As the global population continues to grow, the demand for energy and freshwater resources is reaching critical levels. This has become particularly challenging for coastal cities that are grappling with droughts and a lack of clean drinking water. However, Cornell engineers have developed an innovative solution that not only addresses these issues but also promotes sustainability. By combining pumped hydro energy storage and reverse osmosis desalination, the Integrated Pumped Hydro Reverse Osmosis System (IPHROS) offers a comprehensive and efficient solution to meet the energy and hydration needs of large coastal populations.

The IPHROS system focuses on the symbiotic relationship between energy storage and freshwater production. By utilizing gravity, seawater is pumped to a mountaintop reservoir. From there, it flows downstream to a hydropower plant and a reverse osmosis desalination facility. This integration allows coastal communities to access renewable energy for their electric grid while simultaneously producing potable water. The flexibility provided by the reverse osmosis process ensures the efficiency and adaptability of the system.

The IPHROS system offers numerous advantages for coastal populations facing energy and water shortages. With optimal design and operation, this system has the capacity to generate 79.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and produce 5.79 million cubic meters of fresh water per day. This level of output can meet the daily needs of approximately 661,000 homes, making it a viable solution for large populations. Furthermore, the integration of IPHROS can significantly reduce capital investment in building costs and minimize maintenance overhead. Additionally, it provides a natural method for diluting the highly saline discharge resulting from the reverse osmosis process, thereby mitigating environmental impact.

Coastal regions such as Southern California, which frequently experience droughts, can greatly benefit from the IPHROS system. By harnessing renewable electricity, seawater is pumped to the mountaintop reservoir, ensuring a sustainable source of fresh water for agricultural purposes. As the water flows down to the hydropower plant and community-scale desalination system, the concentrated brine leftover from the desalination process can be diluted with ocean water and safely returned to the sea. This approach not only addresses the water scarcity issue but also minimizes the impact on coastal ecosystems.

While the IPHROS system presents an innovative approach, the concept of pumped storage hydropower (PSH) is not new. The United States already boasts 43 PSH plants with a combined capacity of 21.9 gigawatts and over 553-gigawatt hours of energy storage. PSH has proven to be a flexible and reliable method for balancing electricity supply and demand on regional grids. By utilizing the existing infrastructure and knowledge surrounding PSH, the IPHROS system can be seamlessly integrated.

The groundwork for IPHROS was laid by Professor Alexander Slocum from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016. Maha Haji, assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, collaborated on this project, extending the concept by developing detailed mathematical models and optimization frameworks. This research not only provides a theoretical framework but also paves the way for practical implementation of IPHROS on a large scale.

The IPHROS system represents a significant step forward in addressing the energy and water needs of coastal populations in a sustainable manner. As the world faces increasing challenges related to population growth, urbanization, and climate change, innovative solutions like IPHROS are essential. By integrating renewable energy and desalination processes, coastal cities can become self-reliant and resilient in the face of water scarcity and energy demands. The IPHROS system has the potential to revolutionize the way we produce and consume energy while ensuring the availability of essential freshwater resources.

The IPHROS system offers a transformative solution for coastal cities facing the dual challenges of energy demand and water scarcity. By combining pumped hydro energy storage and reverse osmosis desalination, this innovative system provides renewable electricity and potable water. With its numerous benefits, including reduced capital investment, minimized maintenance overhead, and environmental sustainability, IPHROS represents the future of green energy and water desalination. As the world continues to seek sustainable and resilient solutions, the IPHROS system presents a promising path forward for coastal populations.


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