The issue on power and water represents a classic Catch-22: Desalination is becoming increasingly necessary because of drinking water scarcity, but the process gobbles down copious amounts of electricity, to be created by power plants that need water. Is there a way out of this cycle?
Veera Gnaneswar Gude, a professor and researcher at the Mississippi State University, thinks so. She suggests a side-by-side power and desalination plant as a solution to the foregoing conundrum. “There is mutual benefit for both in combining these two processes together,” she says, adding that she and her team have spent the last eight years devising a system that will make desalination-power generation partnership possible.
This is how the technique works: Instead of using water for cooling purposes, Gude’s technology incorporates a power plant refrigeration system that produces cold air. This systems is run by waste heat, which is already being produced in the power plant and, hence, does not require any outside energy sources. “The waste heat,” explains Gude, “can also be used to power a neighboring low-temperature desalination (LTD) plant.”
According to the team’s study, the partnership works because LTD is significantly less energy-intensive than conventional desalination plants. “LTD,” continues Gude, “separates the salt by condensing water at a lower pressure point and temperature than conventional systems. The LTD process does not require any mechanical pumping or cooling, which contributes in saving energy.”
To sum up, Gude highlights that LTD is useful for places that are in need of power but don’t have access to water. “It avoids using up a precious resource.”
Letting the technology develop
The technology that Gude and her team is proposing has the potential to hold water, as it attempts to resolve one of the most pressing problems of the world today: How can the world conserve water, when water is needed to produce potable water?
Having said this, it may be possible to see an exponential increase in the number of such installation, particularly in areas where water is scarce, but at the same time where electrification is crucial. It, however, can take years or decades, as developing and optimizing a technology is no mean feat. Add to it the external impositions of actually building the system, like securing funding, ascertaining an appropriate location, providing labor and obtaining approvals. Ten to twenty years of lead time may not at all be an exaggeration.
As technological development and market appreciation take their natural course, temporary power plants can provide the necessary power needed to produce safe drinking water anywhere in the world. Rental power stations are flexible, modular and cost-beneficial technologies that can be rapidly deployed from and to anywhere in the world. They are able to provide the exact amount of power needed by industrial processes, and are more cost-efficient, compared to building traditional power plants. Interim energy systems can offer the necessary power to produce potable water when future technologies, like the one proposed by Gude and her team, are still being enhanced.
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