At the surface level, this seems like a very simple question. Considering the fact that about 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, it is one of the most abundant resources on the planet. So if water is so abundant, what’s the deal with this whole global water crisis? Why do 780 million people in the world not have access to clean drinking water? Why do 3.4 million people die each year from drinking contaminated water? With 97.3% of the water on the planet too salty for consumption, and another 2% locked up as polar ice, only .5% remains as fresh, potentially drinkable water. In this context, the question of whether water is abundant takes on a new meaning. Considering that less than 1% of water is available for consumption, it is much easier to justify all of the violence, disease and death that is a direct result of this scarcity. Recently, I finished reading the book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis. Throughout the book, Diamandis examined some of the most innovative water-related technologies and discussed how they are paving the way for a world with abundant water for everyone.
Innovators are people who do not accept the status quo. They challenge conventional wisdom and find creative solutions to everyday problems. Peter Diamandis presented a great lesson that we have learned through the innovations surrounding aluminum. In the 1800s, aluminum was considered the most valuable metal in the world. Its rarity can be explained by chemistry, given that aluminum never appears in nature as a pure metal. In reality, behind oxygen and silicon, aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 8.3% of the weight of the world. The only problem was figuring out how to extract the aluminum from the Earth’s crust. In 1886, a new breakthrough technology known as electrolysis was discovered, which uses electricity to liberate the aluminum from its naturally occurring form called bauxite. With this innovative technology, suddenly everyone on the planet had access to vast amounts of cheap, light, pliable metal. The lesson to be learned here is that technology is a resource-liberating mechanism, which can make the once scarce the now abundant.
Returning back to the topic of water, it is not difficult to see how the example of aluminum abundance could relate to our current situation with fresh water. As an innovator, I refuse to accept the conventional idea that we only have access to less than 1% of the water on the planet. Just as electrolysis liberated aluminum from the Earth’s crust, so too will technology allow us to tap into the 97% of water that is held in our oceans. Personally, I believe that access to clean drinking water is one of the most important issues facing humanity today. One of my goals in life is to make an impact towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals that have been outlined by the United Nations. As I continue my research regarding these development goals, I have come to realize that access to clean drinking water is at the very root of almost all of our problems. Fortunately, I am not the only person to make this realization, given that many innovative technologies are emerging in this field.
Although there are many water-related technological breakthroughs, I would like to discuss the two that have given me the most hope and inspiration. The first is a water distillation device called the Slingshot, about the size of a dorm-room refrigerator, named for the technology that David used to bring down Goliath. Although distillation technology has existed for many years, the reason that the Slingshot is so revolutionary is that it has 98% energy recovery. To put that in perspective, the current version can purify 250 gallons of water a day using the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer. In his video, Dean Kamen explains the potential impact of his invention:
Along with the Slingshot, there is another innovative technology, which uses a slightly different method of producing safe drinking water. Rather than purifying water through a process of distillation, the Lifesaver bottle uses a very advanced filtration processes to produce safe drinkable water. The Lifesaver bottle is revolutionary because it is able to filter at a much smaller scale than previous filtration systems, allowing it to remove all waterborne pathogens in seconds. Inventor, Michael Pritchard, demonstrated his confidence in the device during his TED Talk, “How to make filthy water drinkable”:
With a combined global effort, achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without access to clean drinking water is well within our reach. As the Slingshot and the Lifesaver bottle have demonstrated, innovative technologies are capable of turning the once scarce into the now abundant. Water is one of the most fundamental human needs, and without it, life simply could not exist. The lack of clean drinking water is at the very root of many of the problems faced by humanity; therefore finding a solution to our water crisis should be our top priority. The day when every person on this planet has access to clean drinking water will mark a very triumphant time for our species…and that time may not be that far away.
-Taylan and AK Continue reading