Harnessing Natural Gas To Harvest Water From The Air Might Solve 2 Big Problems At Once

Scientists realized that millions of gallons of freshwater hover above every square mile, but they have never quite figured out how to bring the water down to Earth.

Oil drilling produces natural gas that often gets burned on the spot, going to waste. Photo by Eric Gay/AP.

One of the biggest freshwater reservoirs in the world is, literally, up in the air.

Between 6 and 18 million gallons of freshwater hover above every square mile of land, not counting droplets trapped in clouds. Scientists realized this centuries ago but they have never quite figured out how to bring the water down to earth. The effort required to condense it would consume such vast quantities of energy that it has always appeared to make any effort to capture and use this water uneconomical.

But while studying this topic, two of my University of Texas at Austin colleagues and I came up with a concept that might just work: that of using the natural gas that is otherwise flared from oilfields to harvest atmospheric moisture.

We haven’t given it a try yet but we believe it has the potential to be practical and economically viable, especially as water gets scarcer and more expensive. What’s more, the latest research about the extent of natural gas methane leaks and greenhouse gas emissions underscore why it is important to give this technology a shot.

Let there be water

Here’s how the process would work. Excess gas, that would otherwise go to waste, could power an engine of a big refrigeration unit. This industrial-scale refrigerator would swallow lots of humid air, condensing this moisture into water much like how the air conditioning systems operate in office and residential buildings.

The amount of water that could be collected would depend on the quantity of natural gas available, the weather and the refrigeration system’s efficiency. We project that for every cubic meter of gas, this process will capture up to 2.3 gallons of water.

Water for oil

There are many uses for this water, which we believe would be fit for human consumption, including food processing, mining, and other industries. I see many benefits to this approach to oil production, which is very water-intensive.

Drilling for oil and natural gas with hydraulic fracturing, a technique commonly called fracking, takes lots of water. On average, one well requires 2.5 million gallons of it, which is enough to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools. And there are more than a million of these wells in the U.S. alone.

Yet about half of the nation’s wells are in parched areas in Texas and other southern states.

And there are some oil patches, including the Eagle Ford in Texas, where water scarcity is making it challenging to produce oil.

Drilling sites are often remote, meaning frackers must haul water to wellpads in hundreds of trucks that have to travel 50 miles or more.

I have calculated that tapping excess gas to capture water would provide a fifth of the water used in fracking the parched Eagle Ford Shale region in South Texas.

A waste of energy

Worldwide, about 4% of the natural gas extracted from oil and gas fields gets flared, and this practice is common in the U.S. Add all this up, and it paints a disturbing picture of global waste and environmental pollution.

And we cannot see any environmental downsides to giving it a try.

It has to be hot

This technique would not work in many cold and dry places. It would work best in areas that are hot and humid, including Texas and other southern states in the U.S., Mexico, Venezuela, Middle East, and Africa year-round. And it might be viable for about half the year in cooler gas-producing oil patches like North Dakota’s Bakken Formation.

Interestingly, many regions with ample natural gas reserves have perpetual water scarcity and hot, humid climates. Examples include countries in the Middle East, Africa, the American Southwest, Mexico, and Venezuela.

There have been efforts to stop wasting the natural gas produced as a byproduct of oil drilling before. But when oil producers have sought to capture and sell the fuel, rather than flare it, they have mostly failed because they have been economically unviable.

I believe that this new approach would work better than mandating or encouraging the capturing of natural gas for other uses because it is easier to pull off. It also solves a separate problem at a time when water is becoming an increasingly valuable and scarce commodity.

The ConversationThere are other efforts to condense water in the air underway. For example, table-top atmospheric water harvesters powered by electricity are available for sale. This idea to do it on an industrial scale, therefore, is not as far-fetched as it may appear.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

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