“One of the biggest questions in the climate change debate: Are humans any smarter than frogs in a pot? If you put a frog in a pot and slowly turn up the heat, it won’t jump out. Instead, it will enjoy the nice warm bath until it is cooked to death. We humans seem to be doing pretty much the same thing.”….Jeff Goodell
“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth, these are one in the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.“…Ban Ki-moon
Finding an active way to save our planet from climate change, a means to vanquish emissions and deal with water scarcity and energy shortages have long been an on-going planetary dilemma in our fractured world. Especially so in places like California where every inch of the Heavens are constantly engulfed in flames. As the world shifts and the climate changes we have no holy passport to protect us.
The innovative City of Tracy, California, has taken a giant step in saving our planet from destruction via “Tracy Renewable Energy LLC” (TRE) with CEO, space geek and engineer Frank Schubert at the helm of this renewable energy powered wastewater desalination facility. In addition to water cleaning, TRE is also working with a company called “Reactive Surfaces” to capture the carbon dioxide at the Tracy facility. “Tracy’s emergence as a leader in clean tech innovation is subtle yet undeniable.“ said Reactive Surfaces founder Beth McDaniel.
A long-time resident of Tracy, Frank Schubert via Tracy Renewable Energy LLC began 10 years ago in his garage with an innovative desal system which can continuously clean up salty and polluted water. Currently the company is pioneering one of the most aspiring Clean-tech projects on the planet designated around it’s proprietary desalination technology and other global warming combatting technologies. The project will also supply many more employment opportunities for the residents of Tracy.
Schubert, who was also responsible for building Mars simulation modules around the world was happy to further explain his innovations….Frank knows that without risk there are no progress and in a world where people are crying for the moon and for penicillin that can no longer save us, if he doesn’t do too much…nothing gets done.
Exactly what does Tracy Renewable do?
“There are actually two of our companies involved. “Combined Solar Technology”(CST) and Tracy Renewable Energy. I started CST because I wanted come up with a process to remove dissolved solids from water. That’s not like something that floats in the water, rather it’s the stuff that dissolves into the water like salt. Take the ocean for example, it’s salty but you don’t see the salt. Now there is something called reverse osmosis which is the number one water cleaning technology. But it doesn’t work well when you don’t have an ocean next to you. This is because with reverse osmosis what happens is that when you put 100 gallons into the machine, you get 50 gallons out that is clean, and 50 gallons of water that’s twice as salty. It uses filters that clean about 1/2 the water and the rest is rejected.
So the problem with cleaning water that way is if you’re in a place that is not next to an ocean where you can dump the reject into the ocean where it easily dilutes, you end up with a worse problem because half your water is now twice as dirty and you have nowhere to put it other than truck it to a disposal site. Most disposal sites do a bad job of getting rid of it.
So then are you getting your water from the ocean?
No. We are getting about half our water from Tracy’s wastewater plant and the other half comes from trucked water. We’re not taking water that comes from the toilet although we could. There are two major streams coming out of the Tracy’s wastewater plant that go into the river. One is the household sewer water. With that water, by the time it comes out of the cities wastewater plant it’s almost drinking water, it’s not bad. But what they can’t do is get salts out of the water. They get everything else out, all the biological stuff, all the biological oxygen demand, which is a term they use for living things in water, anything that would get you sick like bugs. There are two types of bugs, biological oxygen demand and chemical oxygen demand. They can get that out, but they cannot get out salt because it’s dissolved. That’s what our machine was designed for. What we do is we is we pull the salt out of the water and then we dehydrate that salt down to the point where it’s just like a moist paste. Basically we end up with a big chunk of salt. Then we can sell the salt to American Chlorine and they will make chlorine out of it. Right now we clean a little over half a million gallons a day. Once we get rolling, we will clean over a million gallons a day at this site alone.
Does anyone drink this water yet?
Our water is actually too clean to drink. Its cleaner than bottled water. The reason you can’t drink it is because water is the universal solvent. It wants to pick up and dissolve stuff. So if you drink this water that has no minerals it would suck the minerals out of your body. That is not good for humans.
So what you’re saying in essence is you take dirty water, clean it up and then make it dirty again so you can drink it?
Yeah. Ha ha. We are taking the wastewater plant’s saltiest stream and turning it into their cleanest stream and then they use our super clean water to dilute all the rest of their water which brings the total dissolved solids down to compliance with the state. When the city first hired me to start this they had been fined $35,000 a day for a while. They were paying lawyers millions of dollars a year litigate around that. So they got a reprieve a few years ago and the state gave them X amount of time to come up with a solution. Our system is the solution. It will be the biggest inland water reclamation project in California, and we are just barely getting started. We will be at around 50 million gallons a day in about five years.
Do you see this as a future solution for our drinking water?
One of them. I am sure there will be other great ideas that come along. What we do is evaporate water kind of like how one boils water on a stove. But we boil about a swimming pools worth of dirty water in about a minute. That is the trick. With normal boilers you would not put bad water into them. In fact the water has to be very clean. But the boilers that I invented don’t rust out or plug up or lose efficiency. The clean steam goes out of the top and the solids in the water go out of the bottom. When people ask what my technology is, I tell them “I boil water.” I built the first boiler in my garage. It’s lucky I didn’t blow the house up. I opened the garage doors up because there was so much steam I couldn’t see. The neighbors called the police. They thought it was either a meth lab or a high-tech barbecue. We built the first commercial boiler about 12 years ago and we have been running them ever since. Our two services are creating water for the city and the other processing non-haz trucked water. We intercept the trucks that deliver the dirty water to the Bay Area. We save these truckers a lot of money and save them 140 miles of trucking. The city loves us because we reduce the truck traffic and the truckers love us because they don’t have to spend four hours taking water to Oakland. We also reduce all of that pollution caused by the trucks driving back and forth. At the moment can take in 50 trucks a day. Thats 50×140 miles a day and it starts to add up.
What even made you think of inventing something like this?
When I worked on the humans to Mars program, the biggest issue with going to Mars was the water. Well, and traveling millions of miles through a void to an inhospitable planet. So you have to be able to clean the water. If you had to take enough water for a six-man crew, that’s minimum of 25,000 pounds of water. It would be the single heaviest part of the ship. So you have to be able to take a small amount of water and be able to clean it over and over. They will have to recycle it like they do on the space station.
You’re working with a company called Reactive Surfaces, how do they fit in?
Well, because we burn walnut shells, we have a concentrated stream of CO2 going up into the air. Even though we are powered by renewable energy and the CO2 we emit came out of the air last year we wanted to be not just natural CO2 wise but we wanted to be a CO2 sink. I knew what Reactive Surfaces was doing and thought it would a good fit. They originally started by infusing paint with bacteria that was designed to eat anthrax. The idea was that they would paint the walls of the post office and then if there was an anthrax attack, instead of taking three months to clean it, it would only take a week. They sold a couple of gallons of the stuff and then nobody cared about anthrax anymore. So they sort of morphed into other things. Then about 3 years ago they went to the climate talks, got freaked out about what is happening and decided that they better do something about CO2. So they invented a CO2 capture coating that will capture the CO2 from our stack and turn it into cellulose and oxygen. I have known Steve and Beth for a long time and admire their work and perseverance. It worked out well for both of us. And hopefully the rest of the planet too.
Aside from the business end of all of this you also have a personal and social sense about this?
I’ve been worried about global warming since 1980. My roommate in school was a climatologist and he would tell me what was going to happen. Everything he said would happen is happening. And then about 20 years ago I went to Devon Island in the Arctic for the Mars program and I spoke to all the Eskimos and even back then they were telling me that the world is coming to an end. They have had radical shifts in weather patterns every year since 1990. The snowstorm in Texas which was their worst ever probably is an example of what’s been happening in the Arctic every year. The Arctic feels effects of climate change about 20 times more than we do. The reason Texas had that snowstorm was because it was so warm in the Arctic last month that it expanded the air and pushed the cold air in the jet stream way south. The jet stream usually goes to the boarder of Canada but this year it went as far south as Texas.