It is indisputable that water scarcity is at a crisis level. Research has found that two-thirds of the global population, a startlingly four billion people, live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month of the year.
Farmers across northern and central Europe are facing crop failure and bankruptcy as one of the most intense regional droughts in recent memory strengthens its grip, reports the Guardian. Furthermore, an environmental organization, Global Action Plan Ireland is said to be appealing to the Irish public to cut their showers short, due to water shortages following the recent heatwave.
Cape Town in South Africa recently came incredibly close to “day zero”, the day it would actually run out of water. After instituting water restrictions, Cape Town has dodged the water tragedy, at least for this year. Additionally, drought-stricken parts of the United States have been suffering from dangerous wildfires.
Thankfully, development is underway for many new technologies to address the world’s complex water issues.
What are some of these technologies? Here’s a short list of three interesting water recycling, conservation and preservation technologies.
#1: Graphene Filter to Make it Cheaper to Drink Seawater
Although nearly seventy-five percent of the Earth is covered in water, approximately ninety-seven percent is undrinkable. Work is being done to make desalinated water—water in which salt is removed to make it safe for drinking—a viable option for more of the world
An international team of researchers, including scientists from Shinshu University (Japan) and the director of Penn State's ATOMIC Center, has developed a graphene-based coating for desalination membranes that is more robust and scalable than current nanofiltration membrane technologies. The result could be a sturdy and practical membrane for clean water solutions as well as protein separation, wastewater treatment and pharmaceutical and food industry applications.
"Our dream is to create a smart membrane that combines high flow rates, high efficiency, long lifetime, self-healing and eliminates bio and inorganic fouling in order to provide clean water solutions for the many parts of the world where clean water is scarce," says Mauricio Terrones, professor of physics, chemistry and materials science and engineering, Penn State. "This work is taking us in that direction."
With this technology, more of the water that is currently undrinkable could be made available for drinking.
#2: IoT Technology Helping Conserve Water
IoT and its use of sensors to intelligently monitor usage is helping reduce water consumption. For example, farmers in drought-stricken California, whose water use accounts for 80 percent of all water consumption for businesses and residences, are challenged to tightly control their usage.
Organic farm Devine Organics has implemented Internet of Things (IoT) technology that measures water saturation in the soil, manages irrigation and helps ensure water isn’t overused on its crops. The technology provided by precision irrigation technology company WaterBit has helped Devine Organic reduce their water use by 6% and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions (from fuel used for pumping water and truck trips to manually check the fields) by 5%. Additionally, Devine Organics has nearly doubled its asparagus harvest yield on the field since installing the sensors, by better managing irrigation throughout the growing season. The company says it has measured the increase from 800 to 1,500 pounds per acre.
Another IoT solution comes from Banyan Water, a provider of data-driven water conservation for enterprises, whose solution has saved than 2.3 billion gallons of water since its inception in 2011.
Banyan Water offers a technology solution for large users of water via a combination of a software platform that incorporates smart devices placed on a property. The devices remotely track and monitor how water is flowing outside a building, or within a building.
Using Banyan Water, in one year, apartment operator IMT Residential saved more than 47 million gallons of water across its 160-acre Riata community in Northwest Austin.
#3: Drones Aiding Water Preservation
Drones offer eyes in areas that are often too expensive or dangerous to access. Their ability to embed cameras enables researchers to view landscapes and infrastructure in ways unfeasible before these advances in technology.
According to a piece in DroneLife, drones equipped with infrared cameras, are being tested in hot and remote locations, to detect leaks in underground water pipes in the desert. Research led by Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh at Nottingham Trent University in the UK aims to prevent water loss using infrared technology to spot leaks that are invisible to the naked eye.
Professor Al-Habaibeh, Professor of Intelligent Engineering Systems, said: “Water is one of the most precious commodities around the world, but significant quantities are lost on a daily basis through leaking and broken pipes.
In California, research is being conducted to learn more about how water moves through its many diverse landscapes. As reported in Pacific Standard, drones are allowing researchers to get above the land surface and look back down at that land with a whole new suite of different kinds of cameras. They can extract information from the air that would otherwise be really challenging to collect, because a human would have to walk out and make all those measurements by foot on the landscape. Now they can just fly a drone over the top of them and map the vegetation on an entire site in an afternoon. The aim is to understand the trajectory of climatic variation across these different sites and how they can be linked to changes in the water resources as well as drought.
Another innovative water saving technology is Hydrofinity’s near-waterless laundry system. The Hydrofinity laundry system replaces up to 80% of the water used in traditional washing systems with polymer XOrbs™ that gently massage textiles to provide superior cleaning results as compared to conventional aqueous washing methods. By combining the molecular structure of the XOrbs with a proprietary detergent solution, dirt from soiled items is attracted and absorbed by the XOrbs, producing cleaner results in ambient water. The reusable XOrbs have a lifespan of hundreds of washes before being collected and recycled.