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The Past and Present of Reverse Osmosis  | Clowe & Cowan of El Paso
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an up close shot of a clear glass with water being poured into itOh, the joy of clean water! Having access to clean drinking water is the main factor in keeping the society functional, healthy, and prosperous. We don’t think about it much these days, as we’re lucky enough to have a solid filtration system and city sewers that keep our wastewater out one way and our drinking water in another. We also have water treatment plants across the country that take care of cleaning out water supplies for reuse. The rest of the world, of course, is not so lucky. There are still parts of the undeveloped world that don’t have regular access to clean water. So one of the techniques used to clean water is reverse osmosis. We thought we’d spend a little time talking about what this is and how it benefits people, households, and businesses all over the world. 

If you look at maps of early civilizations, it’s easy to tell that there’s a pattern. Most early civilizations flourished around water sources. Not only do we need water to survive every day, but we also need it to thrive as a community. It doesn’t take much to contaminate a water source. And, of course, that becomes a problem quite quickly. 

How WWII Ushered the Development of Reverse Osmosis

In the aftermath of World War II, the possibility of water shortages became an all too real reality for the leaders of the United States. John F. Kennedy—the president at the time—began advocating for the ability of large-scale desalination. Shortly thereafter, the development of Reverse Osmosis (RO) began to be researched and better understood on a large scale. This, of course, was not the first time the world heard of the process of reverse osmosis. In fact, the process happens in our bodies every day and happens in nature, to an extent. 

In scientific study, it was first discovered in 1798 by Jean Antoine-Nollet. He replicated the osmosis process by using a pig’s bladder. He managed to show that a solvent could pass through a semipermeable membrane through the process of natural osmotic pressure and it will continually enter through the membrane until it reaches an equilibrium. The use and study of osmosis would not actually take off until many years later. It was until after WWII that top universities took on research on the matter. The Kennedy administration had set the goal to desalinate seawater and pumped some money into research efforts. Not long after, researchers at UCLA succeeded in creating a reverse osmosis membrane which acted as a filter. This filter allowed water molecules to pass through but blocked salt molecules and TDS. In 1965, the world’s first commercial RO plant was built and opened in California. After that, several other plants opened up with different testing facilities and efforts. This cumulative effort led to the ultimate goal of desalinating sea water on a large scale. 

How Does the Process Work? 

Reverse Osmosis is one of the most popular and best water filtration methods available. The process is relatively simple. It uses pressure and a specifically built semipermeable membrane for the goal of demineralizing or deionizing water. In other words, the pressure is used to remove contaminants from the water. 

A reverse osmosis system removes sediment and chlorine from water then it forces water through a semipermeable membrane to dissolve solids. The membrane is the focal point of the system and of the process. It removes broken down or dissolved unnatural materials from the water. 

What is a semipermeable membrane? It has small pores that block contaminants but still allow the water molecules to flow through. So once the pressure is applied only clean water flows through. 

What RO Does and Why It Matters 

This process has a lot of functions. Some of these include:

Removes lead. The exposure of lead to young children and others is well documented to cause problems. It’s why we no longer lead-based paint in our homes. Therefore, removing lead from our water supply is a big deal. 

Removes sodium. The process, of course, removes sodium from the drinking water. Having large amounts of sodium/salt in your diet leads to problems like heart disease and hypertension. 

Removes parasites. “Parasite” is a scary word. It’s even scarier when it’s in your water. The RO process helps remove parasites like Cryptosporidium, which can make you sick.  

Saves you money. If you are a household of business. Having to spend on bottled water every day can get costly. Using an effective RO system, will save you the big bucks and ensure quality. 

The Process Used Today 

Today, reverse osmosis and membrane filtration elements are used for a wide variety of different processes and applications around the world. Reverse Osmosis technology has certainly helped countries and localities around the world improve their drinking water and ensure that their residents are getting properly filtered water. Large-scale reverse osmosis plants can provide clean water to cities and counties. 

Filtration That Guarantees Quality 

Here at Clowe & Cowan, we have worked in the water industry for many years. We are experts in water filtration.

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