Hey Bill Nye, ‘Can We Desalinate Water for Human Consumption on a Massive Scale?’ #TuesdaysWithBill


Hey Bill. This is Amy from Minnesota. I was
wondering if — when I was five years old I did this science experiment where we stuck
a stick in salt water and it made a crystal. I was wondering if there was, in terms of
desalinating water for human consumption, if there is a chemical compound that could
work as a catalyst for some sort of reaction and if we could do this on a massive scale? Amy, that is a fabulous question. Desalinization
of water could be the key to the future for so many of us humans. I’m fascinated with
this question. So you use the word catalyst, this would be a chemical that would enable
another chemical reaction, in general doesn’t affect the catalyst so you could reuse the
catalyst. Right now, as far as I know, there is no such thing. But two aspects of this
that are really important right now. The first one is not real and I cannot help but hearken
to a book by Kurt Vonnegut in which the characters creates something called Ice-nine where you
get water molecules to rearrange themselves. And the chemist who does this is fascinated
with the way cannonballs are stacked in statues or in memorials to people who fought wars
with cannons. That’s fictional but it is kind of a cool
idea. I won’t tell you what happens at the end of the book; it’s big fun. The real thing
that’s going on right now is people are able to take the salt out of salt water by forcing
the water backwards through a very fine filter, which generally is called a membrane, and
right now we call it osmosis. And osmosis is an old Greek word that means kind of happens
on its own. And so the classic example is to take an egg, take the shell off with vinegar
and then put the membrane contained egg in salt water and the water will go into the
egg and the egg will swell if it’s in salt water. If you put that same type of egg, naked
egg, in distilled water the egg embryo is slightly salty so the water will work it’s
way out and that egg will shrink. Anyway, people have found ways to make synthetic membranes
with things like Teflon and polyester and so on and you can pump, force the salt water
backwards through the membrane and leave the salt behind. And this is done all the time.
It’s done in Australia at several industrial scale citywide installations, San Diego, Carlsbad
California has one. And cruise chips and I guess the U.S. Navy exploit this technology
all the time, but Amy, people are trying this new material, which has come to become graphene.
And it’s just like graphite, it’s just like the thing that makes coal black or pencil
lead gray except this material now is one molecular layer thick and it has these amazing
properties. It’s fantastically strong when stretched longitudinally or in the same direction,
in the plane of the graphene. It’s crazy strong. And so people believe that the slip length,
as it’s called, of the salt water is longer than the thickness of this one molecule or
one atom thick graphene. So there’s hardly any pressure needed to get the water to flow
through the graphene leaving the salt behind and having fresh water come out on the other
side. Now the key to any of these processes is you have to filter the water first to take
out regular old particulates, regular old dust and sand, I exaggerate trash, you’ve
got to take that out before you run it through your reverse osmosis membrane or this new
being experimented with grapheme. But you are living at a time where this breakthrough
may be made on an industrial scale. And if we can do that Amy, it would change the world.
We could have all the clean water we wanted for everybody all over the world and we would
power the pumps with solar power, regular old photovoltaic solar cells, and when the
sun is not shining you don’t pump the water. So you pump the water when the sun is shining
and and you fill up reservoirs all over the world. And so humankind could, if this stuff
works out it could have access to clean water for the billions of us that need it. It’s
an exciting time Amy. Go get them. Become a chemical engineer or material scientist
and solve this problem.

100 thoughts on “Hey Bill Nye, ‘Can We Desalinate Water for Human Consumption on a Massive Scale?’ #TuesdaysWithBill

  1. Hate to correct Bill, but he has his egg analogy the wrong way around. Water will move from high water concentration (low solute concentration) to low water concentration (high solute concentration). So the if the egg is in saltwater then the water will move out of the egg into the saltwater, leaving a shrunken egg. In distilled water the water will move into the egg, leaving a swollen egg.

  2. Yes and no. It's far to expensive to do it on say a agricultural scale or drinking water scale. for the moment.

  3. I've always been a little confused about reverse osmosis. How do you know you are forcing it through backwards, and what would happen if you just sent it through forward?

  4. There are easier ways to get drinkable water. The problem is they require a lot of space, which might be the issue here. Technically all you need is to boil water and collect the steam. You can also just pump the water up a mountain and let it flow down to the bottom. The Rocks will filter it. But as said, that all requires a lot of space.

  5. Science much? An egg in distilled water absorbs water and expands not shrinks. Opposite with saline. So big deal, the Big Think guy has it exactly backwards.
    And while we're at it, catalysts only facilitate exothermic reactions. Separation of salt is endothermic.
    How did someone who knows so little about science become a spokesman for it?

  6. The big problem is with the waste product, which is high in salt and other minerals. On a small scale you can get away with dumping it in the ocean or landfill. But for large scale plants, it will be highly polluting. Also, desalination is energy intensive. It can be partially powered by solar, and possibly wind. So there still some serious issues to be solved, particularly the disposal.

  7. A Thorium LFTR's waste heat from a brayton cycle turbine can do that. Using the waste heat. In other words: for free.

  8. Bill! You're the man, but you need to revise your explanation about osmosis and the chicken egg… Got it backwards my friend! People really look up to you, so be your usual self and make sure your statements are accurate! Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill!

  9. Well it's one way to deal with rising sea levels…though I imagine it would be a drop in the bucket, but we could get good at wasting water. I mean, we're already masters at it after all.

  10. There is another pretty simple way of desalinating water. Boil it and then route the steam into a colder container where it condensates again. Only costs you a bit of energy.

  11. Aaand you end up with massively polluted seas, dead fish and increased polar melting.
    Desalination works, yes, but the ecological downsides make it morally questionable to use as a global system to get fresh water.

  12. its been done on a big scale for little money and offered to California (devestating draught over there..) but it was refused. go figure..
    cant remember name od the project though

  13. the problem is solved.. now just improve it and utilize it better…
    doc johnny
    bio chem engineer and vmd..
    sicily and congo…
    we use it in the sahara..

  14. he didnt really answer her question, right? not a native english speaker here maybe i didnt catch that.. but i would also like to know if there is a chemical way to desalinate water besided the heating thing and the here described reverse osmosis.

  15. In addition to fresh water reservoirs, we could build companion reservoirs at a lower level, and generate electricity by letting the water flow from the higher one to the lower one through turbines, then use solar or wind power to pump the water back up to the high one.

  16. Pipe the water up a mountain from the ocean and let it stream down. Use treated waste water for fire fighting.

  17. something to mention! it seems to me, that distilled water (and maybe reverse osmosis water) strips the body of needed minerals though. 🙁
    so maybe they'd want to reintroduce natural minerals later or find a way around it! because natural water in nature (unadulterated) seems to have necessary minerals in it for our wellbeing!
    just something to think about!
    🙂
    Have a beautiful day everyone!

  18. Bill Nye is a smart well experienced guy but I have to say some of these questions are well outside his normal expertise. It's weird he has yet to answer a question in the realm of aerospace mechanical engineering.

  19. There's a large machine if you will that boils salt water and collect the steam which becomes fresh water on a large scale.

  20. what about that on demand water purifier that used distillation. It saved on engery by using the purified steam to heat the unpurified water?

  21. Desalination is very easy to do actually, if you have cheap and abundant energy source. Any method of desalination, either thermal or through osmosis requires a lot of energy. Long term, nuclear power is probably the only technology that can provide that kind of energy. Bill Nye is a smart guy but he has been full of shit, when it comes to capabilities of solar, many times in the past. Solar panels can't produce enough power to desalinate water on global scale, Bill.

  22. I don't know if this is just high thinking but I've wondered if you could boil salt water on a massive scale with the steam going through a filtered tube to another container. I'm not sure if it can't be done or just not cost effective.

  23. Wouldn't membranes get clogged with all the salt they're removing from the water? How would you go about making sure the membrane is kept clear?

  24. Shout out to Bill Nye I loved science class in high school cause when we only had to do one of your videos and a Q&A.I was like thank you bill for that classroom assignment.If i remember correctly i had to sign a paper when we were disecting frogs.I was like nope thats gross. i think we had to a Q/A paper on something you tought.So for all those times getting me out of complicated science classes that some of them i didnt quite understand.thanks Bill Nye for helping me graduate

  25. i love how at the end he tells her that she could even solve the problem. its nice to be reminded that the scientists and engineers who make these breakthroughs are regular people just like you and I

  26. I think it would be easier to eliminate pollution from the fresh water supply so desalination would not be necessary.

  27. Finally a question that is so practical for the coming world problems. Not that I don't like the others. It is just that this one is so topical.

  28. We can certainly desalinate salt water, there are plenty of large-scale plants to do that (for example, one in San Diego), but probably only sufficient for human consumption. Traditionally this process is fairly expensive due to the energy required to push the water through the membrane (high pressure is needed). Presumably new membranes can be invented which take less energy, but desalination creates additional problems when done in high volumes.

    The problem here in that the effluent from this process is going to have extreme levels of salinity, enough to effect the local ocean environment near where you are doing it. It's fine for a ship to do it, the volumes are very low and the ship is often moving. But for a fixed installation it can create serious local environmental issues. So in order for this to work there has to be an ocean current at play or some sort of environmental cycle (such as discharging low-salinity treated sewage effluent nearby by down-current) that can deal with the left overs.

    For example, there is a proposal for a desalination plant in Monterrey Bay that is hitting up against the concentrated salinity issue for the bay.

    Natural fresh water comes from storms which suck the water up from the ocean over a very wide area. The total amount of salt wrung out is approximately the same, but the environmental effect is extremely dilute and the full multi-year environmental cycle can thus take care of it.

    -Matt

  29. Bill, thank you for this video and your efforts in bringing science knowledge to the masses. However, desalinization is not a word. (0:35) I hate to see you lose credibility on the easy things, like pronunciation. Also, I think you may have your wires crossed on the the egg experiment. I wish you the best in your new internet era fame.

  30. Desalination is sufficient enough to meet domestic water needs. It's not suitable or economic enough for agriculture or industry.

  31. It's called "reverse osmosis" and it is used to create very pure water for use in the semiconductor industry. Too expensive for use by the common man. I like the idea of solar distillation either on a massive scale or small scale. Each house hold could have a small solar still to make enough water for the day. If you are in an area away from the ocean (and fresh water rivers or aquifers) then it is a more difficult problem. But perhaps we could build a water pipeline just as we build oil pipelines.

  32. The likes of Cola and other huge water consuming industries who believe they own all the water on earth will find ways to make you pay for it. Ways to make you pay until you bleed !! And the weak incompetent filth we keep calling "government" will stand in awe and do NOTHING!

  33. Pure water is extremely difficult. So many things have to be removed from any kind of water available even Antarctica. Because huge factories and oil drilling and mining did that what is the point of return.

  34. Wouldn't any kind of worldwide scale desalination potentially have environmental challenges itself? Redistributing large quantities of separated pure water vs concentrated salt and waste could damage coastal habitats near desalination plants.

  35. I always wondered why we don't' pump sea water into the Desert. Take the Sahara for example. Pump the water into the desert and create huge lakes that will evaporate and create humidity in the air. That should create more moisture. I would think a lot of the water would get filtered into the sand and by the time it reaches the ground water the salt will be all filtered out.

  36. Writing a paper. Sorry, but after i watched the vid, I paused you mid sentence and played david bowie in the background. No one noticed.
    Life hacked

  37. It still costs energy.
    Solve the energy by making more nuclear energy systems in coastal areas and you can simply distill water like it's nothing. Energy is the most important thing in our economy. Energy is everything. It is the future of our race. Focus on energy that's the only reason water still costs money is energy is too expensive.

  38. Too cool you can use ocean wave power to pump water through desalination plants and give water, and grow plants in now almost waterless regions… Fresh water accounts for an estimated 1 percent of the world's water…hello ocean! And ocean wave power!
    And cold water for geo/thermal cooling… of whatever needs cooling!

    Maybe a comet or star crashed into the sun and that is why the desert of Egypt containing sea shells is no more an ocean but a sea bed without the water, and now the Nile remains, the largest river, this thawing planet is thawing at a slightly accelerated rate, but everyone can filter salt water from the ocean…and have fresh clean water. Maybe after losing part of the sun it'll be cooler, when maybe it got hotter one day if/when another star(s) or comets made the sun hotter.

    Maybe the black hole on the surface of the sun is the core of another star that collided into it, maybe there isn't a 'second sun,' but the mass that blew off (?)

    But maybe we can continue to be smarter than saying, 'im stuck in my environment…and so it must be…just like this…' And so it HAS been , so sad.

    Who can make fresh water out of the salt? Or make clean from that which is unclean? Sounds literal.
    People laugh at some very possible ideas, perhaps some laughed at Einstein and what he said, whatever floats your theoretical mass, may the future love the ocean and drink it, and grow farms from it. Have a drink, on RO-ni mostly = fresh water to drink! … With maybe still just enough salt to keep you going…

    Lots of people died in the Grand Canyon from dehydration, not because they didn't have water, but because they didn't have enough salt, so instead of hydrating they flushed out. If you have too much salt in the diet without enough water to flush it out of the liver, it will scratch and scar the tissue and render that much incapable of filtration… Liver needs oxygen from water. Way too much salt and you chlorinate yourself. What a interesting balance for life on this planet, hey, make the ocean work for you…it already kind of does, or maybe it just works for this planet and no one has really mastered the seas… as much as they still can, or bottle from somewhere else. What a flowing thing

    If everyone drinks from the ocean we'll no longer consider re-drinking sewage river water 'reclaimng' it, gross. Sewage water should probably be taken to fields anyway

  39. Is it just me or did he get his egg osmosis analogy backwards? The point of osmosis is that the water will move along the concentration gradient (so net transfer of water from the lower concentrated solute side to the higher concentration, and the net movement will continue until equilibrium is achieved or the container bursts

  40. there used to be this show here in Australia called "the aussie bushman" he basically showed ways to survive in Australias harsh environment. Anyways, he took salt water and boiled it. all the salt spat up above the water to form this ring around it. He said as long as your water doesnt touch that ring of salt its pretty good to drink…… is that true?

  41. Mr. Nye, A hypothetical question from a Sci fi writer. If an alien race came from a home planet which has zero gravity and were to land on earth, what might be some Of The effects our gravity might have on them.?

  42. Read the Bible, the Earth is flat with a firminant Bill.

    BTW, get your reflux seen to, by a Christian doctor that still cares.

  43. You can pump the water using the power of the ocean , the waves can move mechanical arms that pump hydraulic generators

  44. What if we could spread sheets, maybe miles long and wide of perhaps recycled plastics, that could capture evaporated water from the ocean…imagine if the whole ocean, or a majority of it was canopied this way…it would take zero energy to collect the fresh water; the only energy needed would be for transportation…solar and hydro powered pumps could then be utilized…is this a realistic solution?

  45. Young woman: Asks question.
    Bill Nye: Talks about the wondrous time we live in when we 'may' experience a breakthrough.
    The short answer: 'No.'

  46. I sold pumps on a massive desalinisation plant in Saudi Arabia in the ‘90’s. I never understood why all countries didn’t adopt it.

  47. You got it backwards dumbass. The process will move LESS salty water to MORE salty water. And people LISTEN to you… fucking idiot. Egg in salty water SHRINKS. Egg in pure water GROWS. For fuck's sake… it is as basic as membranes get. This experiment was done in like SECOND grade. How can you make such a simple mistake? Oh, that's right. You're a fucking actor.

  48. i had heard filter from 700 club and arbic countries. what i heard more of deseret areas use heat evaporate water out but capture moster let slide tank slanted plastic roof. example if put salt water in green house. over time water gone see wall or in plants grow. bowl salt left over.

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