Aerospace contractor finds method for cheap, clean water

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…

Because the sheets of pure carbon known as graphene are so thin – just one atom in thickness – it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter with the force required to separate the salt from the water, they said.

The development could spare underdeveloped countries from having to build exotic, expensive pumping stations needed in plants that use a desalination process called reverse osmosis.

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…”

About 780 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water, the United Nations reported last year.

“One of the areas that we’re very concerned about in terms of global security is the access to clean and affordable drinking water,” said Tom Notaro, Lockheed business manager for advanced materials. “As more and more countries become more developed … access to that water for their daily lives is becoming more and more critical.”

RTFA for details. The best news is that Lockheed engineers expect to be into the prototyping stage by the end of this year. After that, partners with experience and distribution channels will be likely to come on board. Good engineering looks like it’s going to reduce cost and increase availability for a very important process.

Not exactly unimportant is that the prototyping program will include developing filters which can be retrofitted to existing plants.

CES: Green is the new black

When it comes to green products, people are interested but skeptical.

Buyers these days may not be as swayed by the green attributes of a product as they are by price. But at CES, green was everywhere. It was part of the stock press conference script to start off with comments on the dismal economy, plow on to product announcements and end with a message about environmental initiatives.

Some companies found a natural way to integrate green messages with economic ones: Introduce products that consume less energy. Samsung, which practices what it preaches by …

… automatically turning off the lights in its Korean offices during the lunch hour, introduced at CES a line of LED televisions that consume 40% less power than LCD TVs. Panasonic showed a Blu-ray player that uses 50% less power than its previous model. And Hewlett-Packard is introducing printers that switch on only when a print job is sent. The average printer is actively printing for just 15 minutes a day but is usually not turned off, gobbling up energy. HP’s next-generation printers will turn themselves off after sitting idle for a few minutes…

With consumers being more budget conscious, however, the better pitch for now may be the fringe benefits. Samsung’s LED TV, for example, sucks up less power, but the LED lighting creates a brighter screen than LCD TVs for a better contrast ratio that makes images appear more vivid. Said John Godfrey, Samsung’s vice president of government affairs, “We call it the TV that lets you have your cake and eat it too.”

It’s just a matter of coming full circle for me. Growing up in a factory town through World War 2, being frugal was a necessity and a social positive. Now, it’s a useful trait – a progressive attitude unless you’re proud, somehow, of wasting money.

All our geek goodies, entertainment center, computerized home office, are fed through UPS/surge protectors. When I go to bed at night they all are turned off.

To the know-nothings who lost the recent election and more – in their narrow minds, being Green makes you the new Black, as well.

Enviro refrigerator design from Einstein and Szilard. Wha?

Actually, I’m not that startled about the design. I was a 2nd-generation tech at GE – and my father worked on fridges of this design before and during the transition to freon-based compressor styles.

An early invention by Albert Einstein has been rebuilt by scientists at Oxford University who are trying to develop an environmentally friendly refrigerator that runs without electricity.

Malcolm McCulloch, an electrical engineer at Oxford who works on green technologies, is leading a three-year project to develop more robust appliances that can be used in places without electricity.

His team has completed a prototype of a type of fridge patented in 1930 by Einstein and his colleague, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard. It had no moving parts and used only pressurised gases to keep things cold. The design was partly used in the first domestic refrigerators, but the technology was abandoned when more efficient compressors became popular in the 1950s. That meant a switch to using freons.

Pressurised gas fridges based around Einstein’s design were replaced by freon-compressor fridges partly because Einstein and Szilard’s design was not very efficient. But McCulloch thinks that by tweaking the design and replacing the types of gases used it will be possible to quadruple the efficiency. He also wants to take the idea further. The only energy input needed into the fridge is to heat a pump, and McCulloch has been working on powering this with solar energy.

‘No moving parts is a real benefit because it can carry on going without maintenance. This could have real applications in rural areas,’ he said.

Terrific. Sometimes I wonder about how many great ideas are gathering dust because, accidentally or intentionally, the economics of the times didn’t encourage mass production?