Supposin': A Look at Progress, Part 3

I keep thinking back about the reoccurring apparition that dances around in my mind in my waking hours. I can hear, “I designed the earth with sufficiency enough to take care of everything and everyone I ever allowed to live here.” We don’t have a shortage of water. Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water . . . real deep puddles of water. We don’t have a shortage of electricity. We don’t have a shortage of food. Global scarcity has never been the issue. Global accessibility to resources has been the issue. Selfish control and manipulation have been issues. The politics of scarcity and fear, and wars and killings over perceived scarcity have been issues.

I don’t believe that God is angry when we discover some of his designs and intelligence. I believe it puts a smile on his face when we pay enough attention to the insights and wisdom that he has already shared with us in order to set into motion the seeds of exponential knowledge and information. The more we learn, the more we are able to learn. We honor and worship him when we desire to pursue his thoughts. Future possibilities and triumphs continue to await us. There is enormous bounty through specialized innovation and creativity.

Let’s look at some exciting advances in the area of water. For the past twenty-five years I fulfilled a civic duty by encouraging the constituents to elect me to a water and sanitation board here in Colorado. I don’t know that I had much to offer, but I certainly learned a lot about water. I learned that the ski areas could use the river water to make artificial snow, but the constituents were rationed to two nights a week to water their summer flowers and grass. I learned that the municipalities in Colorado were stopped from access to mountain snow runoff, but places like California, Las Vegas, and New Mexico could use the same water to mist large downtown areas to keep them pleasantly cool for their customers. I learned that districts could arbitrarily ration water usage on a short time basis, and then enhance their revenues by raising the permanent rates because they were not selling as many gallons of water during the rationed periods. Oh, there was so much to learn about water, water rights, and usage!

During that period of time, however, I was exposed to some very positive and exciting water issues. There is a gifted inventor named Dean Kamen, who was perplexed that it was so difficult to access pure enough water for IV (inner venous) injections without pretreatment osmosis membranes, pipelines, and installation permits. He was also motivated by over 900 million people worldwide without safe drinking water, and some 3.5 million people dying annually because of diseases brought on by drinking unsafe water.

Dean Kamen developed the “Slingshot” (named after the David and Goliath episode), a simple method to make sterile water available. It works from a concept of vapor compression distillation and requires no filters. The devise is about the size of a small apartment-sized refrigerator with a power cord, an intake hose, and an out flow hose, and produces 250 gallons of 100% pure water per day. That is enough pure water for the cooking, drinking, and hygiene needs for 100 people per day, and uses less than one kilowatt of power. Its power source is the Stirling engine, another invention of Kamen, designed to burn almost anything, including cow dung, and runs maintenance free for at least 5 years.

Dean Kamen designed the technology of his Slingshot with the transformation in mind of the 97% of the earth’s water that is undrinkable. His intention is to make the water pure so that it can be used and consumed on the spot, readily and inexpensively. Presently, the cost of the purifying apparatus is about $2,500, and the price of the Stirling engine, another $2,500. The price, however, when mass produced would be around $1,000 each.

Another inventor, Michael Pritchard, was repulsed by the way we handle clean water shortage in crisis situations by simply sending in loads and loads of bottled water. So, he decided to tap into the vast source of exponential information and knowledge, and he developed probably the best hand-pumped water filters on the market. Until Pritchard’s “Lifesaver” bottle came along, filters with membrane pores as tiny as 200 nanometers were the standard benchmark. Such filters can capture most bacteria, but the considerably smaller viruses still slipped through the filters.

Pritchard developed membranes with pores only 15 nanometers wide that removed everything, including bacteria, viruses, cysts, fungi, parasites, and any other water pathogens. One of Pritchard’s filters lasts long enough to clean over1500 gallons of water, and then it safely shuts itself down. A five gallon size container equipped with a proper filter can supply clean water for a family of four for three years, and it only costs a half a cent per day. The exponential knowledge and information has allowed a new era of molecular manufacturing that includes rearranging atoms. That results in developing entirely new physical properties.

It is that kind of molecular manufacturing based on recent information and knowledge that is necessary to be applied to the universal challenge of desalination of sea water. President Dwight Eisenhower would be very pleased to know that we are so close to solving the problem. Hydrogen and oxygen (H2O) are not in short supply, and many predict that it will not be that long until there are inexpensive methods to meet the pressing needs for safe and sustainable water. IBM and Central Glass, a Tokyo based company, have recently developed technology for removing both salt and arsenic from ocean and sea water.

While on the subject of water, let’s look at the area of sanitation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1.2 trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year. That is more than all the water used in the cities of Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. If you were to dump a gallon of water each second, nonstop, it would take you 32,000 years (longer than all recorded history) to dump one trillion gallons. Toilets are the biggest waste. So it’s time to dump the toilet!

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation teamed up with Lowell Wood. Their conclusion is that you can burn the fecal portion of the waste and utilize that energy to return the urine back to fresh water. There is over a mega joule per day of energy to be derived from burning the feces. That is enough to do everything the toilets need to do, with plenty of energy left over to charge your cell phone and light your lights. Their goal now is to get the cost to operate the new method down to less than five cents per day. That would make it feasible for under developed countries to take advantage of the method. But just stop for a moment and consider how much we are presently paying for the fresh water that we now use for sanitation, to say nothing of the high cost of operating the sewer lines and plants everywhere.

There are so many good and astounding things happening right now in our lifetime. It is a good practice to recognize and be grateful for this adventure called life. Resist the peddlers of gloom and doom and open up to the generous abundance of potential and possibility.

Next Week: A Look at Progress, Part 4

(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson's new writing project on Cultural Economics)

© Dr. James W. Jackson  

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