Salty or Sweet? Harnessing the Sun for Desalination

Here is one for all of the science buffs! Two Canadian engineers recently unveiled a cheaper desalination method that harnesses the sun to power the desalination process, which in turn could lower the cost of desalination by almost 80%. This process requires a bit more ingenuity than the typical prototype, but if it does work as described then this might prove to be one of many answers used to solve the linger issue of water scarcity.

I will try to sum up their process as best I can (with the limited science and engineering knowledge that I have).  The engineers, Ben Sparrow and Joshua Zoshih, believe that they can create an ample amount of fresh water with less than 1 kWh of electricity. The only energy required is a very small amount (remember, less than 1 kWh) used to pump the water through the system, As described in The Economist, “Their process is fuelled by concentration gradients of salinity between different vessels of brine. These different salinities are brought about by evaporation.” Therefore, no other source of “paid” power is needed to produce this freshwater because the rest of the energy comes from natural sources (sun, air). See visual below for more information!

The article goes into more detail, and it is interesting to compare this system to the ones that are currently proposed by businesses such as G.E. It does appear that there are striking benefits to this system such as the performance of this process improves in arid regions (which are the regions that most need this type of technology), and it requires less pre-treatment and chemicals than traditional processes.

Perhaps there is more to this story than at first meets the eye? Admittedly, I have very little knowledge of desalination, but the proposed process seemed ingenious when I read about it. Perhaps there are many more of these ideas floating out there? I also am sure there are cons to this system. However, I will need to do a little more research to understand that side of the story a little better.


A Crisis of Democracy

AlGore_03 This past Saturday, I packed into a small Unitarian church with 500 other people to catch a glimpse of former Vice President Al Gore. He came to Harvard Square to discuss his new book, Our Choice, which is a follow-up to  An Inconvenient Truth. With only one short month before Copenhagen, I  jumped at the opportunity to see the Nobel Prize and Oscar winning former Vice President and the de facto leader of the current environmental movement give a speech on the politics of climate change.

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The U.S. and China on Climate Change: Who Has the Better Hand?



As President Obama gears up to make his first presidential trip to China later this month, environmental groups and other research organizations are becoming increasingly more vocal regarding the need for greater cooperation between China and the United States on the issue of climate change.

Three prominent American organizations, the Asia Society, the Center for American Progress, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (N.R.D.C.) all agree that the two countries should make climate change a top priority. In their opinion, China and the U.S. should focus on two aspects of climate change mitigation: the use of carbon capture technology and the creation of a market for carbon.

These organizations lay a solid foundation for why China and the U.S. need to pay more attention to climate change, and they also make a strong case for why the two countries should work together on the issue. However, the question remains: will the two countries tackle climate change during President Obama’s upcoming visit and come to some sort of agreement before heading into Copenhagen, or will the issue take a back seat to other topics as is often the case during these “head of state” meetings? Continue reading

In the European Union, Consensus is Lacking on Climate Change

The European Union (EU) has been meeting regularly to come up with a consistent position on climate change going into Copenhagen in December. The big ticket item in all of these meetings is how to fund global climate change in terms of adaptation and mitigation. So far, the EU has failed to find common ground. Commentary appeared on the COP15 website this morning regarding this issue. Another article appeared in the Irish Times last week.

The EU finance ministers will meet again this weekend to try to iron out an official position.  However, the fact remains that without consensuses, the EU could potentially see a rift between the older, industrialized countries (France, Britain, Spain, Germany, etc) and the newer, developing members including Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Furthermore, the lack of unification would make it difficult for the EU to be seen as leader on climate change and threaten its ability to play a larger role in the summit early this December in Copenhagen.