Fresh water is essential for human life. However, it only accounts for 2.5 percent of all water sources on the planet’s surface. The remaining surface water, which covers nearly three-quarters of the world, comes from our salty seas and oceans. An exploding human populace might see the ocean as an endless source of drinking water, but converting it into a potable source is a challenge. The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) in Santa Monica, California, has developed a massive desalinator to do just that.
Human populations have grown immensely since the Industrial Revolution. Take for instance Europe, whose population went from 100 million people to 400 million people from 1700 to 1900 CE, and since has skyrocketed to its 2016 population of ~740 million inhabitants. While similar figures occurred across all developed nations, the demand for fresh water has also more than septupled. Despite few fresh sources, water scarcity is complicated by pollution effects like industrial effluent.
“The device can generate 10,000 MWh of power and turn 4.5 billion liters (1.5 billion gallons) of salt water into fresh drinking water per year.”
Land art Generator Initiative: The Pipe
One water scarcity solution lies in converting saline ocean water into fresh drinking water. Another problem arises, however, as the conversion requires massive amounts of energy.
While not proposed as a solution to water scarcity problems, LAGI has constructed a part-art-installation part-machine platform known as The Pipe off the coast of Santa Monica, California. The Pipe is just one of the initiative’s Land Art Generators, which LAGI says are supposed to:”
- Capture energy from nature and cleanly convert it into electricity
- Pay back their environmental footprint and construction cost by producing kilowatt-hours of energy that offset existing uses
- Create a unique experience for the public and stimulate an increase in visitors to the site (power plants as tourist attractions!)
- Create places for leisure and learning
- Do not negatively impact the environment
- Increase livability of communities”
The Pipe uses solar energy to desalinate water. The device can generate 10,000 MWh of power and turn 4.5 billion liters (1.5 billion gallons) of salt water into fresh drinking water per year.
The Pipe is exceedingly efficient but also aesthetically pleasing.
Above, solar panels provide power to an electromagnetic filter housed below the “pool deck.” This filtration system produces a healing salt bath on deck and sends thousands of gallons of clean drinking water to the city at the same time.
Given the Paris Climate Accord‘s goal to lower global average temperature within 1.5-2 degrees celsius of preindustrial levels, the co-founders of the initiative Rob Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian say The Pipe has come at “an important time.” Their design is just one of thousands of worldwide renewable energy investments that must be made to reach this goal.
The Pipe’s Efficiency
LAGI co-founders write of The Pipe: “What results are two products: pure drinkable water that is directed into the city’s primary water piping grid, and clear water with twelve percent salinity. The drinking water is piped to shore, while the salt water supplies the thermal baths before it is redirected back to the ocean through a smart release system, mitigating most of the usual problems associated with returning brine water to the sea.”
California, as of 2010, consumes 38 billion gallons of water per day. At 1.5 billion gallons of drinking water produced per year, recreating LAGI’s artful design may not be a practical way to provide the brunt of daily water needs. However, LAGI’s goal is more multifaceted than just the production of clean energy drinking water.