Everyone has inspiration, moments that change the direction of their lives. Some of those change the course of history.
Its February 2015, the sun is shining, the kitchen window open. Its unseasonably warm. Those of us living in Santa Barbara who understand the importance of taking personal responsibility had buckets in our showers, tubs and sinks. We used the collected water to maintain our gardens and precious landscaping that remained. Lawns had long been replaced with succulents and cactus. A burgeoning business arose painting dead lawns green.
Bob had been following Nick Welsh’s coverage in the “Santa Barbara Independent” on the drought and restart of the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant; the political maneuvering to bypass the environmental regulations put into place since 1992 when it was dismantled and sold for scrap. Bob’s head pops up from the newspaper as he says,
“I think they are looking at this in the wrong way. Pressure is the driver for reverse osmosis,” filtering the salt and impurities from Ocean water to make fresh water.
Pressurizing the water to drive it through reverse osmosis filters results in the high energy requirement for desalination. We later learned about the economic and environmental cost to marine life at intake and the kill zones created surrounding outflow.
“Why not look to operating at depth? Why not approach this as a deep ocean water project.” That led to the “DOW” for “Deep Ocean Water” in our name: C+E=DOW Desalination.
Bob recounted the time, when in the late 1970’s, he and Andy McMullen were SCUBA diving beneath the offshore oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel. Andy and he were working under a 3-year contract documenting the marine eco-system as it developed beneath the newly installed Platform Hondo. The Hall Housing protecting their camera sprung a leak. At a depth of 120’ the housing filled up in no time at all. It destroyed the rough & tough favorite of war correspondents 16 mm Bell & Howell camera inside. Subsequently, Andy and Bob designed and built their own equipment for underwater exploration.
Bob continued with a story from “Half Mile Down,” by William Beebe. During the passenger-free test runs of his Bathysphere, the window of the submersible in which he undertook his world record breaking 3,000’ dive formed hairline crack. With the Bathysphere recovered onto the deck of its surface supply vessel, the crew released pressure from the hatch. It flew open with a force strong enough to shear bolts. Water sprayed out fast enough to have cut a crew member in half had they not all be standing to the side.
Maintain an enclosed cavity – camera housing or fresh water receiving tank – at atmospheric pressure. Immerse it in water deep enough for the ambient pressure, to drive water from outside into the cavity and you have…. What?! A Bilge Pump!
There is more to it than this, but at the heart of the initial inspiration is a water receiving tank. It is maintained at atmospheric pressure with a simple, but very long snorkel to the surface. Leading to the receiving tank is a series of reverse osmosis filters, through which the saltwater is driven naturally, by deep ocean pressure into the fresh water receiving tank.
Like the jet of water streaming from William Beebe’s Bathysphere, tweaked by the magic performed by our reverse osmosis engineers the filtered saline solution is dispersed at too high a rate to accumulate as it does in coastal waters. Operating in deep ocean water, below the plankton driven biomass of DVM, that discharge is less. It will not include the detritus, dead marine life, contaminating the outflow of existing coastal desalination.