Water covers 70 percent of our world, yet freshwater that is used for drinking, washing and agricultural purposes like farming irrigation only amounts to three percent. Over one billion people globally don’t have regular access to freshwater, with 2.7 billion people experiencing water shortages for at least one month a year. 

The scarcity is a result of many contributing factors. First of all, we’re living in a growing global population with 9.8 billion people projected to be living in the world by 2050.  Climate change is having a significant effect. Many developing countries are now dealing with droughts and unpredictable water availability, whilst floods are destroying water points, sanitation facilities and contaminating water sources. 

Global warming is having a serious effect on water accessibility. Increased greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere from man-made pollutants have become much more evident. In fact in 2017, GHGs such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide hit record levels. As stated by Paul Dickinson, CEO of the CDP Water Disclosure Project, “Much of the impact of climate change will be felt through changing patterns of water availability, with shrinking glaciers and changing patterns of precipitation increasing the likelihood of drought and flood. If climate change is the shark, then water is its teeth and it is an issue on which businesses need far greater levels of awareness and understanding.”

Unpredictable water access also impacts on food security. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that ‘the world is thirsty, because it is hungry’. Water is the lifeblood of eco-systems and is essential for agricultural production and preserving food security. 

Of the one billion people suffering from water scarcity, the vast majority live in coastal areas in developing countries. An increasingly popular option for improving water supplies in these areas is the desalination of sea water. This involves separating dissolved salts and other minerals from water. 

Two processes used to separate salt from sea water are thermal distillation and membrane separation. The first is heat-based, whereby boiling the water turns it into vapour. The salt separates from the water when it’s boiled, and is no longer a component part of the vapour. The vapour is then gathered, and is condensed back into water as it cools. 

Reverse osmosis is the most common type of membrane separation. Salt is separated from the water by being forced through a semipermeable membrane. Reverse osmosis is the preferred option, particularly for businesses entering this market, because it requires less energy than thermal distillation. 

Desalination is becoming more popular, particularly as other water sources such as ground water are over-pumped and stretched to their limits.  An obstacle with this solution, however, is that the desalination of water requires a lot of energy. Salt creates strong chemical bonds when it dissolves in water, and they are difficult to break. The energy and technology required to desalinate water is often expensive, which has made it a non-viable option for many areas.   

Environmentally, precautions must be taken to ensure small ocean creatures aren’t sucked in to the machine, such as baby fish and plankton, which would impact the food chain. The left-over salt has to be re-purposed or discarded appropriately, too. Re-introducing it in to the ocean as a very concentrated brine could harm aquatic life in that area.

Another barrier to adoption is that desalination requires a strong and reliable connection to an electricity grid. For remote communities, this often isn’t possible. The industry has been in dire need of providing alternative energy-providing options to service desalination. Luckily, this is where the emergence of fourth industrial revolution (4iR) technologies can make a real impact. 

US-based, Resolute Marine, has developed Wave20™ which is a wave-driven seawater desalination system, designed to provide clean water to millions in coastal communities in developing countries and small island developing states (SIDS). Ocean waves are well suited to power desalination plants because they have superior energy density, consistency and predictability when compared to other potential renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. In fact, oceans are largely untapped resources  that can be used to support sustainable development, whilst also reducing carbon emissions which affect ocean acidification and temperature rises.  

Wave20™ technology can be deployed quickly to those in need, it operates completely “off-grid” and can supply large quantities of clean fresh water at a competitive cost. It also encourages the industry to move away from using diesel-electric systems which deliver limited volumes of high-cost water, as well as posing environmental risks. High levels of ocean stewardship is key to solutions such as this, to ensure that untapped renewable sources such as the ocean are used responsibly. 

This technology advancement hasn’t gone unnoticed in this sector, or in the wider sustainable energy and technology fields. Resolute Marine is a finalist in the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity. It is seeking innovative, technology-based methods and products that allow increased access to, and the use of low-carbon energy sources in under-served, remote communities.  

Technologists and start-up companies are providing fresh perspectives on how to tackle global issues, and it’s important that governments and organisations continue to support their work. If solutions have yet to be found via traditional methods, it is likely that technology – particularly those emerging as part of the 4IR – will offer an alternative way.  Collaboration will be key to paving the way forward. 

Contact Us

If you have any questions