Blockchain for improved water resource management

By providing a secure, transparent and distributed ledger to record transactions between parties, blockchain-based technology fundamentally could transform the way water resources are managed and traded.

First and foremost, harnessing this capability could enable everyone from households, industry consumers, water managers and policymakers to access the same data on water quality and quantity and make more informed decisions. Such transparency would help inform consumer decisions around when to conserve or use water. In turn, it could help prevent corrupt behavior in situations where there may be an incentive for local authorities to tamper with or withhold water quality data.

Blockchain technology also could support peer-to-peer trading of water rights in each basin, empowering water users who have enough or are willing to share their excess resources with others in the area to do so 24/7 without relying on a centralized authority. Imagine a scenario where farmers in the same water basin could make the decision to trade their allocations based on the latest weather data, crop prices, market trends and longer-term climate trends — much of which is already accessible via their mobile devices.

This type of transparent, real-time approach to water management greatly could mitigate tensions within and across certain localities by democratizing access to information and preventing the tampering of data. Among companies pioneering blockchain applications for the water sector is Power Ledger, as is evidenced by its current work with the city of Freemantle in Australia to create a blockchain-backed trading system that leverages smart water metering data.

Agriculture uses over 80% of water in the Middle East. It is common to misuse land by heavy irrigation in the Middle East. In the area the changing landscape causes frequent droughts. The overuse of water in agriculture is affecting the countries’ already undersized water resources.

Jordan, located in the Syrian Desert, and Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, experience water shortage in the Middle East. For example, the average freshwater withdrawal in Jordanl is less than ten percent of Portugal’s average, despite being the same size. In the past 10 years water in Jordan has risen 30%, due to a quick shortage of groundwater. Yemen has one of the highest worldwide rates of malnutrition. In recent years, Yemen has not been able to produce enough food to sustain its populations. Water scarcity has damaged the standard of living for inhabitants of the Middle East.

In order to truly understand the possibilities not only in theory, we must understand some of the key technologies that are currently both in field and in development. There are several new desalination technologies being developed to reduce consumption and produce sustainable desalination processes based on renewable energies.

Adsorption Desalination (AD) is considered as one of the most energy efficient processes available. A team of researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have conducted a successful pilot and the first industrial scale AD pilot has been approved for construction in Saudi Arabia. AD can use direct solar energy or industrial waste-heat to desalinate high-salinity water, but there are still issues with its initial capital cost which need to be addressed through modeling and investigating its payback cycle.

Membrane distillation (MD) is a thermally driven low-energy process that utilizes a hydrophobic, microporous membrane to separate fresh water by liquid-vapor equilibrium. The process is based on the combination of conventional distillation and membrane technologies involving heat and mass transfer.

Forward osmosis (FO) processes can be used directly or indirectly to make the desalination process more energy efficient. Indirect FO desalination processes use low salinity feed solution like wastewater to dilute higher salinity seawater and produces partially desalinated water, which can be used for irrigation. Ongoing research shows that the fouling on membrane surfaces is lower while a complete removal of contaminants, such as micropollutants, natural organic matter, trace metals and nutrients from the feed water is possible. However, there are still several aspects that need to be explored before the technology can be applied for commercial production in the Middle East. The development of high throughput FO membranes will be a breakthrough towards process scale-up and commercialization.

As the demand for fresh water grows in the Middle East, the future of desalination will depend on combining established and emerging technologies.This combination will assist the development of energy efficient and renewable energy-driven desalination technologies. Besides development of energy efficient and environment-friendly desalination technologies, good planning, investment in blockchain technology and management of water resources is essential. There is a huge potential in reusable water techniques to improve the lives of those in need and it is time to start turning research into reality.

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