Fluid Notes: Solar Power, Ceramic Pressure Exchangers and the Cost of Desalination

A group out of MIT made an announcement that they are able to harness solar power with a low cost – lower cost than a conventional desal plant – that was able to deliver 6 liters per hour per square meter of collector. Published in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science, the paper outlines a device that functions as a multi-layer still, using several evaporation and condensation steps to produce water that exceeds current drinking water standards.

As users on a Hacker News thread pointed out – this is a very energy intense process that requires 173 kWh of solar energy, compared to the 3.2 kWh often used for all of the processes in a conventional desal plant like San Diego’s Carlsbad site. The MIT group isn’t radically altering how the current municipal distribution network for drinking water would work – it is instead providing a technology that would allow for a more off-the-grid (“OTG”) approach for desalination, in the same way that generators allow electricity in wilderness cabins. Depending on the setup costs, it’s easy to see a set up where intercoastal waterways and other marshy areas could support units like this that generate reliable small volumes of liquid to support a single household that might not otherwise be able to justify the cost of a desal situation.

Desalination Materials: Ceramic Pressure Exchangers

Looking at how an OTG situation could change how certain areas can create clean water at a lower cost calls back to past technologies that allowed the centralized growth of desalination. Desal occurs at high pressures – this is one of the biggest differences between air and water filtration.

Salt ions are tiny, and even with cross-flow or tangential filtration, it takes very fine pores (~2 nm or less) and high pressure to create potable water from a saline source of water. The energy required to create that pressure was costly and couldn’t be easily recaptured.

The invention of a specialized ceramic pressure exchanger by Richard Stover allowed desalination plants to conserve and recycle that energy, dramatically lowering the cost to create drinkable water.

Energy Recovery Inc’s (“ERI”) ceramic pressure exchanger made a major impact on the energy requirements to create drinking water using desalination.
Posted in Fluids, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Fluid Notes: PFAS and the Water Supply

PFAS is the new emerging pollutant of concern. It is the big bad in industrial waste. Nearly every session at NEWEA 2020 addressed the topic, and it was the leading buzzword from the event. The EPA has given PFAS its own page.

PFAS – Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) – gets a lot of attention for several reasons:

  1. It still isn’t clear what a ‘safe’ level is.
  2. Testing for it is difficult.
  3. It’s man made.
  4. It appears to be nearly everywhere.
  5. It appears to be conserved at each step where other materials would be destroyed or reduced.

Dr. Linda Lee of Purdue University appeared on WEFTEC’s “Words on Water” podcast, and her review covered how PFAS is affected by most modern water treatment technologies.

Water Treatment and Filtration Processes and their Impact on PFAS

Advanced Oxygen Processes (AOPs) – have no effect.

Membrane Processes – can obstruct the PFAS, but then serve to concentrate the PFAS in the retentate. The resulting biosolids are then full of PFAS.

Reverse Osmosis – RO, like other membrane processes, can create PFAS-free water for drinking. However, the retentate then has concentrated PFAS.

Carbon Bed – carbon can capture the PFAS, but the PFAS remains caught in the carbon. The carbon can be incinerated, but care must be taken to ensure that the PFAS are destroyed.

RO creates clean drinking water, and it concentrates PFAS
Posted in Filtration, Fluids | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Fluid Notes: From Sea to Shining Sea – US Water Infrastructure from Boston's Deer Island to San Diego's Carlsbad

20,000,000 passengers per year fly over the 12 giant anaerobic digester eggs of Boston’s Deer Island. In April 2020, thousands of the world leaders in filtration will visit San Diego, 30 miles South of the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant which provides water to the hotels and beaches that they’ll visit. Nearly 3,000 miles apart these two plants show the diversity of municipal water needs, the economics of water investment, the role of geography and rain fall, and how technology drives water supply and demand.

Deer Island is designed to process waste water and release it far off shore. The Boston metropolitan area has sufficient water supply – the challenge is handling storm water run off in a way that does not pollute the harbors, bays and surrounding wildlife. To halt 10 billion gallons of annual pollution overflow into the bay, nearly $4 billion has been invested by the Massachussetts Water Resource Authority (“MWRA”) to be able to process up to 470 billion gallons of waste per year. Like a mall parking lot designed for the Christmas season – Deer Island must be able to handle flows on the highest days and anticipated future growth.

Deer Island, MA Water Treatment Facility

Carlsbad provides a very different story – at a cost of nearly $1 billion, the desalination plant is capable of processing up to 18 billion gallons per year. About 80% of that water volume is purchased by San Diego, providing 7% of the city’s water needs. The city pays a premium for the security of water supply – on a per acre foot basis, Carlsbad compares well to its competition, but is not cheap:

  • $2500 – Cost to import water from other areas in CA
  • $2200 – Cost of Carslbad water
  • $2000 – Cost of recycled / re-used water (water re-use is the future)
  • $1200 – Area reservoir water
  • $700 – Upstream access when possible

San Diego chose water security over water cost – a wise decision based on the volatility of water rights and access in the Colorado River basin.

Drivers in Water Investment

These plants represent nearly $5 billion in investment in two very different water situations with very different regional needs.

Boston’s Deer Island: Hygiene, Disease and Growth

Boston’s harbor has been the source of constant investment since settlement. Dams were built causing sewage to foul the bay. Million dollar homes cannot look out on raw sewage and smell of the same. Boston’s investment in Deer Island is a long term commitment to managing the city’s hygiene, controlling for disease outbreak, and is ultimately an investment in the area’s future growth.

San Diego: Water Security

Reisner’s Cadillac Desert – the most well known book on water planning – takes place on the Colorado River, the same river on which provides San Diego with water. The Colorado no longer reaches the sea – with upstream water rights, ranching, and agricultural diversions robbing it of the needed flow. In years with low rainfall, San Diego does not have sufficient water.

Investing in the plant put San Diego at the front of the learning curve about how RO and desal can be implemented in the US, and there are already plans for a sister plant further North in Huntington Beach to service Los Angeles. By investing in this technology, San Diego is in a better situation to negotiate with other sources of water, and to understand how the cost of water can be impacted by technology.

Size, Impact and Investment

Mankind creates about 330 km^3 of wastewater per year, and converts over 50 km^3 of saltwater to fresh water via desalination. [Source: Global Fluid Volumes] This puts the 1.7 km^3 (0.5%) max treatment capability of Deer Island and 0.7 km^3 (1.4%) desalination capacity of Carlsbad in context.

Reversing those numbers, we can start to see the scale of investment required:

  • $4 Bn / 1.7 km^3 (0.5%) * 330 km^3 = $800 billion to treat all global waste.
  • $1 Bn / 0.7 km^3 (1.4%) * 50 km^3 = +$70 billion to recreate current global desalination infrastructure
Posted in Fluids, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Fluid Notes: JP Morgan Healthcare Kicks off the 2020 Fluid News Year

San Francisco’s tourist schedule starts each year with JP Morgan’s Healthcare conference – 2020 is the 38th year and 9,000 visitors listened toover 450 company presentations. The biopharmaceutical industry is driving changes in healthcare, and biopharma is at the top of the fluid industry hierarchy.

Having worked in and sold into the fluid industries since 2008, the following subsegments are useful in breaking down product and customer needs:

  1. Biopharma & Healthcare
  2. Food & Beverage – Including agriculture
  3. Industry – From semiconductors to chemicals
  4. Water Treatment – From re-use to storm water

Biopharma and Healthcare are at the top of the fluid hierarchy because it has the broadest impact based on:

  • Number of professionals
    • 10 million physicians, 20 million nurses, 2 million dentists, 2.5 million pharmacists (estimated by the World Health Organization)
  • Total revenue of the industry
  • Biopharma sets the standards
    • Based on the value of their therapies, the 17 million liters of 2020 biopharma capacity are each worth about $5,000 – nearly $20,000 per gallon.
    • The value and volume and precision expectations of these materials set the standards for yield, quality and compliance when working with fluids.

StatNews is the best source of commercial and product news around JP Morgan and other healthcare industry activity – but for the strategic, production and operational issues confronting the industry, BioPharm International is a trade news organization that has great depth and detail.

Four trends will dominate biopharma over the next decade, and their implementation in biopharma will drive them out into other markets that work with fluids and liquids.


Therapies add years to the patients life. Mistakes with therapies kill patients. The precision, cleanliness, and focus on predictable performance within the complex biological systems of the human body require a rigorous and disciplined approach to quality. To drive quality and patient safety, manufacturers encourage cultures of candor and compliance. The long development cycles of new drugs require focus and candor, otherwise small mistakes can compound and derail multi-billion dollar investments. The focus on quality trickles out to vendors and the rest of the supply chain.

Processing Speed:

The constraint to growth in biopharma has long been product development cycles – patient safety concerns drive regulators to be diligent in their approval process. However, as classes of products become more accepted, the industry is seeing the constraints move towards production. With over 70 monoclonal antibodies approved and that number forecast to triple based on FDA applications, the industry is approaching the speed of production systematically in order to get more products to market.


The US FDA is the most successful regulator of all time, directly overseeing more than 2 trillion in products, representing over 10% of US GDP. The FDA’s regulatory powers are much broader, as the standards that are set spill over into other markets – some estimate up to 1/2 of US GDP – and then set the high bar for standards globally. Vendors and manufacturers who can sell into this market are able to have broad impact because they have the ability to work with the highest standards and the most common set of rules available globally.


Fluid dynamics, statistics, big data, internet of things (“IoT”), industrial IoT (“IIoT”), satellite imaging, machine learning, artificial intelligence (“AI”) – name the computational tool or buzzword, and the margins of the biopharma industry make it possible. By leading with data, sensors and other advanced tools, the industry paves the way for their deployment in other parts of the economy.

Posted in Fluids | Tagged , ,

Charlie Munger's Poor Charlie's Almanack: Talk One – The Harvard School Commencement Speech

I don’t recommend buying this book, my summary here is to help others understand why I’d spend time elsewhere.

Munger’s biographical sketches and collection of speeches and talks is sold as a coffee table sized hard copy book and no digital version is available. Having written some well received page-by-page, chapter-by-chapter summaries, this seemed like an opportunity to take that format and do the same with a supply constrained book. I lugged this monstrosity around while on vacation so you don’t have to – I wouldn’t buy it, I wouldn’t even recommend it from the library.

I can’t finish out my original goal of summarizing the whole book. I wrote one page-by-page summary of the introduction of the book, and this will be my second and last summary. I’ve read 2/3 of the book and can’t do it anymore. I can’t fathom writing up any more summaries. This is an obviously bright person who has wonderful insights – but they should be in a pamphlet, not this monstrosity of slick pages with margins cluttered by trivia. I even liked the trivia – but the repetitious ‘aww-shucks-isms’ of the author that staple the trivia together are like stale dry bread in a cheap cafeteria.

Munger’s main points – from the whole book – not just this chapter:

  1. Use lots of frameworks.
  2. Invert – try looking at things totally backwards.
  3. Work with good people.
  4. If you want in on a deal, get in it – even if you have to pay up.
  5. Be thrifty and economical.
  6. Let compounding work for you.
  7. Be reliable.
  8. Good personal habits are the foundation for a strong career.
  9. Follow the numbers.
  10. If you don’t have numbers, figure out how to have numbers.

Best Quote

Reliability is essential and can be learned by anyone.

Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 162

Page by Page Review

Page 150

“Charlie, using the inversion principle he recommends in teh speech, compelling makes the opposite case by setting forth what a graduate may do to reach a state of misery.”

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, page 150

The novelty of the chapter is that Mr. Munger is telling the audience how to be miserable – it’s a good trick. However, by Page 150, it’s probably been mentioned 80 times.

Carson’s prescription for sure misery included:

1. Ingesting chemicals in an effort to alter mood or perception;

2. Envy; and

3. Resentment

Poor Charlie’s Almanack Page 152

Mr. Munger’s novel idea is borrowed from a similar graduation speech given by Johnny Carson.

Envy, of course, joins chemicals in winning some sort of quantity prize for causing misery.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 153

Munger’s prescriptions for misery:

  1. Be unreliable. (Page 154)
  2. Learn from your own experience – not from that of others. (Page 155)
  3. Give up easily. (Page 157)
  4. Don’t use the inversion principle. (Page 158)

The life of Darwin demonstrates how a turtle may outrun the hares, aided by extreme objectivity, which helps the objective person end up like the only player without a blindfold in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 158

Munger’s point is that by being consistent and reliable, your activities compound and you can be your generation’s Darwin – seeing reality clearly while others cannot explain the world around them.

Elihu Root’s repeated accounts of how the dog went to Dover, “Leg over leg.”

Gentlemen, may each of you rise by spending each day of a long life aiming low.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 159

Pages 160 and 161 show; 1/ Charlie’s invitation to the Harvard speaker, and 2/ an exchange of letters with Johnny Carson. It may not show up in my two chapter reviews – but there is real dissonance in how Munger is lauded as a ‘humble and down-to-earth’ person, but that these words are repeated in a museum of his tidbits. (In an age of konmari and de-cluttering, it is humorous to find that I’ve bought a book of someone else’s letters.)

If anything, I now believe even more strongly that (1) reliability is essential for progress in life, and (2) while quantum mechanics is unlearnable for a vast majority, reliability can be learned to great advantage by almost anyone.

Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 162

This chatty sentence represents Munger’s writing style. It is a bit unfair to critique communication styles based on a collection of speeches put together as a tribute – but for the reader this book is a drag. In the time of Twitter – and since one of my personal goals in writing these summaries was to improve my own communication – each page of this book is a struggle. Munger says in one page what could be said in a sentence, and then he repeats himself for 29 more pages to get to a chapter.

Let’s edit Mr. Munger’s final point – which is a good one – to sum it up more clearly:

Reliability is essential and can be learned by anyone.

Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 162

36 words down to 9. Thank you, Mr. Munger.

Posted in Uncategorized

Reach Your Holiday Goals using Goldratt's The Goal

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Alex Rogo used Theory of Constraints on his personal life – you can do the same to make the holidays easier. Continue reading

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Book Review: Charles T. Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack: Expanded Third Edition; Introduction and First Chapter

Amazon’s ‘Take a Peak Inside’ function, where potential buyers can get a preview of parts of a book is a great tool – it is also quickly an indicator of the quality of a book. A good book isn’t going to lose sales to a free quick peak, and I was immediately concerned when Poor Charlie’s Almanack lacked the feature – especially given its high cost and a recent article stating that it was on long wait lists in California area libraries.

If you love Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, or are researching these topics – this is a great book. Otherwise, it has been a struggle to read. This is my sixth attempt at a page-by-page review (Goldratt, Moore’s Chasm, Mandelbrot’s autobiography, Sun Tzu, and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People), and I don’t know if I’ll get all the way through it. Unless you love Munger, Buffett or Berkshire Hathaway, a better use of time would be to read any of the Wiley Investment Classics. This 500 page text would be better off as a 90 page summary – the concepts are not hard to grasp and the endless repetition hurts the good points, rather than helping.

The writing is taken from speeches, and may even be from transcriptions. You can feel the “ums” and other non-verbal pauses, as well as language that was meant to be delivered by the speaker to add extra punch to their delivery.

Poor writing would be fine if it was a vessel that delivered a strong message. There are good messages here, but they are repeated so often that I have begun to resent them. This would make a great 90 page book, but instead it rambles on bringing to mind Mark Twain‘s quote, ““I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Best Quote(s):

Kauffman, “As a result his lessons hang together in a coherent “latticework” of knowledge, available for recall and use when needed.”

Kauffman on Munger – Introduction

Munger’s main piece of advice is to use, “many mental models” – this is foreshadowed, but not fully covered in the introduction and first chapter. Kauffman sets that up in his introduction.

“Charlie’s redundancy in expressions and examples is purposeful: for the kind of deep “fluency” he advocates, he knows that repetition is the heart of instruction.”

Kauffman on Munger – Introduction

Carnegie was the master of persuasive writing because he repeated themes and people. Munger follows a brute force method – repeating lines again and again. If this book were available on Kindle, a search could easily show how often certain phrases are repeated. I suspect this is one of the reasons it is not to be found digitally.

“Look for someone both smarter and wiser than you are.”

Munger on Partnering with Warren Buffett

This is good advice, clearly given.

“I frankly think I get more credit than I deserve.”

Munger on his Partnership with Buffett

This appears to be sincere candor and humility – kudos to Mr. Munger.

“He wanted more than what a senior law partner would be able to earn.”

Warren Buffett on young Charlie Munger’s ambitions

Buffett gives good advice to a young Charlie Munger. It’s okay to have dreams and goals beyond the scope of where you are. Don’t try to force it with your current organization, realize that it is time to move on.

“Because of his intellect (the Army measured his IQ at the top of the curve), Charlie had a tendency to be abrupt, which was often interpreted as rudeness.” Page 11

Others Reflect on Charlie Munger

It wasn’t interpreted as rudeness – it was rudeness. Smart people can still be assholes. In this introduction and first chapter, there are many points laid out that contradict Mr. Munger’s reflections later in the book.

“Charlie’s Smart, Curious, Focused… and a Little Absentminded.” Page 48

Comments on Charlie Munger

When others are asked to comment on Charlie Munger, they tend to give long quotes, which hold sincere appreciation along with comments that are not very flattering. These comments all appear accurate – and they will often be consistent and contradictory to comments that Charlie makes later in the book.

“Patience is the greatest of all virtues.”

Cato the Elder, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 – 149 BC) Page 35

This is large, heavy, coffee table book. The perimeters of many pages are covered with trivia, illustrations, call-outs and other page-filling activities. The Cato quote above is great, but this book is not the best way to take delivery of such insights. The Munger speeches and topics cover many areas, one of his primary topics is ‘multiple mental models’ which entails breadth of knowledge – making it a natural lead for this type of work. But again, the repetition is extreme and it takes away from the good points that Munger does make. Creating an anthology of other related quotes on the sides is interesting, but not the best way to learn new and interesting quotes.

Page by Page Highlights

Warren Buffett on Munger

‘Life under Ben’s rules began to look positively cushy compared with the rigor demanded by Munger.’

“Instead he opted to become a living lesson in compounding, eschewing frivolous (defined as “any”) expenditures that might sap the power of his example.”

“Because of his intellect (the Army measured his IQ at the top of the curve), Charlie had a tendency to be abrupt, which was often interpreted as rudeness.” Page 11

Munger on Buffett

“Look for someone both smarter and wiser than you are.”

“I frankly think I get more credit than I deserve.”

Kauffman, “As a result his lessons hang together in a coherent “latticework” of knowledge, available for recall and use when needed.”

“Charlie’s redundancy in expressions and examples is purposeful: for the kind of deep “fluency” he advocates, he knows that repetition is the heart of instruction.”

Michael Broggie

“I sometimes tell my friends, ‘I’m doing the best I can. But, I’ve never grown old before. I’m doing it for the first time. And I’m not sure that I’ll do it right.”

“Today, he can’t remember the first time he was exposed to the aphorisms of Ben Franklin, but they fueled and ineffaceable admiration for the electic and eccentric statesman / inventor.”

“Too small to compete in regular high school sports, he joined the rifle team, earned a varsity letter, and eventually became team captain.”

“Thanks to family connections, Charlie landed a boring job counting passersby; it paid forty cents per hour.”

“Charlie learned that, by supporting each other, the Mungers weathered the worst economic collapse in the nation’s history.” Page 9

“He has often stated that anyone who wants to be successful should study physics because its concepts and formulas so beautifully demonstrate the powers of sound theory.”

“Because of his intellect (the Army measured his IQ at the top of the curve), Charlie had a tendency to be abrupt, which was often interpreted as rudeness.” Page 11

“Charlie learned that his adored son, Teddy, was terminally ill with leukemia.”

“He wanted more than what a senior law partner would be able to earn.”

“However, he never forgot the sound principles taught by his grandfather: t concentrate on the task immediately in front of him and to control spending.”

“It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.”

“He said that while law might be a good hobby for Charlie, it was a far less promising business than what Warren was doing. Warren’s logic helped Charlie to decide to quit law practice at the earliest point he could afford to do so.” Page 17

Buffett on Munger, Page 17 – Poor Charlie’s Almanac

“Despite his healthy self-image, Charlie would prefer to be anonymous.” Page 20

“And I think when you’re trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them into the lives and personalities of the people who developed them.” Page 23

“Early Charlie Munger is a horrible career model for the young, because not enough was delivered to civilization in return for what was wrested from capitalism.” Page 24

“There was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.” Ben Franklin Page 26

Cicero had written this work, praising old age, in roughly the sixtieth year of his life. Page 27

“As the years have passed, I have encountered more and more criticism from being lost in my own thoughts when others were talking to me.” Page 30

“To him, pride in a job well done is vastly constructive.” Page 31

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Archimedes, Page 33

“Patience is the greatest of all virtues.” Cato the Elder, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 – 149 BC) Page 35

“As usual, Ben Franklin improved what he found.” Page 36

Downward Spiral Tale, Morality Tale

“This was a terrible mistake, and we don’t want you ever to make another one like it. But people make mistakes, and we can forgive that. You did the right thing, which was to admit your mistake. If you had tried to hide the mistake, or cover it up for even a short time, you would be out of this company. As it is, we’d like you to stay.”

As told by Charles T. Munger Jr., about his father, Page 40

“Charlie’s Smart, Curious, Focused… and a Little Absentminded.” Page 48

“This book capturing Charlie’s wisdom is long overdue.” Page 51

Posted in Business, Munger, Trust