By applying old-school technology in a symbiotic manner, we can protect the planet and stimulate economic growth in drought-stricken areas.
Reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plants and pumped hydro energy storage and generation systems share two important location criteria—proximity to a large water source, such as an ocean, and 500+ meters of elevation to provide the pressure needed for energy storage and desalination. Under those conditions, wind and solar power systems can feed excess energy to a hydropower system for future use. The overlap of those two criteria is compelling to MIT Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering Alex Slocum. “Many drought-stricken coastal regions have mountains nearby that would provide the ideal elevation for both types of facilities,” he says. “The savings achieved by collocating these two types of plants could speed the adoption—and broaden the benefits—of such environmentally friendly systems.”
To explore that hypothesis, Slocum proposed an MIT-Israel Seed Fund grant project to evaluate the potential collocation of an RO desalination facility and a pumped hydropower plant in the northern Red Sea region to serve the cities of Eilat, Israel and Aqaba, Jordan. The scheme was envisioned in the early 1990s by Professor Masahiro Murakami of the University of Tokyo. Slocum carried it into the 21st century by working out the details and creating an economic model that demonstrated contemporary viability. He then created a team to take the idea to the planning phase.
In Israel, the IPHROS (Integrated Pumped Hydro Reverse Osmosis System) team included Professor Jacob Karni (Weizmann Institute), Professor Avi Kribus (Tel Aviv University), and Professor Emeritus Gershon Grossman (Technion). The IPHROS team in Jordan comprised Dr. Munjed Al-Sharif (German Jordan University), Dr. Wa’il Abu-El-Sha’r, (Jordan University of Science and Technology), and Dr. Yahya Majali and Dr. Hani Mulki (Office of HRH Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II). “Over the course of several months, we collaborated in various subgroups face-to-face and remotely to size the system and evaluate potential locations,” Slocum explains. “Geographic, economic, and local zoning considerations all factored into our process. We also worked together to help build relationships.”
To provide a single person’s ideal daily power (1 kW) and freshwater needs (500 liters) requires 10 cubic meters of seawater for storing excess energy from solar and wind farms and one cubic meter of seawater for the RO plant. The brine gets diluted at 20:1 with the output of the power turbine. “Each square kilometer of pumped seawater from a reservoir 500 meters above sea level can serve two million people twenty-four hours a day at a total cost of $5-$10/watt of installed power,” Slocum says. “This means that we can supply all the power and fresh water a person may need with renewables and a minimal carbon footprint for $5-$10k per person—quite economical when compared to the $100k per person that public assistance programs might spend to assimilate refugees into European countries.”
Political changes have put this particular project on hold for now, according to Slocum. “But having been on the ground and worked with people in the area, we all recognized that this is a viable solution that will help revitalize the region and save the planet”. Ultimately, this MISTI-sponsored collaboration isn’t just about one particular project. It forms the basis for strengthening relationships with global experts in this technology and creating the foundation for similar projects.” Slocum and his team are using insights from the Red Sea initiative to help establish the feasibility of projects for more than a dozen locales, including regions as diverse as Southern California, Ensenada (Mexico), Oahu (Hawaii), Lima (Peru), Iquique (Chile), Taba (Egypt), and the Caspian Sea (Iran).
Read free downloads of published papers that describe the IPHROS idea in detail and how the oil industry can use alternatives to carbon taxes (ACT) to help finance such systems while transforming themselves into energy companies of the future.