10 Great Innovations in Water Technology: Part 2

In our last blog we described six of the world’s top-ten water-related inventions (Roman aqueducts, modern fog collectors, water wheels in ancient Greece, Mayan reservoirs, the flush toilet, and the water hose). In this blog we look in detail at the other four.

#7: The Water Pump

Archimedes, one of ancient Greece’s most famous mathematicians, engineers and inventors, is credited with inventing the first water pump. A two-man operation of pushing a giant screw into the ground pulled the water up to the surface. This device was appropriately called the Archimedean screw.

We have worked hard over the past 2,300 years on improving the design and production of water pumps, without which we would be spending a lot of time and backbreaking work carrying water from springs and wells to our homes and fields. [1]

#8: Drip Irrigation

Kibbutz Hatzerim was faced with the problem of irrigating their crops in one of the most arid parts of the world – the Negev desert. With an average annual rainfall of less than 180 mm and many years that were less than that, they needed a sustainable solution and they needed one quick.

Enter Simcha Blass, a water engineer who had worked at the British Water Agency before moving to the future State of Israel in 1930, after numerous visits in the 1920s. Blass helped create Mekorot, today Israel’s national water company. While working in the 1950s on the national water carrier that brings water from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev, he noticed a tree that seemed to be growing with no source of water and the dirt around the tree was dry. He discovered the source was an old, rusty metal pipe coupling. The lightbulb went off and Blass bought and brought to Israel all the water pipes that were used to fight fires in the London Blitz. These pipes were used in 11 Israeli settlements, as well as Bedouin camps in the desert.

Simcha kept on experimenting with the pipes and later on with plastic tubes until he perfected a device that could be placed into drilled holes and would release drops of water in a regulated manner. Together with Kibbutz Hatzerim, Simcha and his son Yehoshua set up the company Netafim that provides drip irrigation solutions to water-challenged countries around the world. [2]

#9: Desalination

In Exodus 15:22-26 we learn how the Israelites, during their journey through the desert, arrived at the town of Marah where they were upset to discover that the water was bitter. Moses threw a log into the water and it immediately sweetened and was drinkable. This is the first written account of desalination.

Jump ahead 2,700 years to ancient Greece and philosopher/scientist Aristotle, who was mesmerized by the thought of creating fresh water from sea water. In the 4th century BC Aristotle wrote that when salt water turns into vapor it is sweet and when the sweet water condenses it doesn’t turn back to salt water. This process is classic distillation.

In the 1930’s distillation started being used on a larger scale with the help of thermally driven technology that allowed large amounts of sea water to be evaporated by heat and condensed into sweet water using a vacuum. The problem with this process, however, was that it uses a tremendous amount of energy.

In 1959 a polymer film was used  for the first time to separate the salt from the salt water. Eventually it was discovered that if these membranes were spiral-wound they would allow greater permeability and, in 1963, the first commercial desalination plant was built by General Atomics based on spiral membranes. [3]

In January of 2005 the world’s first mega-desalination plant was built in Ashkelon, Israel – the first plant to provide fresh water on a daily basis to meet a city’s needs. Desalination is definitely the trend of the future, with development currently underway for a solar powered plant. [4]

#10: Water Meters

Without the ability to measure water usage, waste and pilferage would run rampant. The water meter has come a long way in size, weight, and accuracy over the last 170 years, proving highly useful both to water utilities and their customers.

The first water meters were large mechanical monstrosities developed independently in the mid-19th century in both New York and London – both based on counting piston strokes. However, a small volume of water passing through the meter would generate the same number of piston strokes as a large volume of water, making the meter very inaccurate.

Between 1870 and 1910 over 400 patents were issued for water measuring meters. Almost all were impractical in one way or another. From the 1890s to the 1960s a turbine meter, known as the Woltman meter, owned the water meter market. Though the Woltman meter was better than previous models, there was still a problem with accuracy due to uneven water flow, as well as the mechanical parts breaking down. [5]

In 1832 Michael Faraday’s Law was established. While trying to measure the flow rate of the Thames, Faraday observed that changing the electromagnetic field changes the current. This became the basic operating principle of the non-mechanical, highly accurate electromagnetic flow meter. The first commercial electromagnetic meter was the German Tobimeter introduced in 1952. Today there are more than 30 different manufacturers of electromagnetic meters.

About 50 years ago another non-mechanical flowmeter was introduced: the ultrasonic meter, based on the Doppler technology that was initially introduced to measure the flow of blood. It was only in the 1990s, however, that transit time or time of flight ultrasonic technology let these flowmeters  give an accurate reading for clean liquids. [6]

We at the Arad Group have developed the next generation of ultrasonic water meters – Octave and Sonata. With long-life batteries guaranteed for ten years and fully wireless operation, our ultrasonic meters can be integrated easily into our patented advanced metering infrastructures and meter data management solutions.

The Final Note

It is always fun to see how technology that is part and parcel of our daily lives has developed through the years. Many of our greatest inventions are based on ideas thousands of years old, while others would seem like science fiction just a few decades back.

Whatever the future may bring, you can rely on the Arad Group to be there leading the way in innovation and design.

References

[1] Mike Hurlbatt, A Brief History of Water Pumps and How They Affected the World, 2018
[2] James Young, The History of Drip Irrigation , September 21, 2017
[3] Manish Kumar, Water Desalination: History, Advances and Challenges, September 21, 2016
[4] Matt Mazur, Desalination Plant History, 2018
[5] Monica Crainic, A Short History of Mechanical Water Meters With Moving Parts, April 2012
[6] Monica Crainic, A Short History of Residential Water Meters With No Moving Parts, April 2012