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California is sucking millions of gallons of water from the ocean. The purpose of this is for a process known as desalination. The basis of the process of desalination is to get clean drinking water in places where there are a lot more people than in other parts of the world. The process of desalination is a great solution for the problem of there not being enough clean drinking water in the world, but the process of desalination has its own problems. Those problems need to be fixed before the process of desalination can be used for the better.
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Desalination is the process of changing salt water into drinking water. It is very useful in parts of the world with a higher number of population and not a lot of water. This is because desalination plants can suck millions of gallons of salt water from the ocean and use different processes, depending on the desalination plant type, to create hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of clean drinking water. The type of desalination plant matters to how the water is used and how much water will eventually come out of the plant in the end of the process of desalination. Desalination plants are becoming a new technology, and humans like new technology. Humans are slowly entering the age of water shortage, and if humans keep using water at the rates they do, the supply of water will be gone by 2090 (Li, Yang, Shi, and Hu 6) Desalination is definitely a solution for this problem because it takes the water which is undrinkable for humans and makes it not toxic and perfectly clean for them. Desalination plants are being built worldwide in places such as Saudi Arabia, Spain, Australia, California, and Texas. This is because populations are dense, so they suck up more water than say Nebraska or Yugoslavia. If the process of desalination does not change, we will be dealing with another crisis. (Li, Yang, Shi, and Hu 6) What happens if this very solution of making saltwater into drinking water that is saving lives, also destroy lives?
People need the environment to live, so it is wise that they do not harm the environment like they used to do and still do without consequences. The ultimate consequence will be when all of the plants and animals are dead, and humans can no longer survive on the planet. This is an extreme consequence, and it never will have to get that far as long as someone steps up and takes action to stop harming the environment. The question is how humans stop harming the environment. It is a simple question, but the answer is one step at a time. The first step could very well be desalination plants because desalination plants are simply converting seawater into drinkable water that will not kill the people who drink it. It makes sense to fix the thing that can eventually save thousands of lives in places such as Saudi Arabia, Africa, and the United States. All desalination plants need are simple fixes, but if they are not fixed, then the plants are not useful enough for the price that it costs to build. (Handman par 4) Why not fix these easy fixes and move on to the next problem to help the environment?
The people of this world need an environment to live in, so why would people not want to help save it? This topic of desalination has been controversial for several reasons. The first one is because some people in California got a desalination project to fix where it got it water from, so they were not hurting any sea life. The second is because people love the environment and want to help it by protesting water desalination plants because of the harm they do, and the final and most important reason is because desalination plant owners do not want to spend the money to fix these small problems.
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The process of desalination is also very harmful to the environment because of the production of brine, the distribution of the brine, the way the water is retrieved, the amount of energy used, and the amount of oil used to run the desalination plants, but there are solutions such as solar and wind powered desalination plants, retrieving water under the sea floor, and microbial non-nucleus process of desalination.
To start off with, the first problem that is not as major as some of the others. Brine is, sodium chloride in water. (Katz 609) This water basically has a lot of salt in it. The problem of where to put it is because it can be lethal to humans and animals. If humans or animals come into contact with it, it is okay, but it is only lethal when a human or an animal intakes it through eating it or drinking it. Humans know not to eat or drink something that they find in a landfill, but animals do not. The importance of removing the brine safely is because humans need animals to survive in this world and they are starting to be killed off because they are getting into brine that is not removed of properly, so in other words, the problem remains where to dump this brine. They cannot put it into the ocean because it will kill the sea life, but they also cannot put it where humans and other animals can easily get to it either. This leaves owners of these desalination plants to usually leave the brine from reverse osmosis in landfills or random places where humans and animals can obtain it. This is a big problem. Another problem that reverse osmosis does is not only removes salt molecules from the water, but it removes bacteria. Some of that bacteria humans actually need. Some bacteria is bad. That is the kind that make humans sick, but there is also good bacteria that help human’s immune systems. By taking basically all of the bacteria out of the water, humans do not receive as much of that bacteria that is needed to build immune systems and fight off bad bacteria. (Katz 609) This can be very dangerous to humans in the long and short run.
That crisis that was mentioned earlier is because the desalination plants and the process of desalination are harmful to the environment. The process of desalination at the various desalination plants varies, but the majority of them use the process known as reverse osmosis which was mentioned before. This process is very energy intensive. Reverse osmosis is a form of technology that uses a semipermeable membrane. This membrane will help remove the big particles in the water to make it safe to drink. “In reverse osmosis, an applied pressure is used to overcome osmotic pressure, a colligative property that is driven by chemical potential, a thermodynamic parameter.” (Jones 1031) This applied pressure is simply using more water to pressure out the other water. This is very energy intensive which causes very big problems like the production of brine. The production of brine then causes the problem of where to put that brine. Fighting water with water seems like a weird thing to do, but using that much energy to fight water with water is ridiculous. It needs to be dealt with because humans cannot afford to use that much energy. The world is going green and the only way to go green is to stop doing the things that make the world go black and become a giant landfill. If there was another way to do the desalination process, that would help the situation.
There are more than one process of desalination in this world, and another process of desalination is powered by heat. Basically, diesel generators are used to provide heat, but they tend to burn out at 30-40%. (Pernia and Diaz 2) If a distilled membrane system is hooked up to the diesel generator, the generator can fully work to use lots of energy, heat, and oil to complete the process of desalination. This process uses twice as much energy as reverse osmosis, and this type of desalination plant uses five times as much oil as reverse osmosis plants. The oil is not only used for the plant, but also it is used for the generators which does the process of desalination. This process also creates twice as much brine as reverse osmosis as well, but low-temperature thermal desalination uses just as much energy as heat powered and creates twice as much brine than heat powered desalination. This process uses a cooling vacuum to lower the temperature of the sea water, but before they cool the water, they boil it. After the water cools, it is pumped through coils to condense water. After all of this is done, the product is clean drinking water. This process also is very useless because if a desalination plant were to pull a million gallons of water from the ocean, they would only receive a third of that through clean drinking water because during the boiling and cooling stages, a lot of water ends up evaporating and disappearing. (Pernia and Diaz 4)
Desalination plants do not only have a problem with brine and how much energy is being used by the different processes of desalination. They also have problems with retrieving the water. Some use a big vacuum pipe in the ocean, but this can kill sea life. The sea life can get caught in the pipe and basically the life gets sucked out of the animal. (Hui, Liu, and Song 2) A desalination plant in California called Poseidon came up with a solution for this by putting a mesh net over the pipe. People in California were still not convinced that this would not help sea life. The people figured that sea life would still find a way to get sucked into the big vacuum pipe. The Poseidon Project figured out that it was not harmful for the sea life because the holes in the mesh net were so tiny that no sea life could fit through them, but it was harmful for the desalination plant because starfish and such would block the holes by attaching onto the net. This made it harder to retrieve the water needed to keep the plant up and running. (Nazar)
Other desalination plants use various ways of retrieving water such as using a pipe sitting in the ocean that does not have the ability to suck in water. This process of retrieving water is still killing sea life because sea life can just swim right into the pipe and get caught. This process does not use as much energy as the Poseidon Project’s process because there is no vacuum suction. This process simply lets the natural waves of the ocean progress into the pipe. This is also counterproductive for the desalination plant because it is not getting as much water as needed in a shorter amount of time. The Poseidon Project get twice as much water as desalination plants with this kind of water retrieval in a couple hours (Nazar)
The next problem that desalination plants have is that desalination plants use too much oil. Oil is used for a number of things in desalination plants. The process of desalination is one of those things, but it is not the main reason for the use of this oil. Oil is being used for the plant itself. It gets used to keep the pumps going and to keep the building up and running. Oil is not something humans can just make more of, and the more desalination plants use, the less humans have to use on important things like houses and cars. Desalination plant owners will say without this oil there is no way to power everything in the building. (Gupta, Mehta, and Dhingra 9) This is a false statement because new technologies have been developed that are better for the environment than using oil.
The first technology and solution to one of the many problems with desalination plants is wind power. Wind turbines will sit outside of the desalination plants, and the wind will generate power for the desalination plants. This would work very well in places such as Saudi Arabia because they are always having dust storms which is essentially the sand from the desert being blown around in very strong winds. The other technology is solar energy. Solar plates are put on the building and generate power to perform the desalination process. This process can be used basically anywhere because the sun comes out every day. The current issue with solar and wind power energies is because it can be expensive. There is even a solution for this because as solar and wind energies are becoming more and more common, the prices are dropping. (Young, Jong, and Yu 391) If desalination plants would take the little more expensive route, they could take away a lot of their problems with the process of desalination.
People protested The Poseidon Project. They wanted to better the environment and not hurt the innocent animals in the ocean who have no idea what is going on except that their home is now gone. Looking at this from another prospective though, it is very costly to fix what has already been done. Desalination plant owners who already have pipes that are harming sea life do not have the money to just stop collecting their water that way and change basically the biggest part of their desalination process. Desalination plant owners want to help the environment just as much as anyone else, but they are completely against helping the environment this way because they cannot afford to just drop what they already have and pay for something new. Not only in the fact that they would have to figure out a new way of retrieving water, but because they would have to use wind turbines or solar panels to create energy as to not use so much oil. Solar panels are very expensive. Not only would they have to pay the expensive prices for the panels themselves, they would also have to pay for other people to put those panels on the buildings. That is a lot of money. Some would say just do the wind turbine, but they do not know that wind turbines cost twice as much money as putting solar panels on one and a half desalination plants. (Barringer par 5) The wind turbines also do not pay off as well because unless the desalination plant is in somewhere like the Middle east or the Windy City, Chicago, there is no way to estimate how much wind they will receive. That is an extreme amount of money. Desalination plant owners are the key to getting a better grasp on the way that desalination is done, and how to fix the problems at hand.
The solution for high energy use and the production of brine is new technology done in the field of science. Multi-chamber microbial desalination, or non-nucleus desalination, is the solution to high energy use and brine production. “A five-chamber microbial desalination cell (MDC) with anode, cathode, one central desalination chamber and two concentrate chambers separated by ion exchange membranes was operated in batch mode for more than 60 days.” (Pradham and Ghangrekar 1948) This means that the process of desalination per batch takes sixty days. The average time for reverse osmosis or heat-powered desalination can range from thirty to ninety days. With this form of desalination has five “chambers” or things to do with the water. Basically, anaerobic cells go through the first two “chambers” this takes oxygen out of the water which in return takes out most of the salt. In the third “chamber” the process creates minimal amount of brine which is the only brine that comes from the process. They add a little pressure in the final “chamber” and this finishes the job by removing bad bacteria and the last little bits of salt. Basically, this pressure squeezes out the salt and bacteria. This process uses very little energy and produces very little brine. (Rish and Kurtz 2) The bacteria that comes out of the water is only bad bacteria that humans do not need. It keeps the good bacteria in the water which in return will help humans out even more. Environmentalists and some scientists are pushing to get this form of desalination into desalination plants to save the environment.
To go along with the non-nucleus desalination and how it reduces brine, two men by the names of Grossman and Cohen, came up with a way to get rid of brine. They sector off a little section to dump the brine where it is not able to get to by animals and humans. They are currently working on a chemical that will break down the sodium chloride filled water, so the brine will not have to be sectored off. It will simply be destroyed. (Cohen and Grossman 3) As of right now, this is the only way of getting rid of brine that has been alright and not harmful to animals and humans. Others have tried to find a way, but none have worked like this plan before.
The Poseidon Project came up with a new way of retrieving water that is not harmful to sea life. They put the large pipe that was above the ocean floor with the mesh net over it underneath the ocean floor. This vacuums the water through the sand which helps some of the process of desalination because the sand will take a hold of some of the salt and keep it as the water is being pulled into the pipe. (Nazar) Basically, half of the process of desalination is done. This means that the process itself does not take as long to do, and there will not be as much brine or energy produced or being used. If desalination plant owners were to do this, then they would not have to spend a ton of money to get rid of the pipe or to drop everything. They would only have to pay people to dig. This ends up paying off in the end because this process was found to help the process of desalination move faster. Therefore, the process of desalination moves faster, and the plant can make more clean drinking water which will bump up the sales for the plants. When the sales get bumped up for the plant, then they have more money to use to find a cheaper, easier, more environmental friendly way of making clean drinking water which in return will bump up more sales. It will turn into a Kaplan University commercial where it is one big circle. The Poseidon Project learned how to make their process a little more environmental friendly, but they also found a way to help themselves out in the process. If desalination plant owners would learn to do the same, there would not be a need for college kids to write arguments on why they should change their ways. In the end, the people of California were satisfied with this process because there was not any sea life being harmed.
Desalination is harmful for the environment because of production of brine, how to get rid of the brine, how the water is retrieved, energy intensive, and use of oil, but the solutions are solar and wind powered energies, new ways of retrieving water, and non-nucleus desalination. Desalination may be a solution to a major problem that is not having enough clean drinking water, but the process of desalination has many more problems of its own. These problems outweigh any of the good that the desalination is doing for the world. Basically, once those problems are fixed for the better, then the bigger problem of there not being enough clean drinking water can be looked into and hopefully solved. This is the only way to ensure the safety of the generations to come. The only way to help the environment is by taking actions and stopping the desalination plant owners from taking advantage of their power and destroying the beautiful earth that humans live on.
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