2012: The state of Texas has begun to invest heavily in form of alchemy that has nagged at mankind since the days of ancient civilization—the conversion of saltwater into a drinkable beverage. Forty-four plants currently exist in the state with plans to open more as demand for water increases in the face of droughts and increased agricultural production. The New York Times reports:
If you look around Texas and you look at the climate situation and the fact that the reservoirs are being drawn down, there just isn’t much of an alternative,” said Tom Pankratz, the Houston-based editor of the Water Desalination Report, who also does consulting for the industry.
Most projects are small, capable of providing less than three million gallons per day, often for rural areas. The state’s largest is in El Paso, where the $91 million Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, completed in 2007, can supply up to 27.5 million gallons of water a day, though it rarely operates at full capacity because of the high energy costs associated with forcing water through a membrane resembling parchment to take out the salts. (Production of desalinated water costs 2.1 times more than fresh groundwater and 70 percent more than surface water, according to El Paso Water Utilities.) Last year, the plant supplied 4 percent of El Paso’s water.
1914: Saltwater has long been an attraction for scientists—and schemers. John Andrews, a self-proclaimed Portuguese inventor, claimed in front of U.S. Navy officials that he’d found a way to turn saltwater into gasoline. After tests performed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Andrews offered to sell his process to the government for $2 million (about $50 million today), and when they asked to see more evidence, he fled to Canada and was never seen in the U.S. again. A newspaper account of Andrews’ process attempts to explain his alchemy:
An admiral showed the furtive Andrews a launch that rested in dry dock, its fuel tank empty. Andrews carried nothing with him save a small gallon can, which was empty, and a doctor’s satchel. He asked for a gallon of water. When it was brought to him, he took his empty can, his satchel, and the water and disappeared into the back seat of his Packard.
He emerged in a few minutes carrying the can now filled with water. He poured it into the launch’s gas tank, made a few adjustments in the carburetor, and presto, the motor kicked and the propeller spun. It sputtered once and Andrews poured six drops from a small vial into the tank and the motor surged ahead.
Canadian subscribers add $10; All other international subscribers add $40.