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New Water Technology Headed for Parched Places

Capacitive deionization to debut in drought-struck Australia

3 min read

Next month an Australian-led coalition is expected to unveil a project to build experimental water-­purification reactors in drought-plagued ­northeastern Australia. Parched cities in Queensland and New South Wales are turning to ­capacitive deionization (CDI), an electric field�based water ­desalination technology that could make inland water desalination much more affordable. CDI has long been stuck in laboratories and ignored by municipalities, which have preferred a mechanical method called reverse osmosis. But worsening inland droughts, massive private funding, and an international research effort are giving the alternative desalination technology its big break. CDI’s backers say it will be on the market in 2009.

The dominant desalination technologies rely on membranes that frequently need replacement and cleaning. The most common, reverse osmosis, filters impurities by pushing pressurized water through a membrane. Another uses an electric field to drive the ions across a membrane.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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