press release claimed to build a perpetual-motion machine, would you believe it? Neither should you believe Lockheed-Martin’s desalination press release.

    The engineers who post on SlashDot have established that the gains in energy efficiency claimed in the Lockheed-Martin press release are thermodynamically bogus.

    Please try to be less credulous and more critical in your scientific reading, Willis!

    Perhaps cheap carbon energy has downsides too? A good starting-point is Michael Ross’s
    The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations.

  16. Kevin Hilde,

    No, it won’t work. Lets say the pressure at the bottom of the silo is X PSI. The pressure required to pump the water to the surface is therefore also X PSI. If the pump has to produce the same pressure, you may as well just pump it straight through the filter and skip building the silo.

  17. Kevin
    There are lots of ways to fine tune desalination. Two parts of the process are 1) remove the salt concentrate away from the filtration system entry and 2) pre-clean the source water. There are lots of little creatures in sea water and they block up filters. Easy access to the filters is a must.

  18. Disko Troop says:
    March 18, 2013 at 2:11 am
    Where do we put the salt?
    ===============================
    On our chips (fries) ;-)

  19. Bravo to the scientists and the engineers. I have long had my fingers crossed that technology devleopments would catch up with the rising human population so that people no longer have to go hungry.

    Cheaper desalination by way of improved filters is, therefore, excellent news. It would reduce the amount of CO2 pollution emitted into the atmosphere just so people can drink clean water. It would reduce the amount of energy required for irrigation cropping. It might reduce the draw-down on freshwater systems where biodiversity loss in many areas is reaching catastrophic proportions. It would reduce or possibly even eliminate the global drawdown on fossil waters that underpins food production for so very much of the world’s population. It would almost certainly increase food supply to such an extent that global food commodity prices will decrease, with hunger becoming a small-scale, accidental occurrence rather than the large scale chronic issue it is right now.

    As for cheap energy, who could possibly argue against cheap energy? It is a no brainer.

    I heartily support cheap energy. Of course, to figure out the real costs of energy, the full costs of energy need to be included. Otherwise, you might not have cheap energy. You might have expensive energy for which you pay some of the costs now and some of the costs later.

    One example would be Fukushima. To calculate the real costs of nuclear power, you would have to tip in the loss of production over a lare area around Fukushima, and the on-going costs of ‘temporary’ accommodation for the 150,000 people who, two years on, are still displaced.

    Similarly, where cheap energy depends on emitting CO2, then the full costs of the energy would need to include either the costs of preventing AGW or the costs consequent to AGW, whichever choice humankind makes.

    In relation to cheaper water by way of reduced energy use, the trick in the first instance will be to produce the graphene filters at a scale and a cost that is actually cheaper than current filters… something that has yet to be achieved. Large amounts of research funding are obviously going into potential applications for graphene, and into scaling graphene production up, so we should be seeing rapid developments.

  20. F-35 poorly designed from poor concept. The Harrier was brilliant, the US Marines love it and us Brits have just scrapped all ours. Same thinking behind the UK energy policy, push prices up to pay for the subsidies to afford the unaffordable wind turbines. this has driven 20%, and rising, of the UK population into energy poverty. Disgracefull!

  21. Silo in the ocean.Pump the water out.
    Put filter in bottom of silo.The ocean will fill
    the silo.You know water seeks it’s own level.
    But what do I know? [;)

    Alfred

  22. Willis, 2 points concerning Israel:
    1. The amount of desalinated water has reached a point where there is no need to pump water from the sea of Galilee anymore, except for keeping the lake from overflowing. Also the authorities started pumping water into dried up streams previously dried by overuse.
    2. Last winter was exceptionally wet (well, at least the first half), and most of Israel had above average precipitation. However, since the cost of building the desalination plants was already paid for, the water prices will not drop in the next few years.
    As you said – technology is not about needing more energy, it is about needing less.
    Eyal

  23. In response to Robert Willie, my understanding is that you need a very high pressure high velocity pump to make the system operate effectively. I can’t see a silo doing this. The pump needs to push the saltwater pass the screens at more than ten times the permeate water that exits the membranes. So if did have a silo, you need a much smaller pump to feed it, but a very large high pressure pump is required to work against the osmotic pressure of the process.
    The retentate is bled off back into the ocean. The process slows as the recentate increases in salt concentration. Hence the need to feed and bleed.

  24. To calculate the real costs of nuclear power, you would have to tip in the loss of production over a large area around Fukushima, and the on-going costs of ‘temporary’ accommodation for the 150,000 people who, two years on, are still displaced.

    Such costs don’t apply to nuclear plants that aren’t 1) built along the coast in a region liable to tsunamis and 2) built with their emergency power generators in the basement.

  25. Climate Ace says:
    Similarly, where cheap energy depends on emitting CO2, then the full costs of the energy would need to include either the costs of preventing AGW or the costs consequent to AGW, whichever choice humankind makes.

    There are no net costs to AGW, only benefits (global greening). There are only net costs to CAGW, which depends on climate sensitivity, which is looking lower and lower as each flat-lined year goes by.

  26. Willis,

    I have some form in this argument, having had a big fight with the UK government (DEFRA and Water Council) last spring over it.

    The UK government, and the water companies, held (and continue to hold) the view that water is a scarce commodity, and getting even scarcer, so we must all save it. They have an aim of dropping average water consumption per capita in the UK by 20%, driven by a European directive.

    Water provision is certainly getting scarcer in the SE of England, where population expansion has been rapid. The water companies there had planned a dozen new reservoirs to be built to keep pace with the population movement. Every one of these has been halted on government orders, because providing that water would breach the plans to CUT water consumption.

    The strange view of the authorities is that using less water is in some way good in itself. I have tried to make the following points:

    1 – water is a commodity which is never ‘used’ it circulates through us as part of a cycle
    2 – it can never, therefore be ‘short’. There are, and will remain, cubic kilometers of water for every person on the planet.
    3 – when ‘water shortages’ are mentioned, what is really meant is that there is a shortage of water abstraction and storage capability. In a word, water infrastructure. The raw material can never be short.
    4 – so discussions about ‘water shortages’ are really discussions about how much infrastructure we are willing to install and pay for. NOT about ‘saving the natural world by using less of a scarce resource’.

    This view has been officially rejected by the UK government, in favour of the view that “water is an obviously scarce resource, so we must use less of it”. So your comments that modern technology will enable easy access to as much water as we need will fall on stony ground here. Energy, water and many other commodities essential to life are NOT to be allowed to be cheap. Otherwise we would use ‘too much’ of them. It is this attitude, based on green activism in government, which needs to be addressed.

  27. Kevin Hilde says:

    > Use gravity to create the pressure for osmosis.

    We’re out of luck here because soluble salts tend to concentrate around local elevation minima. Wherever there is a source of water above the level where it is consumed, it usually is very close in quality to pure rainwater that only needs gentle scrubbing with absorption filters (if any at all). The pressure required for desalination can be as high as 15 atmospheric pressures (depending on the desired salt rejection ratio). Therefore, to use gravity for reverse osmosis, your source of salt water must be 150 metres above your head. I can’t imagine any such place. So desalination always requires pumping just to bring the water up to your floor level, plus whatever pressure is required for reverse osmosis.

    A membrane that is more permeable to water is going to reduce the required water head above floor level, but you still need to get it there, and then there is the cost of flushing (unlikely to work well) or replacing the filter when it gets clogged.

  28. I can’t believe only one other poster on here has pointed out that the Lockheed-Martin claims are themordynamic nonsense. I thought there was supposed to be a degree of basic scientific literacy on here, but it seems in short supply on this particular thread. Willis, in particular, should have known better than to pass on this claptrap.

    Don’t believe me? Look up Osmotic Power on Wikipedia or wherever. The Norwegians have built a power plant that runs on the salinity difference between freshwater and seawater. So why not just use Lockheed’s magic membranes to split the salt from freshwater and then recombine them to make power, and don’t let the first law of thermodynamics get in your way.

    Graphene may well provide an improvement, some day. I hope so. But ‘approximately 100 times less energy’? Get real please

  29. Clarification – that should have read ‘…Lockheed’s magic membranes to split seawater into freshwater and concentrated brine’ instead of ‘split the salt from freshwater’. Seeing thermodynamics affronted brings out the ranter in me I’m afraid.

  30. Water? Seriously? Exactly how are we going to run out of water, living on a planet that is covered more than 72% with water? And why would you need to manufacture water? Water doesn’t go away. What isn’t used up. When you drink water, does it become some other molecule?

  31. Since we are forever being threatened with climate related natural disasters you might like to add another statement to your list:
    The best defence against natural disasters is prosperity.

  32. Jon T and others, it’s not “scientific illiteracy”, it’s lack of subject knowledge combined with an unexpectedly optimistic mode of expression. I know diddly about osmosis.

    At first blush the claims seemed reasonable, amounting to “we can save energy, isn’t technology neat?” to which the initial reaction of a lot of people would be “oh that’s neat!” Evidence in thread. But that isn’t the only reaction, the sceptics and detail pickers who have the subject knowledge come along and point out the problems.

    Should Willis have known better? You’re assuming he knows anything about osmosis beyond the basics.

    In a world where everything is so pervasively negative and downbeat all the time is it really a surprise when people react to apparently positive news with a little more credulity? It’s abnormal to see a positive spin on a story about technological advancement. We’re faced witha constant barrage of “humans are evil and destroying the planet!” and we want something else. Something positive.

    Lack of subject knowledge and a desire for hope. Not illiteracy. Not everyone can know everything.

  33. Disko Troop says:
    March 18, 2013 at 2:11 am
    Where do we put the salt?
    ———————-
    On the steak from the cow that ate the grass that grew in what was once a desert. Progress!

  34. Fan of More Dissonance,

    Lockheed’s claims may be exaggerated. Or it may have simply been misinterpreted. Perhaps they are talking about manufacturing costs as well.

    Definitely will need smaller pumps that are cheaper if there is less resistance to passing through the filter.

    It’s also possible that the link provided on Slash-Dot saying reverse osmosis is only 25% more than the lowest cost is including the energy to pump the water through the filter, which in this case would be lowered. The within a factor of two of theoretical minimum is probably talking thermodynamics and therefore you would not be able to do better than that. However, lower costs to make the filter would obviously still be relevant.

    This is all moot because what Willis said is that lower energy costs are good and that being able to make desalinized water faster and more cheaply is a good thing.

    It doesn’t matter if in the end it is only 10% cheaper. If countries that are now not as efficient as Israel is switch to this, their costs could drop several fold, which is good.

  35. The “thermodynamics” is straightforward: LOTS of energy is needed to compress the source salt water: That increases temperature of the water (some), velocity (a modest amount), and pressure (a lot.) More energy is needed to pump away the brine, to pump away the newly clean water.

    Sure, you can get “a little” bit of energy back by re-combining the water – somebody brought that up above n this thread – but net requirement is energy to compress the water to very high pressure. And to make all those high pressure pipes, pumps, seals, and valves and fittings. More time and energy and manpower to build the system itself and control it. More time and energy and manpower to build the low pressure water systems to pipe away to their users the clean water. ….. And don’t forget to separate, store, and dispose of the contaminated reactive brine: Those concentrated dissolved salts are nasty.

    Like a generator trying to run as a perpetual motion machine or a flywheel trying to drive itself, you will need more energy “in” to separate the chemicals in the water from the chemical and physical bonds of the water and salts.

    And all of this is because the enviro’s are running around screaming “We are running out of water?”

    Well, yes. In only a few places where THERE NEVER HAS BEEN ANY CLEAN PURE FRESH WATER BEFORE!

  36. Trouble with a 1nm filter is how easy it would plug. I suppose an outfit like Lockheed must have figured out this problem. You would have to first filter out fine solid matter to clean up the seawater, I would think.

  37. Eyal Porat says: March 18, 2013 at 3:36 am
    1. The amount of desalinated water has reached a point where there is no need to pump water from the sea of Galilee anymore, except for keeping the lake from overflowing.
    _______________________________

    Eh? The ‘overflow’ from the Sea of Galilee is the river Jordan, and it would be nice to see some water in that, as it has not flowed for years (unless I am always there in the wrong season). Also, the ‘drain’ for the Jordan is the Dead Sea, and there has been much hand-wringing about the level of the DS dropping by many meters. The DS desperately needs a bit if extra water from the Jordan. (Better still if it was topped up from the Med via a hydro-electric station, but that project was never built for some reason).

    In addition, Israel needs to stop pumping subterranean water. This underground reservoir was hailed as the great water supply for Israel, until they found out that it was fossil water, and was not being replaced. Hence the drive now for desalination plants.

    And bravo for Israel. Israel gets a lot of stick from the left wing media, especially from the BBC which has a irrational hatred of all things Israeli. Yet Israel is the only high technology democracy with a good standard of living in the region (despite a defense budget that would be ruinous to most Western nations), – while all the other failed states around it offer their people nothing more than poverty, deprivation, corruption and despotic theocracies.

    .

  38. Laugh Of the Day, from Climate Ace above:

    As for cheap energy, who could possibly argue against cheap energy? It is a no brainer.
    I heartily support cheap energy.

  39. squid2112 says: March 18, 2013 at 4:36 am
    Water? Seriously? Exactly how are we going to run out of water, living on a planet that is covered more than 72% with water? And why would you need to manufacture water? Water doesn’t go away. What isn’t used up. When you drink water, does it become some other molecule?
    ___________________________

    Squiddy – are you serious, or are you a troll? Or are you a traditional Liberal-Green fantasist, who knows diddly-squat about the real world?

    Fresh water is a real problem in many parts of the world, because populations are increasing (more water usage), populations are eating more and wearing more clothes (much more water needed), populations are getting richer (rich people use more water), and Obama wants the land to supply our fuel too (much, much more water required).

    Have you ever wondered why there is no megapolis in the center of the Sahara Desert or the middle of Australia? Cities need fresh water, which is why Syria and Iraq were so upset when Turkey built the Euphrates dam. Hey, even the perennially wet London ran out of water in the noughties (2000 – 2010), because there is insufficient water storage in the SE of England. We had the wonderful spectacle of the Mayor of London telling its residents not to flush their toilets so often – and this in a 21st century Western capital city. Disgraceful.

    So yes, Squiddy, we can run out of water, and the result would be a reduction in sanitation resulting in disease, and a reduction in farming resulting in famine. Not to mention the fact that many industrial processes and many fabrics depend on water for production, resulting in layoffs, poverty, and a huge reduction in standard of living.

    .

  40. My understanding of Willis’ point was: 1) Reduction in energy (Willis speculated on a factor of 10, not 100 as in the LM press release) means lower cost for desalinization; 2) Cheaper energy means less expensive fresh water, and vice versa. I found the Israeli data especially striking–at the end of the day, cost is proportional to energy.

    Several groups are reporting orders of magnitude increases in water permeability: From MIT: “nanoporous graphene membranes are able to reject salt ions while letting water flow at permeabilities several orders of magnitude higher than existing RO membranes.” (dx.doi.org/10.1021/nl3012853 | Nano Lett. 2012, 12, 3602−3608) Of course, that is not the same as making an energy claim. See also

    http://nanopatentsandinnovations.blogspot.com/2012/07/graphene-new-approach-to-water.html

    And from University of Chicago:

    http://genesisnanotech.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/nanotechnology-key-to-new-desalination-system/

    It is possible (and happens often) that the press people made the mistake of equating permeability with energy. In this case, though (and I had to read the quote several times) the engineer seems to be separating out the energy required for physical separation (a fixed quantity) from the energy required to push the water through the filter. The former is the thermodynamic limit; the latter is what they are claiming improvement on.

  41. rogerknights says:
    rogerknights says:
    March 18, 2013 at 3:46 am
    “To calculate the real costs of nuclear power, you would have to tip in the loss of production over a large area around Fukushima, and the on-going costs of ‘temporary’ accommodation for the 150,000 people who, two years on, are still displaced.

    Such costs don’t apply to nuclear plants that aren’t 1) built along the coast in a region liable to tsunamis and 2) built with their emergency power generators in the basement”

    Absolutely correct.
    It is hard to comprehend the stupidity of the Japanese Regulator, to a) allow the siting, and b) to leave the emergency generators to be exposed to flooding.
    Japan like the former Soviet Union has a culture which discourages challenge from below, hence stupid decisions go unchallenged.
    Certainly the UK safety case approach and Regulator interaction would preclude such obviously stupid arrangements to be employed.

    Japan like the Soviet Union, has a culture which [discourages]

    [Something trimmed or skipped? Mod]

  42. “No, it won’t work. Lets say the pressure at the bottom of the silo is X PSI. The pressure required to pump the water to the surface is therefore also X PSI. If the pump has to produce the same pressure, you may as well just pump it straight through the filter and skip building the silo.”

    Seems to me if all you’re doing is establishing a pressure gradient across the filter, you don’t NEED to evacuate the water to below the filter level – all you’ve got to do is pump out the top 100 feet or so and you’ve got a pressure gradient of about 40-45 psi. From der Wiki, it looks like you’re needing a minimum of about 600 PSI for sea water desalination with current membranes.

    If you can drop the pressure needed by a factor of 10, instead of having to pump out over 1400 ft of silo you’ve only got to pump 100 or so. And the silo idea becomes a bit more feasible. You’re going to have pumps either way, (on the input side, to get it up to pressure, and on the output side to direct the flow) so why not let gravity do some of the work for you?

    Still have a bit of work to do on prefiltering the water and figuring out a way to swap filter media on a system that’s continually at a 60 PSI pressure without introducing any contaminants, but it wouldn’t require any complex remote handling gear. 100-110 feet is within SCUBA limits, I believe…

    Of course, this anticipates that the pressure required WOULD only be about 60 PSI. There’s no numbers really supporting that conjecture right now.

  43. @ Robert Wille …. Thanks, that’s the answer that should have been obvious to me.

    Other responders, thanks for indulging me.

  44. On the issue of water Willis, I agree that energy is the driving force. Probably the same could be said about the production of energy (oil, coal, electricity). However, on some other commodities such as minerals and food I am less sure. Energy is not always the determining factor. I enjoyed your post like always. Waiting for the one where you were captured by pirates ;)

    I recall a Canadian company that converted salt water to fresh water using sea wave energy. While the cost of installation was high (relative to the fresh water output) it seemed as though the countries who could use the technology the most (e.g. small islands like Haiti) were also the poorest. This further suggests that your analysis might be limited more to richer countries that can afford the initial infrastructure.

  45. This sounds like the energy requirements are so low you could run it with an old mechanical windmill doing some pumping.
    I expected further declines in the cost of desalinating water while the Gleick’s were crying Wolf. Costs were already very affordable with current reverse osmosis.

  46. Jon T says:
    March 18, 2013 at 4:10 am
    “Don’t believe me? Look up Osmotic Power on Wikipedia or wherever. The Norwegians have built a power plant that runs on the salinity difference between freshwater and seawater. So why not just use Lockheed’s magic membranes to split the salt from freshwater and then recombine them to make power, and don’t let the first law of thermodynamics get in your way. ”

    They have a demonstration plant as big as a hall that produces enough power to warm a cup of coffee. So by that example, osmotic power is rather low.

  47. Dodgy Geezer says:
    March 18, 2013 at 3:53 am

    . . . Energy, water and many other commodities essential to life are NOT to be allowed to be cheap. Otherwise we would use ‘too much’ of them. It is this attitude, based on green activism in government, which needs to be addressed.

    There, in a nutshell, is the crux of the problem, the old nanny ‘do-gooderism’, the neighborhood busy-bodies who are looking out for your ‘best interests’. You’ll find them in every town infected by left-liberalism here in the USA, eagerly holding ‘sustainability’ fairs and lectures. Unfortunately these nannies now have the power of the State behind them, like our “idiot-savant” Energy Secretary Chu (as Willis so aptly called him), cheering the steady rise of gasoline prices, as if that were somehow good for us.

    Ultimately this whole debate over ‘global warming’ and other alarms comes down to a basic split in the West, between the freful and fearful Nannies, who would have us cowering in our little apartments and tending our communal kitchen gardens, on the one side; and the fans of Progress, who like V-8s and rocket ships and want to see more of them, on the other. We really should call the latter ‘Progressives’, but unfortunately the Nannies have appropriated the term and turned it on its head: ‘Sustainability’ is the opposite of Progress. Paradoxically the advocates of Progress are now the ‘Conservatives’. We need a new label: how about ‘Frontiersmen’? The essence of progress is pushing the Frontiers of knowledge and technology to create abundance and the ascendency of mankind over all obstacles.

    At this point the Nannies seem to be winning the battle against the Frontiersmen. It’s time to turn that around.

    /Mr Lynn

  48. @ralfellis:
    March 18, 2013 at 5:32 am

    Have you ever wondered why there is no megapolis in the center of the Sahara Desert or the middle of Australia? Cities need fresh water, which is why Syria and Iraq were so upset when Turkey built the Euphrates dam. Hey, even the perennially wet London ran out of water in the noughties (2000 – 2010), because there is insufficient water storage in the SE of England. We had the wonderful spectacle of the Mayor of London telling its residents not to flush their toilets so often – and this in a 21st century Western capital city. Disgraceful.

    So yes, Squiddy, we can run out of water,…

    Ralfellis, you are deeply wrong here. We can NEVER run out of water, for the simple reason that we do not destroy it. It passes through our bodies in a cycle and returns again. You have fallen into a trap which is set by left-wing activists. They like to equate water failing to come out of a tap with a fundamental shortage of the resource itself, and thence they move to enforcing rationing. But what is really short here is not water – it is the infrastructure necessary to process and store it that is in short supply. You don’t seem to understand, as Squiddy does, that running out of water and running out of water storage are two quite different things.

    When London ‘ran out of water’ a little while ago (as it has a habit of doing every time there is a spell of fine weather) the problem was NOT lack of water. It was lack of reservoirs – a direct result of government refusal to build infrastructure that the water companies had stated were needed. The reason we do not build large cities in the middle of the Sahara (there are actually some there, look up Tamanrasset, Ubari, Arlit or Murzuq) is that it would cost too much to provide the water infrastructure. But if we were to do such a thing, not one drop of that water would be ‘wasted’, no matter how much was lost to evaporation by the time it got there. We might have wasted billions on building thousands of miles of pumped canals, but we wouldn’t have wasted any water.

    Water CANNOT be wasted, and WILL NEVER run out. If we are told not to flush our toilets, this is a failure of government to invest and provide the necessary infrastructure, NOT a shortage of some limited natural resource…

  49. @Bruce Cobb
    March 18, 2013 at 5:20 am
    Laugh Of the Day, from Climate Ace above:

    As for cheap energy, who could possibly argue against cheap energy? It is a no brainer…

    I can’t see the joke. Could you explain it a little, please?

  50. ****
    Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 2:51 am

    Similarly, where cheap energy depends on emitting CO2, then the full costs of the energy would need to include either the costs of preventing AGW or the costs consequent to AGW, whichever choice humankind makes.
    ****

    There are no “costs” of AWG, other than imaginary. The benefits of increased CO2 to plant growth are quantifiable, tho.

  51. The marvelous part of Climate Ace’s argument and that of the other greens is the total disregard of the costs of THEIR programs, both direct costs, and specifically ignored, the indirect costs.

    With “Green Energy”, not only do the direct costs of the energy rise (including subsidies as a direct cost) the indirect costs are large as well, their components consume energy to produce far and away more than they generate. The components from which they are made remove scarce resources in demand from the market, thus increasing the costs of other products which the market is seeking. They reduce the available resources for production of other energy by diverting capital from where it would be more efficiently utilized. By making capital scarcer, they raise the costs on what would be even cheaper energy. At the same time, scarce capital makes development of products in other areas, either more expensive, or eliminates the possibility.

    They’ve now stopped research on nuclear reactions of all types, at least in the western world. This means that the currently existing reactors won’t be replaced, and that new ones, should they be deployed, would cost significantly more, thus raising the price for that energy as well. Another problem is, where nuclear reaction research is currently being done, the record of caring about human life, is less than exemplary. Chernobyl didn’t happen really by accident, it was the result of a direct view of the value of human life. Of course, a number of the greens have expressed the desire to severely reduce the population of the planet, so the lack of safety systems may work well.

    Given the safety record of the Chinese railroads, I’m not all that sanguine about the safety systems on their reactors – they’re not thorium reactors for the most part. We clearly know the Japanese regulators haven’t taken a serious look at reactor design, although we’re told that the rest of them are better designs, but I digress…

    Cheap energy is available, just not in the fantasy world inhabited by the greens. With low cost energy the cost of pollution avoidance and remediation also drops, making it more readily available to the poor – they’re the ones washing their clothes in the open sewers in the developing world. Like Willis said, they need clean water, they can only get that from cheap energy.

  52. Bruce Cobb says:
    March 18, 2013 at 5:20 am

    Squiddy – are you serious, or are you a troll? Or are you a traditional Liberal-Green fantasist, who knows diddly-squat about the real world?

    So yes, Squiddy, we can run out of water, and the result would be a reduction in sanitation resulting in disease, and a reduction in farming resulting in famine. Not to mention the fact that many industrial processes and many fabrics depend on water for production, resulting in layoffs, poverty, and a huge reduction in standard of living.
    ————————————

    The world has plenty of water.
    It would take a really lazy, socialist, cowardly and stupid population (see California) to allow a government to act so irresponsibly that there would be “a reduction in sanitation resulting in disease, and a reduction in farming resulting in famine. Not to mention the fact that many industrial processes and many fabrics depend on water for production, resulting in layoffs, poverty, and a huge reduction in standard of living.”

    The value of fresh water may go up locally but there will always be enough.
    That is unless the government screws up (again – some more – still) and prevents progress.
    Is there something I’m missing in the water cycle?
    You’re not with the EPA, are you?
    cn

  53. If I may suggest a slight alteration for an expansion:
    • Energy, time and money are inextricably linked.
    • Making energy expensive hurts, impoverishes, and even kills the poor.
    • Technology is not bulldozers. It’s getting more
    or better production using less energy or time.

    Time is Money. Money is Time.
    In much the same way a battery stores electricity and transformers can alter its voltage,
    Money is a way to store labor and concentrate that labor for greater power in use.

  54. ralfellis says:
    March 18, 2013 at 5:14 am
    All things in due time.
    The next step is to let the Jordan river flow freely.
    Just to remind you – we are still supplying water to Jordan state too.

  55. What the hell does “It’s 500 times thinner” even mean?

    If I have a filter that’s a micron thick, and someone offers one “500 times thinner”, then it would have to be 500 microns thinner, or -499 microns thick. And a negative thickness is absurd.

    Perhaps what is meant is “1/500th as thick”, but that isn’t what it says.

  56. Bernd Felsche says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    F-35. Late. Over-budget. Doesn’t meet performance criteria. “Made” by LockMart.

    Very low on the credibility scale at the moment.
    ####
    Stop reading so much Marxist propaganda. Don’t you know that the lefties have been attacking Lockheed Martin along with every other conservatively ran Defense Contractor for 30 years or more. Its amazing that they still exist. Many others were driven out of business. Government regulations, if followed, will ALWAYS result in late and over-budget. But if your company donates handsomely to the Democrats and supports all the latest leftie causes then you can get away with everything including selling secrets to China!

  57. Not sure how much thermodynamics has to do with this. The filter is thinner than the actual ions, more of a straight filtration. Commercialization of a product one molecule thick, now that will be something new. 1000 times stronger than steel! Next thing you know they will use it to make the elevator to space…

  58. Kevin Hilde’s 11:25 pm suggestion of a silo got me thinking of a different configuration. (Alfred Alexander and jlawson sketched a similar ideas) Consider the carbon-dioxide removal fountains of Lake Nyos in Cameroon. Once you start the water flow, the less dense degassing water in the riser keeps water flowing up and out the riser as a fountain and bottom water flowing in the bottom. No power is needed. Can we make the differences in freshwater and sea water densities power the desalinator?

    Take an offshore drilling riser.
    Attach to its bottom a filter assembly (graphene will do, but any reverse osmosis filter ought to apply).
    Make thousands of pleats in the filter to increase its surface area. The design has flow from outside the filter into the riser. Perhaps key to it’s working is that the Filter, resembling an oil filter, exposes the filter to the riser on the inside (A), and has a sealed outer jacket(B) with ports at the top(C) and bottom (D). C and D will be separated by good distance, maybe 1/2 the length of the riser system.
    Find a place of deep water. Lower the riser string, filter first into the ocean.
    Hydrostatic pressure will first push sea water through D to fill the outer shell of the filter.
    Hydrostatic pressure will force water through the filter with fresher water in the empty riser core. (The Flaw in here)
    As the riser descends, port C enters the water.

    At this point, we should have Fresh Water level inside the riser A below sea level, the sea water outside the filter between C and D within B will be of higher salt concentration than sea water (because it has lost water through the filter to A). The fluid between C and D within B is now more dense that the sea water outside B. C and D are open. A circulation should start to flow from C to D within B, bringing in fresh sea water naturally.

    We continue the lowering of the riser as deep as we need. For argument’s sake, let’s say 1000 m.
    We reach target depth. Sea water is continuing to flow from C to D within B and denser water exits D. Fresher water flows into A via Reverse Osmosis. Does the water level in A rise to sea level? (No. See the flaw.)

    The water density within A is 2.5% than the sea water outside the system. At 1000 m, the sea water hydrostatic will be 100.2 atm. So the hydrostatic pressure within a freshwater full riser at the base of the filter is 97.5 atm, giving a constant 2.5 atm across the filter.

    The flaw in the argument is that the osmotic pressure between sea water and fresh water is 27 atm = 410 psi. You need 27 atm on the sea water side just to keep the fresh water from trying to dilute the sea water. So even if everything stayed constant, you would need to find a place 11,000 meters deep for the filter assembly to get any chance of sea water to fresh water flow.

    I wonder what the osmotic pressure between freshwater and CO2-rich sea water would be? I can just imagine one of Willis’s Pacific Atolls with a fresh-water/soda-water fountain from a pipeline to a graphene filter in a nearby trench. Completely impractical, uneconomic, but curious.

  59. Dodgy Geezer says: March 18, 2013 at 6:45 am
    Ralfellis, you are deeply wrong here. We can NEVER run out of water, for the simple reason that we do not destroy it. It passes through our bodies in a cycle and returns again. But what is really short here is not water – it is the infrastructure necessary to process and store it that is in short supply. You don’t seem to understand, as Squiddy does, that running out of water and running out of water storage are two quite different things.

    .

    Chuck Nolan says: March 18, 2013 at 7:16 am
    The world has plenty of water. It would take a really lazy, socialist, cowardly and stupid population (see California) to allow a government to act so irresponsibly that there would be a shortage.
    __________________________________

    Are you both simply being obtuse for the sake of it? Sure, the UK is surrounded by water, I think we all know that, but have you ever tried to drink it, or farm with it? Doesn’t quite work, does it? So why make such stupid statements?

    As to infrastructure, just where do you put water storage resevoirs, in the most crowded (and almost the flatest) part of Europe? Have you seen the land costs in England’s southeast? Have you seen the environmental opposition to even a small road, let alone a resevoir many miles in circumference? Have you seen the number of towns and dwellings we have, in even the smallest of valleys? Have you seen the political opposition to moving even a few houses, let alone several towns and villages?

    More infrastructure will solve the problem? – you really are in la-la land.

    And that is before we come onto more barren areas, like North Africa and the Near East. Why do you think that the Romans built a 120 km aquaduct down into Carthage (Tunis) – because they liked building aqueducts?? And of course the situation is now much worse in these countries, because populations have greatly expanded and water usage per person has also risen, while rainfall levels remains static.

    If you cannot understand the problems of greatly increasing demand, while the supply remains the same, I am surprised you can understand a site like WUWT. I suspect you are from these (religious?) groups who think we can expand the human population ad-infinitum, without encountering any raw material supply problems whatsoever.

    .

  60. A fan of *MORE* discourse says:
    March 18, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Willis, if a Lockheed-Martin press release claimed to build a perpetual-motion machine, would you believe it? Neither should you believe Lockheed-Martin’s desalination press release.

    I neither believe nor disbelieve it. I post it as an example of what people are capable of. Well, at least what people who try to move things forwards, unlike yourself, are capable of … you, your sole contribution to the world seems to be to try to move things backwards or drag them down into the muck with you. Your lexicon doesn’t seem to contain the idea of moving a conversation “upwards” or “forwards”.

    The engineers who post on SlashDot have established that the gains in energy efficiency claimed in the Lockheed-Martin press release are thermodynamically bogus.

    To paraphrase a friend of mine, if an anonymous engineer on slashdot issued a press release claiming to build a perpetual-motion machine, would you believe it? Neither should you believe slashdot’s desalination claims. I would remind you that plenty of scientists claiming that things “can’t be done” have been wrong in the past.

    But in any case, the point is not whether this particular theoretical advance will play out. The point is that some process will always play out, that technology will eventually find some way around the roadblock. And in fact, as Israel shows, WE’RE ALREADY THERE even without this latest development, so your pissy little complaints mean nothing.

    Please try to be less credulous and more critical in your scientific reading, Willis!

    Please try to be less of an unpleasant, nit-picking, dickish jerkwagon, Fan!

    My point is valid regardless of whether the new system is ten or a hundred times more efficient. My point is valid if the new system never makes it off of the drawing board. If you’d first try to figure out what the point of a post is, you wouldn’t go so wrong in your pathetic efforts to make some other point.

    Perhaps cheap carbon energy has downsides too? A good starting-point is Michael Ross’s The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations.

    Been there, read that … what’s your point, other than trying to play the “I’ve read more books than you” game and failing?

    w.

  61. Dodgy Geezer said @ March 18, 2013 at 3:53 am

    …discussions about ‘water shortages’ are really discussions about how much infrastructure we are willing to install and pay for. NOT about ‘saving the natural world by using less of a scarce resource’.

    FWIW, The roof of the Git’s modest (1500 ft^2) dwelling catches far more rainwater than we use for washing, cooking, drinking, watering a small greenhouse* etc. Storage is approximately 5,000 gallons (Imperial); rainfall averages 32 inches p.a. This summer southern Tasmania’s rainfall has been well below average (and much warmer than average which is wonderful) and we reached a low point of “only” 3,000 gallons in the storage tank.

    The cost of supplying our own water is considerably less than what the water authority charges those on their scheme despite their supposed economies of scale. Nor do we have to tolerate summertime water restrictions the authority imposes. Our water is also a lot cleaner than the municipal water supply. Until quite recently, the Hobart City Council prosecuted anyone found to be harvesting the rainwater from their rooftops. But then rationality has never been governments’ strong point.

    * We also have a 250,000 gallon runoff dam that supplies water for irrigating the gardens, cattle etc. I have been chastised by greenie-weenies for “wasting” this water when they see the sprinklers running.

  62. Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 2:51 am

    … I heartily support cheap energy. Of course, to figure out the real costs of energy, the full costs of energy need to be included. Otherwise, you might not have cheap energy. You might have expensive energy for which you pay some of the costs now and some of the costs later.

    One example would be Fukushima. To calculate the real costs of nuclear power, you would have to tip in the loss of production over a lare area around Fukushima, and the on-going costs of ‘temporary’ accommodation for the 150,000 people who, two years on, are still displaced.

    Similarly, where cheap energy depends on emitting CO2, then the full costs of the energy would need to include either the costs of preventing AGW or the costs consequent to AGW, whichever choice humankind makes.

    So … are you planning to include the billions and billions of dollars of benefits from the increased CO2 fertilization of the plants all over the planet? So far, we’ve seen no costs of CO2, just benefits, and yet here you are yammering about costs?

    I gotta admit … you guys that only want to monetize the COSTS of CO2, but conveniently forget about monetizing the BENEFITS of CO2, are always good for a laugh. I figured one of you fools would show up sooner or later.

    Next time, do your damn homework before uncapping your electronic pen, and think your brilliant plan through to the end, there’s a good fellow … or not, I can always use another belly laugh.

    w.

  63. Dodgy Geezer says:
    March 18, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Can’t remember where I nicked it from but…

    “We don’t buy water, we rent it!”

    The comment about cheap energy was funny because of the source of the original comment.

    DaveE.

  64. Dodgy Geezer says:
    March 18, 2013 at 6:47 am

    @Bruce Cobb
    March 18, 2013 at 5:20 am
    Laugh Of the Day, from Climate Ace above:

    As for cheap energy, who could possibly argue against cheap energy? It is a no brainer…

    I can’t see the joke. Could you explain it a little, please?

    You have to consider the source. It would be like Kim Jong-un saying “who could possibly argue against democracy? It is a no-brainer. I heartily support democracy”.

  65. Jon T says:
    March 18, 2013 at 4:10 am

    I can’t believe only one other poster on here has pointed out that the Lockheed-Martin claims are themordynamic nonsense. I thought there was supposed to be a degree of basic scientific literacy on here, but it seems in short supply on this particular thread. Willis, in particular, should have known better than to pass on this claptrap.

    Don’t believe me? Look up Osmotic Power on Wikipedia or wherever. The Norwegians have built a power plant that runs on the salinity difference between freshwater and seawater. So why not just use Lockheed’s magic membranes to split the salt from freshwater and then recombine them to make power, and don’t let the first law of thermodynamics get in your way.

    Graphene may well provide an improvement, some day. I hope so. But ‘approximately 100 times less energy’? Get real please

    Are the claims “thermodynamic nonsense”? Neither you nor anyone has shown that. I followed the discussion on Slashdot and read the relevant paper, and I don’t see the support for their claims or yours.

    Neither you nor the engineers involved have provided anything but your own incredulity that a graphene filter might use 100X less energy to filter something than a standard filter. You might be right … but your incredulity is not enough to establish it. You have provided NOTHING to back up that claim. So until you come up with numbers about pressure to run fluids through graphene filters, you are just substituting bluster … impressive, but not all that convincing.

    There’re more problems. For example, one of the Slashdot folks claimed that the underlying paper says we can never improve reverse osmosis by more than 25% … but the paper itself says (emphasis mine):

    Eliminating the pretreatment stage or reducing the pretreatment demands would substantially reduce the energy consumption, capital cost, and environmental impact of desalination plants, but this requires the development of fouling-resistant membranes with tailored surface properties, as well as membrane modules with improved hydrodynamic mixing

    Gosh, now a “membrane with tailored surface properties” could “substantially reduce the energy consumption” … what happened to the previous claim that thermodynamics limits us to a 25% increase? Now we suddenly see that an improved membrane could lead to substantial energy savings.

    Next, whether this particular technological advance works or not is immaterial to my point. Development is about getting more production for less energy. If this one doesn’t work, another one will.

    Finally, perhaps you are in the habit of believing scientists when they tell you things can’t be done … me, not so much. I follow Arthur Clarke’s laws:

    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    Let me know when you’ve come up with the figures on how much energy it takes to push a liquid through a filter one molecule thick, and can discuss its effects on pretreatment stage of reverse osmosis plants, and we’ll continue the discussion. Because until then, we can’t know if the claims are correct or not.

    w.

  66. Here’s an article that functionally supports Willis’ story: D. Cohen-Tanugi and J. C. Grossman (2012) Water Desalination across Nanoporous Graphene Nano Letters 12(7), 3602–3608.

    The abstract is below. But notice the last line, “water permeability of this material is several orders of magnitude higher than conventional reverse osmosis membranes.” Figure 9 in the paper shows graphene membranes can exhibit 100x better permeability than high-flux reverse osmosis membranes. Nominally, 100x less energy use is at least plausible.

    In support of that, the last lines in the paper say, “Overall, the enhanced water permeability of nanoporous graphene could offer important advantages over existing RO technology. For a given water output, such a membrane would enable lower energy requirements due to lower operating pressures. It could also mean smaller and more modular desalination plants thanks to smaller membrane area requirements.” “RO” is reverse osmosis.

    Here’s the abstract: “We show that nanometer-scale pores in single-layer freestanding graphene can effectively filter NaCl salt from water. Using classical molecular dynamics, we report the desalination performance of such membranes as a function of pore size, chemical functionalization, and applied pressure. Our results indicate that the membrane’s ability to prevent the salt passage depends critically on pore diameter with adequately sized pores allowing for water flow while blocking ions. Further, an investigation into the role of chemical functional groups bonded to the edges of graphene pores suggests that commonly occurring hydroxyl groups can roughly double the water flux thanks to their hydrophilic character. The increase in water flux comes at the expense of less consistent salt rejection performance, which we attribute to the ability of hydroxyl functional groups to substitute for water molecules in the hydration shell of the ions. Overall, our results indicate that the water permeability of this material is several orders of magnitude higher than conventional reverse osmosis membranes, and that nanoporous graphene may have a valuable role to play for water purification.

  67. Doug Jones, the thermodynamics of energy usage are predicated on the chemical efficiency of the membrane at separating water from dissolved salts and organics. Improve the membrane and the thermodynamics change. Your Ars Technica report assumes static technology.

  68. ralfellis says:
    March 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

    You missed the applications for 12 reservoirs that Dodgy Geezer mentioned.

    All were rejected and none on environmental grounds, in fact 5 of them had passed environmental impacts and were awaiting final permissions.

    No, they were rejected on the grounds that Thames water were wasting too much water through infrastructure leakage.

    There will always be leakage on an ageing system and they’re struggling to renew as they’re spending so much time & energy fire-fighting current leakage. I don’t like defending the thieving bastards that are the water companies, but they do have a point.

    DaveE.

  69. The Monster (@SumErgoMonstro) says:
    March 18, 2013 at 8:09 am

    What the hell does “It’s 500 times thinner” even mean?

    If I have a filter that’s a micron thick, and someone offers one “500 times thinner”, then it would have to be 500 microns thinner, or -499 microns thick. And a negative thickness is absurd.

    Perhaps what is meant is “1/500th as thick”, but that isn’t what it says.

    Yes, that is what it says, “500 times thinner”, and that is what it means. Only you seem to think that 500 times thinner than one micron means 500 microns thick.

    And yes, you are 100% correct, it’s not logical at all. Often what something literally and exactly “says” in English is not at all what it means … but because everyone knows that (except you, I guess), it’s not a problem. If I call something a “dog’s breakfast”, it just means a mess, it doesn’t mean a dog would eat it for breakfast.

    And similarly, when a new computer is said to be “twice as light as the old model”, or a new filter is “500 times thinner” only idiots and grammar nazis think that should mean twice the weight and 500 times the thickness.

    So … which category would you like us to place you in?

    Trying to insist that English a) make logical sense and b) has to follow rules that are not observed in real life is no way to go through life, you’re headed for endless pain and arguments.

    English is the way we use it, not the way the rule books claim. Everyone knows that if you say someone looks twice as thin as the last time you saw them, it’s a compliment, you’re not saying they are twice as fat … so what if it’s not logical? ENGLISH IS NOT LOGICAL, and the faster you get up to speed with that idea, the happier you’ll be.

    w.

  70. Not to nitpick but …

    There are 264.2 gallons in 1 cubic meter of water. So your “300,000,0000, cubic metres” works out to 792,600,000,000 gallons.

    Pumping and filters clogging are engineering problems that can be solved. The more efficient the more we can grow. Now if only we could increase atmospheric CO2 :)

  71. The Israeli plants are seemingly very efficient, almost too much so for a skeptic. I am curious more than anything else but are their plants subsidized? The USA gives Israel $3 billion a year so could some of that be diverted to cover costs thereby keeping the public numbers lower?

    I also didn’t see Saudi Arabia on the list. That is a classic case of cheap energy. Hey lets stop burning off this natural gas and use it to build desalination plants! Great idea. Now they are exporting wheat. They have the worlds largest plants. Hard to put a cost on the water when you have virtually free energy isn’t it? What a problem to have.

    In any case I love the technology being efficiency angle. A very practical and true explanation.

  72. I think some commenters may be drifting away from the point Willis is trying to make. Even if the thermodynamics are not totally correct, the relationshipo between energy and prosperity remains. To make the point another way….I will use a different technology to accomplish the same effect on prosperity. Thorium molten salt reactors can be used to generate electricity and in the process throw off waste heat. The waste heat can be used to desalinate seawater using multiple effect evaporators instead of filters or membranes. By my back of the envelope calculation, a molten salt reactor of gigawatt size would throw off enough waste heat to create 3.7 TRILLION gallons per year of desalinated seawatwer. Different technology, but the effect would be the same in terms of lifting the poor out of proverty and generating wealth. The real question is: Why is the United States not pursuing at flank speed to perfect the molten salt technology?????

  73. Doug Jones says:
    March 18, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Never trust press release hype. Existing reverse osmosis filters achieve around 50% of ideal thermodynamic efficiency, it’s not possible to do any better than to double current J/kg figures. The press release is simply lying, else you could create a perpetual motion machine.

    http://arstechnica.com/science/2011/08/desalinization-is-this-as-good-as-it-gets/

    Never trust internet claims. From your own link:

    The total process of desalination turns out to require three to four times the theoretical minimal energy use, since the salt water must be pumped and pretreated, the membranes maintained, and the resulting brine handled afterwards.

    You claimed an absolute maximum of double the current efficiency … they say we are using three to four times the minimal energy use. Not only that, but there’s a two to one ratio just between the Israeli plants and the regular plants, as I showed in Figure 2. So the older, less efficient plants will get an even larger boost than the efficient plants.

    I had tried to allow for the usual press release hype, in my head post I guessed that the new filter might reduce costs by a factor of ten. It looks like I was optimistic, perhaps it will be only by a factor of two, or even 1.5 … so what?

    My point still stands. Technology is about getting more results for less energy.

    w.

  74. Pat Frank says:
    March 18, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Here’s an article that functionally supports Willis’ story: D. Cohen-Tanugi and J. C. Grossman (2012) Water Desalination across Nanoporous Graphene Nano Letters 12(7), 3602–3608.

    The abstract is below. But notice the last line, “water permeability of this material is several orders of magnitude higher than conventional reverse osmosis membranes.” Figure 9 in the paper shows graphene membranes can exhibit 100x better permeability than high-flux reverse osmosis membranes. Nominally, 100x less energy use is at least plausible.

    Thanks, Pat. While the amount of the improvement doesn’t affect my argument, I’m glad to see that the question is still open in some sense.

    w.

  75. TRM says:
    March 18, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Not to nitpick but …

    There are 264.2 gallons in 1 cubic meter of water. So your “300,000,000, cubic metres” works out to 792,600,000,000 gallons.

    Thanks, TRM. Actually, it’s 79,260,000,000 gallons, you’ve misplaced a decimal point, but you are right that I’ve made an error, and I’ve fixed the head post.

    My theory is, perfect is good enough …

    w.

  76. David A. Evans says: March 18, 2013 at 10:59 am
    You missed the applications for 12 reservoirs that Dodgy Geezer mentioned…. they were rejected on the grounds that Thames water were wasting too much water through infrastructure leakage.
    _________________________________

    No, they were rejected due to local opposition.

    You forget the politics of all of this. Inner London (all recent arrivals and Labour supporters) is running out of water. The ‘solution’ is to build massive reservoirs and desecrate the idyllic lands in the Tory shires. Which the local Tories are hugely opposed to. And we have a Tory government. Do you think anyone has a hope in hell of getting such ill-thought proposals through government?

    http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/general/news/stories/2011/mar11/10mar11/100311_4

    And why should the Tory shires help with this problem? It was Socialist New Labour who doubled London’s population with millions of new Socialist Labour supporters, and then they want the Tory shires to shoulder the burden that Labour created?? Not on your life, they won’t.

    London will have to live with toilets that do not flush, and if they wonder why typhoid is becoming endemic, they can blame Red Ken. There is a price to pay for social mis-management, and its about time that Labour supporters learned their lesson.

    .

  77. And similarly, when a new computer is said to be “twice as light as the old model”, or a new filter is “500 times thinner” only idiots and grammar nazis think that should mean twice the weight and 500 times the thickness.

    Willis,

    You may very well classify me as a “grammar nazi” for this, but, “half the thickness” is an unambiguous way of saying “twice as thin.” In fact “twice as thin” can just as easily be understood to mean “twice as thick.” “One five-hundreth” the thickness is likewise unambiguous.

    One of the causes of the development of jargons is that ambiguity needs to be reduced in a discipline or practice and meaning made as explicit as possible. As a sailor you are used to using one of the oldest jargons in the world and it is that old because sailing absolutely requires unambiguity. Port and starboard were used commonly because left and right are relative to your view direction while port and starboard are strictly oriented to the vessel. The fellow at the wheel or tiller has to absolutely know which way to turn it when the lookout starts screaming in terror and gesturing. Cowboys have their own jargon too.

    My daughter, with a degree in lioguistics, frequently made the argument to me that English is “as we use it” when she was an undergrad, and that English, being a living language, changes, adapts and evolves. I agree whole heartedly, BUT. I say nothing, but smile a lot, because, these days, working on her masters, I note that she is pretty unhappy with the undergrads she has to deal with. They frequently don’t fully understand and can’t accurately use standard English or the common jargon employed in the field of Linguistics, much to her disgust. WIth a knowledge of standard usage you are capable of communicating with anyone who also can cope with standard useage. If you can’t use it accurately or your trying to communicate with someone seriously handicapped by modern educational doctrine, that can be a problem.

  78. Willis:

    If the materials give a 25% decrease in RO energy, SUPER…

    50%, INCREDIBLE!

    100% (I.e., taking 1/2 as much energy as before…) STUNNING. Does not have to be a 10:1 advantage over the current to be worthwhile.

    Only question is production cost, and that looks “doable”.

    Max

  79. The bottom line is this:
    Cheaper energy gives people a higher standard of living, and a greater ability to rise out of poverty. Technology is just a mechanism to apply energy to a system and derive the desired result. The control of fire, stands as one of our greatest technological innovations. The development of spoken and written languages, rivals fire control, as the greatest technical innovations of mankind. We have a history of building on past successes, and learning from them.
    The internal combustion engine has certainly expanded our use of energy, but it has enriched our lives, enough to create a demand, for the technology and the energy to power it.
    Expensive energy, gives energy providers and governments, control over the lives, and decisions of people. Expensive energy means jobs that are not economically viable, and so will never be available. The jobs most at threat are the ones with the thinnest margins. Generally low skilled jobs or manual labor jobs are never created. Frequently these jobs are filled by young workers, or those that will need government assistance, without the job, that sadly, will not be created.
    So we can have growth and an expanding level of freedom, or we can have stagnation, and political squabbles over allocating resources, that are supplied at a price, that is not affordable to large segments of the population.
    We have the technology to provide energy at much cheaper prices, but do we have the political will to demand, energy supplied at the price, determined by free markets, instead of allocated by corrupt political interests.

  80. “Bernd Felsche says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm
    F-35. Late. Over-budget. Doesn’t meet performance criteria. “Made” by LockMart.

    Very low on the credibility scale at the moment.

    ##################
    ill conceived aircraft from the very beginning. Ask me when design on this started?
    ( see the JSF) Whenever you see a program go over budget you should always go
    back to the requirements. The requirements for the original JSF were a joke, essentially
    build an impossible machine and keep three distinct customers happy.
    bad idea from the start

  81. Duster says:
    March 18, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    And similarly, when a new computer is said to be “twice as light as the old model”, or a new filter is “500 times thinner” only idiots and grammar nazis think that should mean twice the weight and 500 times the thickness.

    Willis,

    You may very well classify me as a “grammar nazi” for this, but, “half the thickness” is an unambiguous way of saying “twice as thin.”

    One of the causes of the development of jargons is that ambiguity needs to be reduced in a discipline or practice and meaning made as explicit as possible. …

    For everyone (apparently except you), “twice as thin” is totally and absolutely unambiguous.

    Nobody (except perhaps you) thinks it could be mistaken for “twice as thick”.

    So yes, you are totally being a grammar nazi.

    And when the authors said “500 times thinner”, are you seriously claiming that people found that ambiguous? Your claim is that some people thought “I wonder if they really mean 500 times fatter”, that the meaning was not explicit? Really?

    You’re not only a grammar nazi … you’re a ridiculous grammar nazi. Please practice that trade elsewhere, it doesn’t fare well with me.

    I’m of the opinion that the English language should obey the rules it actually obeys, rather than the rules people are always shoving at me. We use “twice as light” just as easily as we use “twice as heavy”, for example, and I suppose you would object to that as well. But neither one of those is ambiguous. Nor do the constructions make any sense logically … that’s English, get used to it.

    So before you start busting folks for breaking your imaginary rules, you should look, NOT AT THE LOGIC, and you should look, NOT AT THE RULES, but at how English is actually used and how it is actually understood. It is neither logical nor rule-bound. English is a language of contradictory exceptions from beginning to end.

    It’s like busting folks for saying “I could care less” vs. “I couldn’t care less.” Grammar nazis think that logic insists that one is right and the other is not. The key, of course, is the invisible [sarc] tag when you say “Yeah, well I could care less if you do, ya jerk” … so in fact both make sense. And even if they didn’t, both are very well established usage. Railing against that usage is like railing against the tide, and even King Canute knew that didn’t work …

    At least King Canute could show his nobles that he didn’t have the power they claimed, by demonstrating that even a King can’t slow the tide.

    Well, a King can’t stop people from saying “500 times thinner” either, but I can’t demonstrate that like King Canute did. As a result, people are still claiming that a bit more paternalistic correction is all that is necessary to stop the rising tide of English doing what it wants to do … which is why grammar nazis are so irritating, you’d think they’d get the message after while.

    w.

    PS—The phrase “times thinner” gets 137,000 hits on google … and “times fatter” gets about 35,000. That train has already left the station, Duster, and you getting all grammarian and bitching about it won’t change a thing.

  82. Willis

    ‘I gotta admit … you guys that only want to monetize the COSTS of CO2, but conveniently forget about monetizing the BENEFITS of CO2, are always good for a laugh. I figured one of you fools would show up sooner or later.

    Next time, do your damn homework before uncapping your electronic pen, and think your brilliant plan through to the end, there’s a good fellow … or not, I can always use another belly laugh.’

    Wooo… the cowboy poet has found a burr under his saddle. I heartily endorse full cost benefit analysis of energy, and the cheaper the better after both sides of the balance sheet are taken into account. That was my point. In fact, I provided both sides of the balance sheet with rather more examples of the postive side than the negative side.

    By way of contrast, I notice that you never, ever include negative side of the balance sheet of the real costs of energy use. I guess, in your own terminology, mirror meet laughable fool. In my terminology, it makes you a hypocrite as well.

  83. Not to muddle the waters any more – bad pun intended. NaCl is in a disassociated state in H2O, however recombination does occur. There is a large k pointing toward Na + Cl and a very small one pointing the other way. The fluctuations due to the recombination are detectable. The recombinations is one of the reasons (apart from physical defects) why NaCl can appear on the other side of a permeable membrane, and the amount matches the small k value closely if there are no defects.

    By doping graphene on one side, or making a double layer and doping one layer, it’s possible to make one side hydrophilic and one hydrophobic, done right, it could work like a linac with a positive attactive charge getting acceleration of the molecule toward the mesh, and after transiting the mess, having a repulsive force driving it forward. It might be easier to accelerate the two ions, Na and Cl through different meshes, leaving H2O behind to be transported forward for additional deionization.

  84. Willis, take a look at these folks:

    http://www.seawatergreenhouse.com/

    Not a hypothetical, they have production farms operating in places like the Australian Desert and Arab deserts.

    Simple technique, really. Puts a greenhouse inside a solar still and uses sea water to keep it at the right temperature. Just a lot of plastic and posts, really, with a couple of fans and pumps.

    There is no shortage of water for food production. Not any more.

    Oh, and it makes surplus water, so you can water some area outside the facility as well (which also means you could pipe it to houses…)

    Doesn’t work where it isn’t sunny? So what? Most deserts are, by definition, sunny…

    And we have no shortage of materials nor plastics either.

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/there-is-no-shortage-of-stuff/

  85. Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Willis

    ‘I gotta admit … you guys that only want to monetize the COSTS of CO2, but conveniently forget about monetizing the BENEFITS of CO2, are always good for a laugh. I figured one of you fools would show up sooner or later.

    Next time, do your damn homework before uncapping your electronic pen, and think your brilliant plan through to the end, there’s a good fellow … or not, I can always use another belly laugh.’

    Wooo… the cowboy poet has found a burr under his saddle. I heartily endorse full cost benefit analysis of energy, and the cheaper the better after both sides of the balance sheet are taken into account. That was my point. In fact, I provided both sides of the balance sheet with rather more examples of the postive side than the negative side.

    Damn right I have a burr under my saddle, I’m allergic to bullshit. Here’s what you actually said in the post I responded to about costs of energy.

    As for cheap energy, who could possibly argue against cheap energy? It is a no brainer.

    I heartily support cheap energy. Of course, to figure out the real costs of energy, the full costs of energy need to be included. Otherwise, you might not have cheap energy. You might have expensive energy for which you pay some of the costs now and some of the costs later.

    One example would be Fukushima. To calculate the real costs of nuclear power, you would have to tip in the loss of production over a lare area around Fukushima, and the on-going costs of ‘temporary’ accommodation for the 150,000 people who, two years on, are still displaced.

    Similarly, where cheap energy depends on emitting CO2, then the full costs of the energy would need to include either the costs of preventing AGW or the costs consequent to AGW, whichever choice humankind makes.

    I don’t see one single thing in there about the benefits of energy in a cost/benefit analysis.

    Do you really think I don’t read what you say, every dumb word, before responding? You haven’t said ONE DAMN THING about a cost/benefit analysis, and in fact, your most recent post is the FIRST TIME YOU MENTIONED BENEFITS AT ALL. Not one mention of benefits up to now, it’s been 100% costs to this point, and suddenly you’re the cost/benefit guy?

    Hogwash.

    Don’t bother trying to tell porkies about what’s written on the page, Ace … I’m very likely to call you on it every single time.

    w.

  86. E.M.Smith says:
    March 18, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Willis, take a look at these folks:

    http://www.seawatergreenhouse.com/

    Not a hypothetical, they have production farms operating in places like the Australian Desert and Arab deserts.

    Simple technique, really. Puts a greenhouse inside a solar still and uses sea water to keep it at the right temperature. Just a lot of plastic and posts, really, with a couple of fans and pumps.

    There is no shortage of water for food production. Not any more.

    Looks good to me, Chiefio. The only shortage that I’ve ever noticed is imagination, and as my beloved Dad used to say, “Imagination is free!”.

    w

  87. OK, here is the Plan. We get energy from fracking and then use that energy to create fresh water to replace the fresh water that his being destroyed in water tables by fracking.

  88. @ Climate A**; Regarding your so-called “balance sheet”, and needing to include a cost of C02 emissions, either in reducing them or paying for their “effects”, you are simply inventing a cost where none exists. No real connection has ever been made between manmade C02 and climate. That is because whatever small effect it has is inconsequential. The “need” to prevent C02 emissions is simply a fairy tale told by scoundrels and believed by idiots.

  89. The theoretical energy improvement for a nearly perfect reverse osmosis membrane (a membrane with no internal viscous energy losses, so that only osmotic pressure must be overcome) is about a factor of 3 compared to current reverse osmosis systems. That is substantial, and could be very important in making reverse osmosis economically viable where it currently is not viable, but it is very far from a claim of 100 fold (or even 10 fold) improvement. Another big factor with reverse osmosis is high capital cost; the economics would improve if capital costs were significantly lower.

  90. Willis

    I am not sure why you are getting up on your high horse. We are in furious agreement.

    We both support a full cost/benefit analysis of energy use, which is what I called for in my original post.

    Apart from that, you routinely ignore the costs side of your ‘cheap’ energy and I do point out some of the benefits side. As for example in my original post, which caused a stampede of angst amongst the one-eyed, in which I pointed out that a fall in world commodity prices would help reduce hunger in the world.

  91. Re: Steven Mosher
    build an impossible machine and keep three distinct customers happy.
    bad idea from the start

    Is it a bad idea to have a single prototype cost and common parts for all branches of the military, or is it better to have each one farm out its own contract, and maintain a unique supply chain?
    JSF breaks new ground in military aviation in several areas. EVERY time that has happened in the past, it has caused schedule problems and over-budget programs. That is the nature of government procurement programs, and why they are the least cost-effective way to produce anything, except, things you don’t want to be freely available to your enemies.
    That is what is predictable from the start. I suggest if you can do better, there is plenty of money to be made. Whip up a prototype and submit it to the pentagon.

  92. Smith

    That seawater desal plant is certainly worth a closer look. ‘No fossil fuel’ is, probably, a false claim.

    They use plenty of fossil fuel to construct those things and then, because the cheap land and deserts are not generally where the cities are, they use fossil fuel to transport the produce a long way to markets.

    That aside, with around one third of Australian being desert and with a huge coastline contiguous to desert, if the competitive cost benefits do line up by way of ROI as claimed, Australia is in a position to become even more of a massive food commodity exporter than it is now.

    On a side note, and here I nod to Willis who reckons he does like to look hard at both sides of the energy balance sheet, conventional tomato greenhouses in Australia pump in CO2 to get better growth and so improved ROI. Since the example you put forward does not burn fossil fuel to control greenhouse conditions, cheap CO2 enrichment is presumably not available.

    Maybe Savory will be able to move his cows into the Atacama after all.

  93. I think you are mostly correct, but here are some comments:

    “There is never a shortage of resources. It’s a shortage of cheap enough energy to get the resources economically.”

    Indirectly, you equate space and distance here with energy, or more simply, space with energy. (I don’t think this was what Einstein had in mind with E=MC2. Ultimately, energy is related to mass, but not space (?)). E.g. if one requires a certain rare metal to run an industrial process that allows better utilisation of energy, and if that metal only exists on the other side of the world, there is a spatial shortage of the metal that the energy utilisation in the area requires to function. Getting the metal from the other side of the world does require energy, but also time (the old adage ‘time is money’, not ‘energy is money’). Moreover, because of human poiltical boundaries, which have little/nothing to do with energy, one may not be able to secure a supply of such a metal. It’s hard to see how natural variation in spatial distribution, coupled with time and human politics, doesn’t lead to a shortage of resources, independant of ‘cheap’ energy. Abundant amounts of energy does not necassarily equate to porous political boundaries.

    “Energy and money are inextricably linked.”

    True, but I would possibly say that resources, in all their forms, (which includes energy, as well as social, agricultural, mining, forestry and ecological resources), and money are inextricably linked.

    • “Making energy expensive hurts, impoverishes, and even kills the poor.”

    The only cavaet I can think off hand to this, would be if there was a monopoly of energy ownership, and energy type, being utilised which distorts the prices of the available energy in that society. Making the type of energy used by the monopoly more expensive could, theoretically, drive out those distorting prices and make energy cheaper for everybody, including the poor, but only if: 1) there were other forms of energy which could effectively and economically compete with that energy without subsidies, and 2) there was a corrupt or inefficient monopoly of energy ownership inflating prices to begin with. (Both of these are linked, and therefore highly dubious if one or the other isn’t present).

    “Technology is not bulldozers. It’s getting more production using less energy.”

    True. A curious example of this is utilising past energy stored over long time periods which is far larger than any energy currently being produced by nature, eg oil and gas is simply past stored solar energy in the form of carbon bonds; concentrated metaliferous deposits are either past stored heat and pressure within the earth, or in other cases stored chemical decomposition, alteration and mass transfer by weather/weathering (bauxite), and in still other cases stored energy from biogeochemical breakdown/enrichment of minerals by organisms utilising solar or chemical energy over time, but the principle is the same in each case-metal mines utilise nature’s past energy which has concentrated the metals by one of other process over time.

  94. BioBob says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:29 pm
    Sorry Mark, that is incorrect.

    Shortages also exist where consumption (market size) exceeds supply (production). This can be temporary (due to distortions eg hoarding) or permanent (due to commodity rarity like the supply of passenger pigeons). In the later case, no possible increase in price will increase the supply.

    But there is a possible price for passenger pigeons that will reduce demand to zero.

    Mark is correct. In a free market, supply and demand are always in balance. Shortages can not exist. The problem is that there aren’t too many truly free markets.

    Willis, it’s not generally appreciated that a major financial burden on the developing world’s poor is the need to buy bottled water, as tap or well water isn’t safe to drink. As I have previously explained, the developing world’s poor faced with only being able to buy food or safe water, will buy safe water. Because if you buy food and drink unsafe water, you will be both sick and hungry as vomiting and diarrhea will get rid of the food.

    The graphene filter promises abundant safe water. A major boon for the world’s poor. One of the most promising developments I have heard for a while.

  95. Dodgy Geezer says: March 18, 2013 at 3:53 am

    “………
    1 – water is a commodity which is never ‘used’ it circulates through us as part of a cycle
    2 – it can never, therefore be ‘short’. There are, and will remain, cubic kilometers of water for every person on the planet.
    3 – when ‘water shortages’ are mentioned, what is really meant is that there is a shortage of water abstraction and storage capability. In a word, water infrastructure. The raw material can never be short.
    4 – so discussions about ‘water shortages’ are really discussions about how much infrastructure we are willing to install and pay for. NOT about ‘saving the natural world by using less of a scarce resource’.

    ….[…..]….. Energy, water and many other commodities essential to life are NOT to be allowed to be cheap. Otherwise we would use ‘too much’ of them. It is this attitude, based on green activism in government, which needs to be addressed.

    Dodgy … you make a really important point here – ‘shortage’ is always about the intertwined forces of economics and politics.

    Do you mind if I use your 4 points elsewhere?
    I like to attribute sources (“Dodgy Geezer; 18 Mar 2013 3.5AM” WUWT ? )

  96. Shortages are a real issue when a price point is artificially fixed. Suppose you were a small town with a small water treatment plant, that was adequate for your needs. A major interstate is planned adjacent to your town, and suddenly business build facilities, and farmers expand their production, due to lower cost transportation of produce. The required volume of water increases dramatically, and due to an increase in demand the price point moves up the demand curve to reach equilibrium at a higher price. The original townsfolk complain they are not the cause of higher water use, so they should not have to pay more. The new arrivals say they should not have to pay at higher rates, than the originals.
    A water shortage is born! Everyone has to stop wasting this “precious resource”.
    The reality is that there are ways to produce more from a supply-side effort, and modernize equipment to counter the real tendency for prices to increase when demand increases. But not always, and it is a “public-policy” shortage that is done to keep prices artificially low, because some favored group thinks they are entitled to special treatment.

  97. Climate Ace,
    OK so everyone is for cost-benefit analysis. The benefits of carbon dioxide emissions are pretty straightforward to calculate (more available energy), and the purchase price for fossil fuels is not hard to quantify. The real issue with defining “external costs” is that they are very uncertain, or even the probability is completely undefined, and those “external costs” are mainly projected to happen far in the future. So in arguments about policy action on energy production, we are always in the situation where speculative costs, mostly projected far in the future, are weighed against clear and quantifiable current net benefits.

    If we all lived to be a thousand years old, then the only rational approach would be to assign reasonable probabilities for all uncertain future costs, multiply the future costs by the probability of actually having to pay those costs, and then (most importantly) apply a reasonable discount rate for the ‘future benefits’ of avoiding those costs via current expenditure. People will disagree (of course) about the true probabilities of future events, and will also disagree about what represents a reasonable discount rate. If we adopt a discount rate of 3% per year (which I find quite low by historical standards), and consider consequences 100 years in the future, then the current cash value of US$1 in avoided costs for a future event with a 40% chance of actually happening, is about US$0.02.

    Of course, as Keynes wisely noted “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” We don’t live to be a thousand; most of us don’t reach four score. People (being people) mostly do not think in 100 to 1000 year time frames. Heck, we can’t get voters to address the reality of unfunded public liabilities which will become unsustainable in 10 to 20 years; it boarders on the absurd to suggest voters will sacrifice now to address potential problems projected for 100 years from now.

    If fairly and rationally evaluated on the basis of current knowledge, I think only very low current expenditures for global warming make any economic sense, and publicly funded climate science is probably already much more than can be rationally justified. You can only rationally justify high current expenditures by proving a high probability of very negative (and so enormously costly) future consequences. In light of human lifespans, expecting major current expenditures to avoid uncertain future problems is simply not realistic. Imagining that we have the knowledge to project the state of the Earth, human knowledge, and human technological capabilities 100 to 1000 years hence is hubris.

  98. Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    OK, here is the Plan. We get energy from fracking and then use that energy to create fresh water to replace the fresh water that his being destroyed in water tables by fracking.

    Interesting thought, Ace. You likely meant it as sarcasm, but I’d say that given the volume of water used, versus the volume of gas extracted, I suspect the energy used to replace the water would be a small fraction of the energy recovered … could be wrong, I haven’t done the numbers.

    Ironically, one of the proposed uses for this new graphene filter is to filter the water used in fracking, so you were righter than perhaps you knew …

    Finally, fresh water isn’t being “destroyed in water tables”, nor is it being polluted in water tables. What does get contaminated is the water used to actually do the fracking. This fracturing is going on a kilometre below the water tables, however. Done properly, there is never any contact between fracking fluid and water bearing soils at any time.

    This leaves only the problem of cleaning up the water used, which is manageable.

    Like all of the processes by which we extract riches from the earth, whether coal or iron ore or copper or rare earths or oil or gas or even water, fracking has to be done properly. And done properly, no water tables are ever touched by fracking fluids.

    The procedures are being streamlined and cleaned up, but this isn’t new technology. They’ve been fracking wells for five decades now, half a century. It’s not some new deal, we know what it does and how to do it right. The amount of water used is still dropping, and there are experiments going on with using a natural-gas based gel instead of water. This would evaporate and be pumped out and become part of the product stream. So it will only get better, cleaner, and more reliable … and of course use less energy.

    All the best,

    w.

  99. Philip Bradley says:
    March 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Willis, it’s not generally appreciated that a major financial burden on the developing world’s poor is the need to buy bottled water, as tap or well water isn’t safe to drink. As I have previously explained, the developing world’s poor faced with only being able to buy food or safe water, will buy safe water. Because if you buy food and drink unsafe water, you will be both sick and hungry as vomiting and diarrhea will get rid of the food.

    The graphene filter promises abundant safe water. A major boon for the world’s poor. One of the most promising developments I have heard for a while.

    True, and something I definitely appreciate. Take a look at my post called SODIS Rules!

    All the best,

    w.

  100. Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Willis

    I am not sure why you are getting up on your high horse. We are in furious agreement.

    We both support a full cost/benefit analysis of energy use, which is what I called for in my original post.

    Ace, you didn’t say one word about benefits. Not one. Do a word search on the page for the word “benefit” … crickets. All you talked about was costs until i mentioned it.

    Now, you may indeed support a full cost/benefit analysis of energy uses, and that’s good. You’ve shown no sign of it to date on this thread, and that may be an oversight.

    Unfortunately, It sounds like in addition you also support monetizing the invisible. I support the former, but not the latter.

    I think that far too often an analysis that monetizes costs is 50% wankfest and 50% picking numbers out of the fundamental orifice. I have little use for the “monetize the invisible” kind of analysis. See my post “Monetizing the Effects of Carbon” for my reasons.

    w.

  101. sfitz

    Thanks for accepting the basic concept of the need to look at both sides of the balance sheet when evaluting the true cost/benefits of energy and the next step which is to price energy at fair value.

    But do individuals actually do apply this comprehensive approach on a routine basis? There would be several thousand posts on WUWT where ‘cheap’ energy is used as if it is axiomatic that the market operates efficiently and effectively with respect to internalizing all aspects of energy costs in the energy price.

    While ever individuals use the term ‘cheap’ while refusing to internalize all the costs, they are missing their own point in a most fundamental way. As a corollary, while individuals use the term ‘expensive’ while refusing to internalize all the benefits, they are also mising their own point in a most fundamental way.

    I was especially taken with your use of specified time periods for your discussions. We all know that the markets often operate in a different time frame from the externalities associated with energy use. (I offer as an example, the market value of TEPCO since Fukushima. The externalities arrived long after the short-term benefits to both shareholders and consumers).

    Inter alia, this is a structural fault in market operation is exposing us to the early consequences of, and future consequences of AGW, long after humankind has consumed the short-term benefits of falsely-named ‘cheap’ energy.

  102. Willis

    ‘Ace, you didn’t say one word about benefits.’

    So, lead me to one place where you have said one word about the disbenefits.

  103. Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Willis

    ‘Ace, you didn’t say one word about benefits.’

    So, lead me to one place where you have said one word about the disbenefits.

    Oh, please. You claimed you were talking about the benefits. You weren’t.

    I said nothing about disbenefits. You’re just trying on a “tu quoque” that isn’t fitting.

    w.

  104. Willis Eschenbach says (March 18, 2013 at 2:43 pm): ‘It’s like busting folks for saying “I could care less…” ‘

    Aaaaargh! If I hear that stupid phrase one more time, I swear I’m gonna invade Poland! There’s simply no excuse for using it, irregardless of–

    Oh, crap.

    :-)

  105. And similarly, when a new computer is said to be “twice as light as the old model”, or a new filter is “500 times thinner” only idiots and grammar nazis think that should mean twice the weight and 500 times the thickness.

    This topic is a pet peeve of mine too. Oddly, one area where you’d expect colloquial English to rule but where they get the math right are retail stores.

    Clothing stores often have clearance sales with signs saying “80% off!” I’ve never seen a sale sign advertising “5 times less” though I may have seen something like “Your dollars go 5 times further!”

    Obviously a filter 500 times thinner can’t be -499 units thick, but there are values that can go negative. For example, “2X slower” would be backing up if you follow the math. Is it the same as 200% slower? Or do both really mean “50% slower? Or simply half speed?

    It seems to me that if the purveyors of out-of-season fashion can get the math right, then by golly, I’m going to live up to that standard myself.

  106. I hate grammar Nazis – you can stack 500 of of the new filters in the same space as one of the old filters. It’s that simple and you know it. Jackasses. And since these assemblies tend to be cylinders, you can increase the diameter to huge values and use a simple wind driven centrifuge to create the needed pressure. Add tumbler vanes and you have silt scrubbers at no extra cost. Keep the silt colloidal and it can be passed through the filter several times before being cast off.

    Not free, not cheap, but what is a fresh liter of water worth to you after 10 days without?

    Personally I think there are lots of square miles of unpopulated oceanic islands out there with fresh water lenses that can be tapped by water tankers (200,000+ DWT converted oil tankers) that can deliver the cleanest water on earth anywhere that has enough money to buy it. If left untapped it dissipates into the sea and is lost forever. Rather like the Columbia River water here in Washington. We allow loads of the finest water found anywhere to drive out to sea as if it had no value. I don’t get that.

    I couldn’t be more proud of what these people are doing – making fresh water available, creating jobs, keeping people employed rather than depopulating the opihi population not to mention all the other intertidal denizens of the islands, and the water tastes damn good considering how old it is. http://www.fijiwater.com/

  107. Climate Ace says:
    March 18, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for accepting the basic concept of the need to look at both sides of the balance sheet when evaluting the true cost/benefits of energy and the next step which is to price energy at fair value.

    ‘Fair value’ is Leftistspeak for what some special interest wants the price to be.

    Having said that I don’t have a problem with charging for the use of the commons, and the atmosphere is the ultimate commons. And charging for use of the commons is the proper function of government, as the commons belongs to all of us, and such charges been going on a very long time (charges for use of public spaces, mining royalties, etc). And if use of the commons negatively impacted the wider population, then charges for use of the commons should reflect the costs of those impacts.

    But I have to agree with Willis that the supposed costs imposed on the wider population via use of the commons (atmosphere) from fossil fuel use are extremely dubious, ie Stern etc. I’ve done plenty of costs/benefit analyses, and could easily do one that shows a trillion dollar benefit from fossil fuel use by factoring in increased agricultural yields, increased precipitation, opening up of NE and NW passages, decreased illness and deaths from domestic burning of biofuels, etc.

  108. Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 18, 2013 at 11:53 am
    Technology is about getting more results for less energy.
    =========
    If you got 2 times the results and saved no energy it would still be a good deal. Without a doubt water, not temperature is what determines climate. Without water no place is habitable. With water no desert is too hot for habitation.

    Cost/benefit works for some classes of problems. However, carried to conclusion there is a net benefit to society in eliminating the cost of caring for old people. Cigarette smoking is a net benefit to society. Not only does it bring in tax revenues, it kills off the old before they can become a burden.

    Good health, begin the slowest possible way in which a person dies, is a great burden to society because it leaves large numbers of relatively unproductive elderly people alive that must be cared for over an extended period of time. It might well be argued that pollution, by killing people off early before they can become a burden through old age, has a much greater benefit and lower cost than is generally realized.

    What is often overlooked in the discussion is that no system is perfect. Whatever you put in place to replace fossil fuels is guaranteed to have its own warts, and those warts are largely unknown at this time. What may look benign today may indeed turn out to be malignant tomorrow.

    So while the precautionary principle may seem like a good idea, carried to its logical conclusion no technology is acceptable because it all carries risks. The newer and less tried the technology, the greater the risk. This encourages the growth of government to try and minimize the risk.

    Unfortunately power has a corrupting influence on even the most well meaning of individuals, such that the promise of government is rarely if ever achieved. Many of the greatest tragedies in history have resulted from the best of intentions. Any cause that is seen as noble and above reproach holds in its hands the seeds of disaster, because it limits civil discussion of the issues.

  109. ferd berple says:
    March 18, 2013 at 10:58 pm
    It might well be argued that pollution, by killing people off early before they can become a burden through old age, has a much greater benefit and lower cost than is generally realized.
    ======
    That would certainly explain the UK’s energy solution. By raising the cost of fuel they are increasing fuel poverty. This is successfully killing off the elderly during the winter, reducing the burden on both the health care system and the pension system at the same time. While making friends of government wealthy through green energy subsidies, which will then be used to fund re-election campaigns. It is a win-win all around for the government. After all, dead pensioners can’t vote you out of office.

  110. I do a cost / benefit analysis every time I put fuel in my tank, or food in my refrigerator, or adjust my thermostat, or save for retirement, or go on vacation. And I have been doing it long enough to know which direction things are headed in. And the costs are going up, while the benefits are going down. That is not a good direction to be headed in.

  111. Osmotic power is limited by what would be the energy of mixing freshwater and seawater, which apparently is 0.81 kWh per m^3 of seawater (wikipedia: osmotic power). So, for instance, if one had a desalination plant within around a factor of 2 of theoretical max efficiency, it would presumably be around 1.6 kWh/m^3 or less.

    Present desalination plants reportedly use up to 4 to 8 kWh/m^3 after all inefficiencies.

    Electricity costs to industrial-scale users are around half or less of residential electricity prices. Industrial electricity prices can be around $0.05/kWh and in some areas less. Thermal power can be multiple times cheaper still than electrical power, and, if getting unusually creative in integration, a nuclear reactor located at the same site might relatively directly elevate water pressure without as many stages of energy conversion and transmission first.

    But, for the sake of illustration, merely suppose $0.05/kWh, even though less is conceivable.

    Then the energy cost of desalination becomes:

    <= $0.08 / m^3 if under a factor of 2 inefficiency (likely aided by graphene filters if capital costs low enough)
    <= $0.20 to $0.40 / m^3 for current desalination plants

    Even the latter figure is much different from the total cost of desalination seen in figure 2 of this article ($0.50+/m^3), which would suggest that energy costs are somewhat over-hyped compared to other expenses (such as amortized capital costs).

    But, conservatively and fairly reasonably, let's just guess that desalination with future technology does not cost more than $0.10 to $0.50 per m^3. After all, at the top end, that corresponds to what is already obtained.

    Each cubic meter is 264.2 gallons.

    That means $1 of desalinated water amounts to 530 to 2600 gallons.

    The cost is $0.0004 to $0.002 per gallon of desalinated water. The cost of U.S. municipal tap water today, without desalination, is $0.002 to $0.006 per gallon (typically $24 to $73 per month, depending on the city, for a family using 400 gallons per day and using about 12170 gallons a month).

    The latter includes some distribution, chlorination, and other expenses applying in any event, but desalination would add very little extra at most. In fact, being already purified by reverse osmosis, not having as many complications and variation in supply, there is not even necessarily any net cost for desalination, depending on the locality.

    Average total water usage per individual American is 62600 gallons a month,* of which near 3000 gallons a month are residential usage while the vast majority is agricultural and industrial usage.

    (* Based on: “in the USA the average water footprint is 2842 m^3/yr per capita.” from http://www.waterfootprint.org/?page=files/WaterFootprintsNations )

    That “water footprint” metric might be an overestimate. I’d have to check details of its definition, as the corresponding 2.3 acre-feet per person per year is suspiciously about double the figures in http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/arithmetic.html . But it certainly isn’t an underestimate. And even producing 100% of it by desalination would only add up to $1 to $5 per month per person to residential water bills, while being up to $290 to $1400 annually per capita in total (mostly embedded in agricultural costs). Those figures are actually far more pessimistic than would ever occur, because:

    (1) Rainfall, rivers, and freshwater would not magically all disappear, so never would a full 100% from desalination be needed
    (2) Most of the water usage is in irrigation of conventional agriculture which could be made more water efficient on average if water prices thus rose somewhat

    Incidentally, what looking at these figures also illustrates is how much the supposed need for water-saving toilets is vastly over-hyped. Even I hadn’t realized quite how minor residential water usage is overall compared to agricultural water usage.

    In summary, though, desalination can be plenty cheap enough.

    And the article is quite right overall.

    If I was going to nitpick, I’d rephrase the fourth bullet point in the article as: Technology is about getting more results for less labor.

    Using more energy in the process is often done, like driving a 2000-kilogram car to transport one’s body instead of only bicycling, or air conditioning a house instead of sprinkling water on oneself while shirtless. Civilization today uses vastly more energy per person than pre-fire primitive hominids, and that is of overall huge benefit. As technology advances, human energy usage should further increase, to third world countries reaching first-world levels, to a civilization expanding into space. Energy use is only universally and intrinsically bad under the (untrue) energy religion, the assumption of many of similar politics to the CAGW movement that the several TW-average used by civilization today are fundamentally an excessive energy waste in an universe with 200000 TW of sunlight hitting Earth, trillions of tons of thorium & uranium in the terrestrial crust, and a Sun wasting 400,000,000,000,000 terawatts into empty space.

    Output relative to human labor, how much someone can get done per hour of work done or time spent, is a fundamental metric of whether in poverty or prosperity.

  112. Oh Gak! I see the Cost / Benefit scheme is being promoted again.

    (Yes, I’ve done them. Yes, I know all about them. No, they don’t work as well as people think, especially when operated by an advocate).

    Many of them are nothing more than exercises in cherry picking exemplars, exaggeration of speculative costs, and imaginary benefits. “Given this desired outcome, what inputs can I pick and rate”.

    It is very very hard to do a valid cost benefit analysis, even if you ARE unbiased. Most of the time they are used by highly biased people with an agenda.

    They can be a useful tool, but are typically corrupted into advocacy propaganda tools. Unless the thing reads like an actuarial table and has the emotional content of a leaf blower manual, with clear data points from common costing basis and with several pages of caveats, it is likely worthless and wrong.

    @Ferd Berple:

    Such things like the C/B of tobacco are, in fact done. It was an example in one of my Econ classes in the ’70s. We specifically looked at the issues and morality of such cost / benefit problems and “smoking and dying fast and just after productive life ends” vs “suck up valuable resources so others die of privation” was the problem.

    This kind of thing is common in “Public Health”. Economists have to be familiar with it. So, for example, if you have fewer smokers, you get more old folks sucking down limited medical resources and more babies die from treatable infant diseases. If you have more smokers, more beds are available for those at the start of life. That is a valid problem. Unfortunately, there is a near infinite possible demand for medical care. It can only be dealt with by reduction of demand via pricing someone out of it (our prior model), rationing (the UK and socialized HMO medical model), or “selective dying” by things not NOT fighting smoking.

    One of the classes I hated most, and learned the most.

    Were I the King, given that I hate, loath, and despise smoking ( it definitely killed my father and likely killed my mother via second hand smoke – both with cancer): Would I really ban smoking, knowing that it would inevitably mean more young folks will be denied medical care? There isn’t an infinite supply. So you now get to let old rich folks buy it up (so poor farm workers kids die) or you ration it (to whom? on what basis?). You can spend your public health dollars on an anti-smoking campaign, vaccines for children and maternity care, or more beds for serious diseases and nursing homes. Which 2 do you choose? (You can not afford all three…) Will you really choose anti smoking campaign, knowing that will mean even more beds needed in nursing homes?

    I’d never want to be in Public Health…

    But the UK does a lot of it…

    True Story:

    My aunt had a knee go bad. They were trying to decide if they ought to put in an artificial knee or not. One of the concerns was that it would put more stress on her other, good, knee. They actually were proposing to replace THAT knee with an artificial one, and leave the other one ‘bum’, since then they would only need to do one in the long run instead of two…

    In fact, they spent so long trying to decide that she had a stroke (it is unclear if it was subsequent to a fall from said knee, but might have been before and then the fall) and is now in a bed, with no knee replacement. This is a “plus”, as they avoided doing the knee replacement long enough to “not waste it”… she can no longer walk.

    I think the UK medical system does some of the worst cost / benefit studies around. Then again, I didn’t want to do them… but somebody did…

    Oh, and that kind of thing is coming to the USA too. It will be ever more frequent to tell folks “you will not be treated as it isn’t worth the cost, given your likely remaining life span.”. S.O.P. for “managed care”…

    So is it better to have old folks being told that? Or being told “You enjoyed smoking for 40 years, now you have 5 months, tops. Come back when you have these symptoms and it will be your last week or two in hospital.” Damned if I know.

    (Typical time to onset of cancer in smokers is 30 years after starting. My Dad got 40. So if someone doesn’t start until 30, is that OK then?… How about if they start at 50? Few live to 80 in good shape anyway…)

    I really hated that class…

    @Climate Ace:

    Per the embedded petroleum: Unlikely there was much. Plastics mostly made from natural gas now, but can just as easily be made from plant products. Yes, there will be some transportation. Do you want to count the ‘embedded petroleum’ in the bodies of the workers who built it? They eat food made with something that somewhere used petroleum…

    The point? It’s a fools game to do that recursive decent into dependency hell. The common usage means “used to run the place”, not that some guys grandma moved to California in a truck in the 1930s, so some petroleum use is embedded in his existence so needs to be accounted in the songs he sings in the bar… It’s that kind of “search for any plausible link and pump it up” that makes the “green” cost benefit analysis and economic analysis look stupid.

    But “most cities are not in the desert”? Who you kidding! Never hear of Phoenix? Los Angeles? (Water shipped in from N. California) Heck, most of California is a technical desert. Then there are all those resorts in Baja. And El Paso. Don’t forget El Paso… Or a large part of Chile. The reality is that folks love to live in a ‘Mediterranean Climate’ and those happen where cold water off the coast causes a desert environment just inland. So we load those places up to the limit of imported / mined water. Start having water in “desert coastal” areas, you will find another Los Angeles or Phoenix worth of people paying good money to build and move in.

    It is also quite clear you have little idea what these things mean for proximal food production. The one in (I think it was) Qatar means food grown on the edge of their major metroplex (yes, another city in the desert) and transported the minimum distance; instead of shipped in from Africa or South America.

    In one step, these things mean that essentially ALL of North Africa from Spanish Sahara / Morroco to Egypt and down to Somalia could have locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables (and off to Saudi and up to Turkey and around to Yemen and Iran and …) I find it astounding that you feel compelled to nay-say what has ZERO negative to it. This, believe it or not, is a Nice Green Conservation Oriented Solution. Yet you still can’t bring yourself to accept that it is a great step forward. Sigh.

    Oh, for grins, look up what is used to make rayon and cellophane. Find out what is in your ‘viscous’ sponge. Plastic does not equal oil.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic

    IMHO, those seawater greenhouses are the best thing since the Earthship; (Which I’d love to live in, and hope to build one ‘someday’)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthship

    Designed to use minimal new materials, collect their own water even in a desert like New Mexico, process their own wastes, make their own electricity, etc. etc. Essentially self contained and in many cases made from ‘otherwise trash’. (Rammed earth in used tires. Glass bottles for walls, etc.)

    Real environmental advocates are in favor of that kind of progress to use resources better, and not busy nay-saying and being all paranoid about running out and using up.

    Progress is a good thing. It uses less to do more and makes for a better life in the process. Mr. Negativity usually fails to make progress.

  113. EMSmith

    I note your negative comment on cost/benefit and note that so-called ‘cheap’ energy, and its consequences, makes an implicit judgement about cost/benefit.

    ‘But “most cities are not in the desert”? Who you kidding! Never hear of Phoenix? Los Angeles? (Water shipped in from N. California) Heck, most of California is a technical desert. Then there are all those resorts in Baja. And El Paso. Don’t forget El Paso… Or a large part of Chile. The reality is that folks love to live in a ‘Mediterranean Climate’ and those happen where cold water off the coast causes a desert environment just inland. So we load those places up to the limit of imported / mined water. Start having water in “desert coastal” areas, you will find another Los Angeles or Phoenix worth of people paying good money to build and move in. ‘

    I was thinking globally. No european cities are in deserts. Most Russian cities are not in deserts. No Scandinavian cities are in deserts. The majority of chinese cities are not in deserts, although the deserts are heading for Beijing. No south-east asian cities are in deserts. No central american cities are in deserts. No south american cities east of the Andes are in deserts. Most south asian cities are in the great floodplains of the Ganges and the Indus. Of Australian cities, most are not in deserts. The middle east and central asian area might be worth a look for the balance of cities in and out of deserts, but many middle eastern cities are in the better-watered fertile crescent and the great flood plains of the Euphratres and the Tigris. Irrigation using waters sourced from distant areas has changed the patter for some cities. Oil has altered that pattern somewhat in oil producing countries. Tourism has done the same. Most African cities are not in deserts. Even central asian cities, possibly the class which is closest to deserts, often has the cities located in rangelands rather than deserts per se.

    But, even if you limited the discussion to the US, most US cities are not in deserts. My definition of desert is a less than 10″ of rainfall per annum. It therefore explicitly excludes most of the planet’s rangelands. We could argue the term ‘deserts’ but there is not much point.

    My original point about deserts and where people live (cities, mostly) holds. Globally, deserts are generally were people aren’t. People aren’t generally where deserts are. Human settlement pattern history is replete with the drivers.

    Extremely cheap water would certainly change the future of the world.

  114. Willis, there was no implication you didn’t understand.

    An anecdote. More than a few years back I was I was on the back of a jeepney negotiating a mud track in one of the less travelled Phillippine islands. We passed a shack in the jungle and out the back of the shack was a huge pile of empty plastic bottles. I estimate the pile was close to 2 meters high and 5 meters across.

    Which is, in part, the reason the Greenie obsession with reducing plastic waste, really p1sses me off.

    Better, a million piles of plastic bottles like that, than 1 kid dead from unsafe water.

  115. @Climate Ace:

    My ‘negative comments’ were about bad usage of cost benefit analysis. I’ve seen way too much of it from alleged environmentalists. (As a former member / contributor to Greenpeace and Sierra Club I’ve watched the change). I think a well done C/B can be very valuable. Just that to do one you really do need to check your advocacy at the door, and the folks pushing the present type of environment agenda just can’t seem to do that.

    And cheap energy is incredibly cheap and does much to truly save nature. Where fossil fuels are available, forests are not cut down. Land taken for farming reduces due to fertilizers and more reverts to habitat. Fish get farmed instead of having the ocean sucked empty. ( Look at how much fish in the market is now farmed.) There have been a couple of posts here already on that. I’ve done a couple from the other POV. Lamenting that artificially high electricity prices in California are going to increase pollution and waste.

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/camping-at-home-is-cheaper/

    It is also now cheaper to cook using charcoal or wood fires than to use my oven.

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/saint-patricks-day-feast/

    Done in a Dutch Oven with charcoal.

    That, in a microcosm, is what is wrong with “talking dirt” about oil and gas. It condemns forests to destruction.

    This happens to be one of my “hot buttons” as I desperately want to stop the wood burning in the world that is destroying the forest habitat. Madagascar is down to something like 5% due to charcoal for cooking. Make that propane, the forest will return rapidly. (It is already happening on some country who’s name escapes me at the moment that started to subsidize propane cooking fuel).

    IMHO, there is little one could do that would have more ‘cost benefit payback’ than find a way to improve cooking efficiency and move away from direct wood burning, with the possible exception of improved agronomy systems.

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/leucaena-leucocephala-collection-of-links/

    Better stoves, like the Rocket Stove save 3rd world women from blindness and their children from lung diseases. In that Leucaena link I mention a guy in India who set out to fix areas having forest loss and desertification. He came up with a very effective system. Part of it was to pen the goats. That then let them put the ‘goat poo’ into fermentation and use piped “gobar gas” (swamp gas / methane) in simple mud stoves. Overnight, large health increases and no more need to hunt / cut fuel wood. Just from “cheap energy” from goat poo fermentation (and some farmed leucaena)

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/collection-of-stove-links/

    It is a simple fact that “cheap energy” from coal, oil, natural gas means we save species, forests, lives, health. Putting bogus “externality packing” into cost /benefit “studies” that aren’t really, and then using that to push up electricity to 30 cents or even $1/2 / kW-hr just ends up with people dying, trees dying, animals with no place to live. In short, it’s stupid and hurtful.

    On desert cities:

    So you pick ‘way north’ temperate Europe and Russia as your poster child? The world is a lot bigger than that, and the ‘desert bands’ are fairly large. The entire “Basin and Range” area in the USA is desert. (While the ‘shorthand’ of less than 25 cm precipitation is used, the correct definition is ‘evaporation exceeds precipitation’) So pretty much all of Nevada is desert. Reno, Las Vegas. Yes, not near an ocean. But they have some salt lakes…

    Now look at Africa. A tropical band on the skinny waist, but all of the north, and much of the south, is desert. Australia is largely a bit of tropical near the Pacific, then some cities hanging on around the edges near the oceans where a river ends up. ( I drove inland from Sydney for 4 days, then back out to Melbourne). Lots of desert there. So most of the Australian cities are on the edge near desert, or in a desert climate zone with a river for water.

    This image gives a pretty good view:

    But yes, right now most people do not live where there is little water. But there are plenty that do. (Like, for example, the Muslim World. You know, a billion people… more than the EU and Russia combined).

    Also this seawater greenhouse does not require a full on desert to work. Just places with sun that need some water. So limiting their impact to the ‘technical desert’ is a bit of artifice on your part. While the entire north west coastline of Mexico would benefit (and Baja has two coasts, then the third on the mainland) it would also work in places inland with a simple water pipe (and that’s a large desert with people living in it in smaller cities) and in the ‘near desert’ areas more south as you approach the wet band.

    Oh, and do realize that even Canada has a desert. Just back side of the mountains in British Columbia – cactus and everything. There are cities in it, too.

    So one point to realize is that while it will initially be used close to the ocean, nothing prevents putting this more inland and running some pipes. Economics of pumping will determine that.

    The globe has a lot of deserts, and if you look at large water projects, moving water several hundred miles is doable, both economically and physically. (California Aqueduct & related takes water about 400 miles+). At first, not worth it as there are other places with smaller pumping costs to fill up first. But, for example, in the middle of the Great Valley of California is Kern County. Significant soil salinity. It’s a functional desert. Pumping in sea water and using solar greenhouses is very ‘doable’ there. It’s shorter to the ocean than to Lake Shasta.

    So what is “near the ocean” is several hundred miles.

    Be careful about attributing ‘non desert’ to an area just because it is irrigated and green. That often means a river flows in from non-desert areas. Like Iraq between the rivers.

    Then there are places where there is water, but the rights are already taken. Turkey has water that drains into Syria then on to Iraq IIRC. Endless fighting over it. It is what makes that desert green. (Plenty of cities there too). Conversion of some of that land to seawater (piped, pumped, or just the near the coast bits) ends all that. Since all you need is access to seawater and sunshine, even ‘crap land’ works.

    Heck, I’d even be willing to bet that in some parts of Italy and islands of Greece and maybe even Spain there’s plenty of land that doesn’t produce year round due to water limitations.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accona_Desert

    for instance. Or:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabernas_Desert

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almer%C3%ADa_%28province%29

    Europe’s driest area is found in Almería and is part of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park. The semiarid landscape and climate that characterizes part of the province have made it an ideal setting for Western films, especially during the 1960s. Because of the demand for these locations, quite a number of Western towns were built near the Desert of Tabernas. Films such as A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly were shot here. Years later the film of 800 Bullets was filmed in the same place. Large sections of Lawrence of Arabia and Patton were shot there as well.

    The main river is the Andarax River, which is located near Granada in the Alpujarras. The Beninar Reservoir, located near Darrical, provides part of the water needed in the production in greenhouses.

    I’m sure the folks of Grenada will be pleased to know they don’t live in a desert any more…
    /sarc;

    So yes, loads of people live where there is ample water. My assertion is just that loads of people live where there is not really enough, too. A few billion of us. (a couple of tens of millions in California alone, most of whom do not live in the wet mountains or wet north).

    All of us will benefit from seawater uses. In solar greenhouses or in desalinizing (which we do here too).

    And lots of those people live in cities that are in deserts. Some of them even green and irrigated cities on rivers, in places that have more evaporation than precipitation.

  116. ralfellis says:
    March 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    The inspector said the water supply measures proposed weren’t fully justified and concluded that they couldn’t be shown to be “efficient and economical”. The Environment Agency was critical of much of the water companies’ justification for the reservoir plan.

    Burrow under the bolded part and you will see what was really behind the rejection.

    DaveE.

  117. Willis,

    Re. the earlier discussion, many thanks to Henry Clark for digging out the relevant figures.

    Current desalination energy requirement: 4-8 kWh/m3
    Reduce it by factor 100 using graphene : 0.04-0.08 kWh/m3
    Take our freshwater made using graphene and remix with seawater. We will get back 0.81 KWh/m3 for our 0.08 kWh/m3 input.

    Hence a perpetual motion machine, and a pretty good one at that.
    In fact the energy we get back could be greater because we could mix the freshwater with the concentrated reject brine from the RO process. The higher the salnity difference the more energy (though volume effects might balance it).

    I’m not concerned with the digression into $ values for the process, the issue was simply with that ‘100 times less energy’ headline claim.

    In any case, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so the onus to provide detailed figures should really be those making the original claim

  118. Good discussion.

    One of the themes that comes out, from the driest continent (Australia) to a fairly damp group of islands (the UK), to all of the above (the US) is that greenie ideology has been a godsend to water suppliers and governments. As many posters have pointed out, without water there is nothing. Yet irrespective of rainfall, utilities and governments have backed out of their responsibilities to provide proper water infrastructure – principally, dams – for at least 30 years because of a melange of environmental hogwash.

    The dams can’t be built because of the allegedly threatened lesser-spotted earless bandywallop, last seen in 1964 by a hippie who was researching mushrooms.

    What’s more, deprivation is good for our souls – wasteful, disgustingly rich sybarites that we are. So we all have to reduce consumption, which we obligingly do. Next thing is, we get slugged with higher prices because we are not generating enough revenue.

    Perfect! Governments have bowed down to greenies, water suppliers just did nothing and their income was guaranteed. The party being screwed was, surprise, surprise, consumers.

    If the project Willis mentioned, or any other, actually made water cheaper and more accessible, it would be bitterly opposed by the vested interests mentioned above. Just as fracking is being opposed by greenies and competitors, the prospect of upsetting mutually cosy and profitable arrangements fills the beneficiaries with dread.

  119. For all the folks fretting over how much more / less efficiency can be had from this tech vs existing membranes:

    Just remember that these folks are talking about 1 molecule thick. At that scale, all sorts of unexpected things can happen. You are approaching the Quantum Mechanical scale and projections from plastic membranes are not going to be very useful there.

    No, I’m not making any positive statement about what to expect. Only cautioning that at this scale, you need to expect the unexpected.

    Heck, we might have QM tunneling of water from one side to the other at zero energy cost or who knows what all. Not saying it will. Just saying “we don’t know”. (I do expect thermodynamic laws to be observed, but it is possible at this scale for energy to arrive from unexpected places; even be transferred and recycled at the quantum level.)

    Sidebar on Linguistics:

    While I generally agree with the notion that “English is as we use it”, it is also true that “When ambiguity or potential misunderstanding (or even phrasing that gives pause to some folks) exists, it ought to be removed.” So while I “get it” that “500 times thinner” is not -499 it is also the case that “1/500th the thickness” is a lot easier for the language centers of my brain to parse without hitting the “correct for strained structures” exception processing routines. ;-)

  120. Willis,

    … I’m of the opinion that the English language should obey the rules it actually obeys, rather than the rules people are always shoving at me. We use “twice as light” just as easily as we use “twice as heavy”, for example, and I suppose you would object to that as well. But neither one of those is ambiguous. Nor do the constructions make any sense logically … that’s English, get used to it.

    The weather changing makes me grumpy too. Always has.

    I don’t disagree at all, which It think was fairly clear, really. It really is not about “correct grammar” as opposed to incorrect grammar. In fact though, I don’t use “twice as light” when I mean “half the weight.” I am just lazy enough to object to doing the mental work to convert something into language, marketing speak to make stuff sound bigger and better, so that I can make the difference sound “much bigger” when I mean “a lot smaller.” Too much work and too easy to confuse someone. The issue isn’t being correct grammatically, simply clarity, efficiency and laziness. “Five hundred times as thin” is extra mental work. There’s no ambigous way to say “500 as heavy.” “500 times the weight” still says the same thing. Half the weight and “twice as light” are different – divide finish by start – ah “two – so, twice as light. Way too much work. ;-)

  121. E.M. Smith
    “(It is already happening on some country who’s name escapes me at the moment that started to subsidize propane cooking fuel).”

    It’s the Dominican Republic. You can see the contrast between it and it’s neighbor Haiti, just by looking at satellite imagery.

  122. Duster says:
    March 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Willis,

    … I’m of the opinion that the English language should obey the rules it actually obeys, rather than the rules people are always shoving at me. We use “twice as light” just as easily as we use “twice as heavy”, for example, and I suppose you would object to that as well. But neither one of those is ambiguous. Nor do the constructions make any sense logically … that’s English, get used to it.

    The weather changing makes me grumpy too. Always has.

    I don’t disagree at all, which It think was fairly clear, really. It really is not about “correct grammar” as opposed to incorrect grammar. In fact though, I don’t use “twice as light” when I mean “half the weight.” I am just lazy enough to object to doing the mental work to convert something into language, marketing speak to make stuff sound bigger and better, so that I can make the difference sound “much bigger” when I mean “a lot smaller.” Too much work and too easy to confuse someone. The issue isn’t being correct grammatically, simply clarity, efficiency and laziness. “Five hundred times as thin” is extra mental work. There’s no ambigous way to say “500 as heavy.” “500 times the weight” still says the same thing.

    Ask me if I care if you are “just lazy enough”. The usage “twice as light” is totally established in English, nearly a million hits on google. So your careful reasoning and parsing is totally meaningless—it’s here, get used to it. This is just more grammar nazi nonsense, polite to be sure, but I don’t care in the slightest.

    Truly I don’t. Your reasons mean nothing to me, it’s just further grousing about an established situation. Go object to someone else. I’m not buying it.

    Half the weight and “twice as light” are different – divide finish by start – ah “two – so, twice as light. Way too much work. ;-)

    No, they’re not different at all. If an ad says “The new iPhone is twice as light as the old one!”, you might not understand that, but no one else thinks that the meaning is that the new iPhone is heavier than the old. Everyone but you knows that “twice as light” means the new iPhone is half the weight of the old iPhone.

    Stop with the tortured reasoning, Duster. Your reasons are as useful to me as a trailer hitch on a bowling ball. “Five hundred times thinner”, or “twice as light”, it’s all established English. You’re swimming upstream in a raging river, the train has left the station, that ship has sailed, you pick the metaphor, but at this point you’re just complaining about what is already so.

    I have little time for people who want to bitch about established reality. You may not like reality. I don’t care.

    One of my rules of thumb is that I always and ever have only two choices about ugly reality—dig it, or bitch about it.

    I try to stick with the former, and avoid people who want to do the latter.

    Best regards,

    w.

  123. E.M.Smith says:
    March 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    … Sidebar on Linguistics:

    While I generally agree with the notion that “English is as we use it”, it is also true that “When ambiguity or potential misunderstanding (or even phrasing that gives pause to some folks) exists, it ought to be removed.” So while I “get it” that “500 times thinner” is not -499 it is also the case that “1/500th the thickness” is a lot easier for the language centers of my brain to parse without hitting the “correct for strained structures” exception processing routines. ;-)

    Not buying that at all. You’re a smart man. When you hear “500 times thinner” you think “one five hundredth” before the sentence is even finished. Not only that, but you never even go to “the thickness is minus 499″ at all. You hear the phrase, you understand it, you pass on by.

    w.

  124. @Willis:

    Sorry to say, I’m not that bright. When I hear “500 times thinner” my first response is:

    500 * Thinness

    (That is what it, literally, says)

    So a 1 cm object would be: 1 cm * 500 or 1/2 meter

    But there is a ‘dangling -er’…

    At that point the “Error Alert! Insanity Check Fault!” routine kicks in. Another brain center is ‘awakened’ to “deal with it”. It says “A half meter? You crazy or what? Let me look at that…” Which then goes off somewhere and “has a bit of a think” and returns “It’s just 1/500th you A*hole”..) and the more primitive layers say “Thank you, your Lardship Lordship”…

    and processing continues at “1/500th * thin / thick ness”…

    Honestly, that’s what happens., Takes maybe 1/4 second? But it happens. Every Single Time.

    Yes, I’m bright. Yes, I ‘work it out’. But also, yes, it is a workload that goes to an exception routine step that could be avoided with “It is 1/500th the thickness” that directly parses and works handled by the drone language centers without interrupting “higher function” areas that are busy trying to decide if “One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor!” is accurate, or if really, experience says it’s 6… and really, don’t we need more data to get the error band into acceptable range? Perhaps a test now would be appropriate, and … what? 500 times what again? Damn…”
    ;-)

    I hate it. I spend far more of my personal “processing time” making sure sentences pass the “Idiot interpretation test” than I like. I get accused of being “overly precise” and then “prolix” when I keep it unambiguous; while at the same time accuse of being “not clear enough” when I drop back to “common usage”. There is no good answer. (I could do a riff here on semantic processing, but won’t… but there really isn’t a good answer as each of us has a unique semantics processor with different settings…) So what I’m saying is “mine can ‘deal with it’ in 1/4 second or so, but it is still ‘dealing with it’ as it’s bit of a stupid layer of the brain; and some folks are trapped there.” Not a “complaint” so much as an observation on the nature of human language processing and our differences.

    Like I said, I spend far more time that I like anticipating how “others will get it wrong” and adjusting the output semantic engine product…

    At one time I made a sport of warping what people said into “reasonable but wrong” interpretations just as a diversion from the annoyance of it and to fill in the “error trap” tables. It can be funny… but sometimes not so much… “Would you like me to knock you up in the morning?” greeted me at check in to a hotel in New Zealand… (Do I want a wake up call?) for an example. Now play that forward in California…. It gets old after a while…

    Please, do not get me wrong: I understood almost immediately and without much effort what you were saying. You are right on that. But at the same time, more work on your part would mean less work on mine, even if “trivially less”… Some folks are not so swift and have empty / small translation tables …

    Now, back to more important things…

    One Tequila, Two Tequila, Nine Tequila Numb! or…

  125. Last I heard, you can’t measure thinness, so yes, it’s not only imprecise but incorrect to say 500 times as thin.

    It’s an awful term and should be banned from anything remotely scientific!

    DaveE.

  126. Willis, if you want to get into a war about language, that’s a whole other thread :). But I must agree with commenters who defend precision over sloppy or regional usage. “I could care less” is just baffling to anyone outside the US when it apparently means the opposite. And, one of the most annoying things about the rubbish that passes for science reporting in the MSM is the way that fractions, percentages, ratios and orders of magnitude are mangled.

    I hold no brief for pedantry for its own sake. Where the rules of language matter is in making things clearer.

    Just as I cringe when I read the ‘results’ of a ‘study’ that claims that eating blueberries ‘reduces the risk of cancer by 30%’, the use of phrases like ‘500 times’ less, or smaller, or lower, alert the BS meter. It is the language of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen. It is, as others have pointed out, essentially ambiguous, or if you are a mathematician, meaningless.

    I don’t agree that describing numbers is in the same category as using colloquial language when it comes to clear communication.

  127. David A. Evans said @ March 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Last I heard, you can’t measure thinness…

    Oh yes you can:

    Having computed the area A and perimeter P of an object, we can define the thinness ratio as T = 4pi multiplied by A/p^2.
    This measure takes a maximum value of 1 for a circle.

    From Microsope Image Processing by Qiang Wu, Fatima Merchant, Kenneth Castleman – 2010.

  128. EM Smith,
    “Just remember that these folks are talking about 1 molecule thick. At that scale, all sorts of unexpected things can happen. You are approaching the Quantum Mechanical scale and projections from plastic membranes are not going to be very useful there.”

    There are no such unexpected things. Behavior at the scale of single molecules (the statistical behavior of ensembles) is compeltely consistent with macroscopic thermodynamics. Indeed, macroscopic thermodynamics can be directly derived from statisctical mechanics. Neither Maxwell’s demons nor perpetual motion machines exist, and never will. Neither will reverse osmosis membranes that require less pressure than the osmotic pressure across the membrane.

  129. Climate Ace:
    March 18, 2013 at 8:18 pm
    Seems to me that you did not even attempt to address the arguments I made about the economic prudence of current expenditures to address uncertain (even speculative) climate problems projected for the distant future. This puzzles me. If you want to have a substantive discussion about cost benefit analysis, then by all means, let’s have one. Let’s not leave it in the land of politically motivated arm waves and exhortations. I laid out the problem: assuming any reasonable discount rate, it is clear to me that current expenditures to address very uncertain problems far in the future are an unwise (even crazy) use of resources. I hope you are willing to offer a substantive reply to that observation.

  130. Willis Eschenbach, it is up to you, but you might consider adding the following graph to the article, for in a single concise plot it implicitly sums up very much about desalination, what the future was already trending towards even before graphene filter innovation may accelerate the trend, and what it means for water supply:

    (The above is from http://www.worldwaterweek.org/documents/WWW_PDF/2009/tuesday/K11/Koussai_Quteishat_Stockholm_Water_Week.pdf ).

  131. @Steve Fitzpatrick:

    So the Josephson Junction is an obvious extension of macro scale physics? …

    And quantum tunneling in the tunnel diode is a clear extension of the typical diode doping macro physics?

    I’m not saying I know what will happen. I’m just saying that we’ve seen ‘different things’ once down at that scale. Heck, even catalysis in surface chemistry and folded protein enzymes cause chemical process to move with different energy costs. (Though I would not expect things like ion pumps without complex structures as in cell walls).

    I am specifically saying I expect the laws of thermo to be observed whatever happens.

    • E.M.Smith says:

      > Heck, even catalysis in surace chemistry and folded protien enzymes cause chemical process to move with different energy costs.

      All the enzyme does is reduce the height of the energy barrier compared to spontaneous reaction. It does not change the energy cost (which is calculated as the difference between the total energy of the products and the substrates). Same for non-enzymatic catalysts. A catalyst increases the probability of a certain reaction occurring, which is translated to a higher reaction rate. The energy change in each reaction instance is the same.

  132. @Gene Selkov:

    OK, so looks like I stepped on a “term of art” using “energy cost”. I was thinking about things like the lower temperature needed to make a reaction “go” (the lower ‘hump’ to get over) as applied in things like FT reactions with improved catalysts lowering the temperatures (and financial costs due to less energy leakage at lower temperatures). So “confounded” two things. The lower energy barrier to the reaction and the lower heat loss from reaction equipment.

    My point was not a long discussion of reactors, but just that surfaces and catalysts and things at the molecular level change how reactions proceed and what conditions are needed to do that. Even in carbon based things like enzymes, it changes the energy “profile” from what happens away from that surface.

    A mono layer of carbon atoms is not gong to act like a 1 mil sheet of plastic.

  133. EM Smith,
    “I am specifically saying I expect the laws of thermo to be observed whatever happens.”
    You are right about that much at least.

  134. Andres Valencia says:
    March 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Thanks, Willis,
    You probably know some of the best beer in the world is produced with desalinated water.
    This seems like very good news.

    Odd. We were told during a visit to Curacao in the ’80s, where the local Amstel is brewed with condensate from the power plant – source desalinated water – that initially it was awful. They had to put contaminants back in to get the taste. My memory is that they had done a very good job of choosing how much.

  135. Gary Hladik says: March 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    “…Willis Eschenbach says (March 18, 2013 at 2:43 pm): ‘It’s like busting folks for saying “I could care less…” ‘

    Aaaaargh! If I hear that stupid phrase one more time, I swear I’m gonna invade Poland! There’s simply no excuse for using it, irregardless of–

    Oh, crap. :-)

    Damn, it’s pretty hard to get a chuckle out of me, but that gave me a belly laugh!

    (My wife (now ex) once said of my sense of humour, “You know, you never laugh … you may find things funny, but it is as if you just note them and put them in your “Ha” basket”.)

  136. Steve Fitzpatrick, Could you tell me if electrons move with proteins along the electron clouds of the peptidyl backbone (or along cofactor electron clouds) or do electrons tunnel, jumping from branch to branch like a monkey in a tree?
    I only ask as so far the evidence supports both views, So go on, make either Harry Gray or Les Dutton happy.

  137. @E.M.Smith: You’re right — the idea of “energy cost” is context-dependent. In the context of individual reactions, it is usually understood as the difference between their initial and final states. For example, in a chemical reaction that occurs at a constant pressure, “energy cost” can be a shorthand for “Gibbs free energy change”. It is, of course, an idealisation: when we talk about the cost of an enzymatc reaction, we don’t normally include the costs of making the enzyme or maintaining its requirements — temperature, pH, cofactors, and such — which can add substantially to the overall cost. But it is a useful idealisation nonetheless, as it allows us to infer whether a certain reaction or a pathway is possible, and approximately what gains or losses are associated with it. Knowing the limits can be very helpful when you’re dredging through a lot of things and want to rule out the impossible ones.

    For a chemical technologist, of course there are all sorts of costs that get added to the theoretical energy change. But it still is a good BS filter, because if somebody tells you that a certain process will have a unit cost of X, and you know that X is less than that unit’s ΔG, you can clearly see what’s wrong with that statement.

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