Oneka Wave-Powered Buoys
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Oneka wave-powered buoys are made from 170,000 recycled plastic bottles, reducing the ecological cost of desalination drastically. The wave-powered buoys float in the ocean and run on mechanical power from waves. It is capable of generating nearly 13,000 gallons (53,000 liters) of fresh water a day with the minimal discharge of concentrated salty brine other designs.

There is less fresh water on Earth compared to salt water. If you take all of the freshwaters that’s stored in icy glaciers, you’re left with just 1%. And although we live on the wettest planet in the solar system, many people still face severe shortages and lack of access to potable water.

With the effects of climate change getting worse and our global population nearing eleven billion, water scarcity is going to increase. Desalination technology will become more necessary and much more adaptable.Oneka Wave-Powered Buoys_1There are some serious issues when it comes to scaling up current desalination methods and we need to work on changing this situation. When scaling up desalination requires a lot of energy as we transform filthy energy to clean energy. Additionally, many land-based industrial desalination plants take in large amounts of salt water before removing most of the water and pumping a highly-concentrated brine back into the ocean. This contaminates it with chemicals that are used for pre-treatment of the water and to keep equipment clean. The heavy, salty discharge seeps onto the sea floor and can cause ecological damage.

The need for desalination facilities around the world is higher than ever before. That’s why Oneka’s wave-powered floating desalination buoys may prove to be such a valuable development.Oneka Wave-Powered Buoys_2Oneka has taken these designs to be environmentally friendly, for starters. Built mainly from recycled water bottles and other plastics, each “Iceberg” buoy represents more than 170,000 discarded bottles that will no longer go to landfill or end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

These hydroelectric stations operate on the power of waves. They’re anchored to the sea floor and absorb energy from waves, converting it into mechanical strength that draws in seawater. Through a reverse-osmosis desalination system, they create fresh, drinkable water, which is pumped back to the land through pipes made of high-density polyethylene.Oneka Wave-Powered Buoys_3About three-quarters of the salt is mixed with seawater coming from the desalination process and then released back out to sea. This is only about 30% saltier than the water around it, a negligible change compared to the concentration of what’s released by land-based desalination plants. And since we usually anchor these buoys at least a mile (1.6 km) away from shore, in large arrays spaced 1/2 mile (800 m) apart, they disperse well and toxic ocean ecological effects are minimized – our testing found that within 10 feet of each device there was no measurable increase in water salinity over baseline levels.

Oneka’s desalination plants have a variety of filters to keep the water intake safe, and the pumping cycle includes backwashing for an optimal environment. We also claim “there is no danger to fish, eggs or plants.”Oneka Wave-Powered Buoys_4

Oneka makes iceberg-class water tanks that can produce between 30-50 cubic meters (8000-13000 gallons) of water per day, which is enough for the needs of >100-1500 people. Onboard sensors, powered by small solar panels, continuously test the water that’s produced to make sure it meets relevant standards. Oneka also offers some post-processing on the water tank, such as adjusting the taste to one that’s more pleasing for consumers or doing agricultural adjustments.

Each unit does require some maintenance – between three to seven visits per year, depending on the number of units that need to be serviced. With this taken care of, each unit is designed to last approximately 15-20 years.Oneka Wave-Powered Buoys_5Even though these data processing machines are quite small, they do an impressive job of producing clean water. For example, you would need more than 20,000 iceberg-sized buoys operating at their best for them to produce the same amount of clean water as the Ras Al-Khair Power and Desalination Plant in Saudi Arabia.

Oneka claims they’re working on “utility-scale devices” which could make a bigger difference in areas that need more quantity. These “Glacier Class” machines, according to research by Just Have a Think, will produce about 10 times as much as the Icebergs, and according to Saltwire, they’ll be available in 2023 and begin demonstration trials off the coast of Barrington, Nova Scotia.

Although they’re not yet widely deployed, these existing machines appear to be a great way to produce clean water. They have no carbon dioxide emissions, don’t need coastal land space, don’t impact the power grid, and have a limited effect on the ocean ecology. These are impressive machines and we can think of a few better ways to repurpose old plastic bottles.

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