Can We Make Ocean Water Drinkable — and Should We?

published on July 17, 2020

As glaciers disappear groundwater dries up and Earth's climate gets more and more extreme where will we get our drinking water what about from this gigantic reservoir that holds 97% of Earth's water ocean water can be more than 60 times saltier than freshwater

Which means it's undrinkable that salt is mostly table salt sodium chloride sodium ions are positively charged and attracted to negatively charged chloride ions water is polar meaning it's positively charged on one end and

Negatively charged on the other those Delta's represent partial charges this allows it to break sodium chloride crystals apart and then surround each ion forming ion dipole bonds and that's why I dissolve sodium chloride so well

These bonds are so strong that it takes a lot of energy to pry the water and the ions apart from each other today the most widely used large-scale way to create fresh water from seawater is by reverse osmosis

Unlike osmosis where fresh water would on its own rush toward a solution with a higher salt concentration like sea water reverse osmosis takes human intervention water from the ocean is pushed through membranes keeping out salt ions but

Allowing water molecules to pass through here's a reverse osmosis desalination plant in San Diego County this facility is North America's largest effort to turn seawater into fresh water every day they pump in a hundred million

Gallons of seawater and after desalination they can pump 50 million gallons of fresh water into the city reaching about 300,000 people okay so at this point you might be thinking wait a sec why are we talking

About reverse osmosis I know how to get fresh water from the ocean just boil it and then collect the steam that's called distillation and yeah it is a way to both purify and desalinate water you can heat sea water using fossil fuels or the

Sun until the water molecules begin to evaporate as the water vapor rises and comes in contact with a cool surface it condenses and what's collected is fresh water leaving salts and other minerals behind so why don't we just distill the

Ocean whenever we need some fresh water well the energy to separate water from salt has to come from somewhere and it turns out it takes less energy to do reverse osmosis on millions of gallons of water per day than to boil

Millions of gallons of water per day hydrogen atoms in water molecules are not only covalently bonded to their oxygen they're also attracted to the oxygens in other water molecules that's a lot of attraction and a lot of bonding

So when you boil water and vaporize those water molecules you're using a lot of energy to break those interactions when you're just forcing water through a membrane you don't have to worry about any of that so understandably reverse

Osmosis is the method of choice for bringing water to lots of people in an ideal world Elon Musk would whip up a solar array powerful and reliable enough to make reverse osmosis plants the method of choice for coastal areas but

We're just not good enough yet at harnessing the sun's energy people are working on it though maybe just not Elon honestly who knows where that guy's at Elon are you listening but the Sun can be useful if you're

Stranded on a desert island and happen to have one of these cute little stills oh look at this little guy but say Elon succeeds and we do have a money-saving zero-emissions desalination plant on our hands that still leaves out one very

Important part of the equation leftover salt so when we remove all that salt where do we put it one option is back to the ocean but if it isn't spread out across a large area it can be really bad for marine life

Super salty water is denser than your typical ocean water so as it sinks it can negatively affect creatures on the ocean floor to changes in salinity one option although used less often because it

Requires more work and equipment is to harvest the remaining salt and sell it so at the end of the day yes we have so much sea water that we never fear running out of it and that's a huge plus but the reality is that it often takes a

Lot of energy and money and in most places there are still other ways of getting freshwater for now

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