The first thing that might come to your mind when asked to think about water in India might be “monsoon,” the drenching season of downpours that is currently plaguing the country with devastating floods.
But India’s bigger problem with water is a deficit, not a surplus. According to UNICEF, the country is home to 16 percent of the world’s population and only 4 percent of its water resources. Demand is already outstripping supply, and surface water sources are being continually degraded from many different sources of pollution.
That leaves the nation’s groundwater supply to shoulder a heavy burden for a thirsty populace. While these underground sources are considerably cleaner than water that flows on the surface, they also contain significant amounts of dissolved salts that make them brackish. A recent report in the Journal Desalination claims that 60 percent of India’s land area sits atop such brackish waters.
These saline impurities leave the water less salty than the sea, but relying on it as a source of drinking water can still lead to long-term health impacts. Salty groundwater also doesn’t taste very good, pushing people to look for other sources that might actually be more harmful. What’s more, reverse-osmosis plants, the typical infrastructure used to purify saline water to make it fit for drinking, need a connection to the electric grid for power. Many parts of rural India lack such a power supply.
A recent report by MIT engineers analyzed the problem and found that an acceptable technological solution exists to clearing brackish waters of dissolved salts without needing a nearby electric grid.
California is now in the grips of a drought so extreme that 2014 already registers as the state’s third driest year in more than a century.
A July University of California, Davis study on the likely impacts of the emergency forecast that at least 410,000 acres of farmland would be forced to go idle for lack of water, a devastating blow to farmers that would result in more than $800 million in lost revenues this year.
Many of the high-value vegetables, fruits and nut trees will be spared from the worst of the draught—increased groundwater pumping will make up for the shortfall in significantly diminished surface water supplies. Cotton, grains and oil-producing crops like canola are taking it on the chin, though. Hundreds of thousands of acres are now mothballed until the water starts flowing again.
**Editor’s Note: There seems to be some confusion based on readers’ comments that this post is about researchers discovering electrolysis of water. That process has been known since the 18th century. This article is about research looking to make industrial-scale hydrogen gas from water using novel electrodes that diminish the amount of electricity and precious metals needed during electrolysis.**
Scientists have made a breakthrough in generating hydrogen gas fuel more efficiently by splitting water with smaller amounts of electricity.
Stanford University researchers report that they have disassembled water molecules into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen with the electromotive force of a single AAA battery. Both gaseous products are flammable and hydrogen is considered a viable power source for electricity production and vehicles. In fact, the first hydrogen fuel cell cars will be available for purchase in the US beginning in 2015.
The Stanford group also accomplished the low-power water splitting, a process called water electrolysis, without the expensive precious metals typically used. They put two electrodes in a beaker of water and sent current through them, which broke the liquid into the two gases.