“All the water that will ever be is, right now.” National Geographic, October 1993″
We go through life trusting technology will solve all our problems. Most of you are familiar with the quote above describing water as a limited resource. Recently, during some presentations I was making, I learned a large part of the population thinks the solution to water scarcity is to make more water. This really got me thinking will technology solve the water problem by making more water?
How do you make water?
Water is a basic molecule made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – H2o. So at first it seems simple, just mix some hydrogen with oxygen and you solve one of the biggest issues facing mankind. Too bad it is not that easy. If we just mix them together they will remain in their current states separate but together. What you need is for these atoms to actually connect and to get them to connect you need a spark, literally. Or a quick burst of energy to get the atoms to join. If you have seen the movie Martian you saw astronaut Mark Watney (played by Water.org Co-Founder Matt Damon) make water on Mars. He reduced hydrazine to its component gases using small sparks to produce water. Here is a video showing how to make water from burning hydrogen and oxygen created in the desert in Utah at the Mars Society Desert Research Station.
What’s the problem with making water?
There is a large amount of energy created when you spark hydrogen and oxygen and the potential resulting explosion can cause lots of damage. The Hindenburg disaster is an example of what could go wrong. The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, and there was lots of oxygen surrounding it in the air. The spark from static electricity on the hydrogen and oxygen caused a huge explosion. Creating structures to make this process safe would cost too much money and take too many resources to be practical. In this interview, Martian author Andy Weir, recognizes the way Mark Watney made water on Mars is not viable. He recognizes the temperature increase resulting from sparking the hydrazine would have roasted Mark. Today we have excellent technology to reduce water consumption, but growing demand for food is putting additional pressure to create more and better technology for water. Moving forward we need to better utilize the current technology for water management. There are many good products available that have not been widely adapted. We also need to invest additional time and money in new technological advancements. It wasn’t too many years ago the thought of creating energy from sparking gasoline inside a combustion chamber was impractical. However, with current technology not being fully utilized making water is just not a viable option.