The Design of a Desalination Plant in the Bay of Bengal; The Political Flexibility of Salt in British India

Kim, Yonsei, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

My technical and STS research topic both look at the difficulties India faces when it comes to securing natural resources. The two projects complement each other as they build more understanding to the difficulties India faced with salt production in the past, and the difficulties they face now with water insecurity. This capstone combines the two separate project to complement each other, so that the understanding of Indian history is improved along with possible improvements to their current situation.
For my technical capstone, my group has designed a desalination plant in order to decrease the water deficit in India. This desalination plant produces freshwater that meets the World Health Organization’s (WHO) freshwater standards and regulations, and produces edible sea salt as a co-product to be sold. The desalination plant pumps water from the Bay of Bengal and treats water in order to remove pollutants, sediments, and other unwanted metals to prepare the water for reverse osmosis. The water is desalinated using reverse osmosis, which removes the salt from the water using osmotic pressure and a semi-permeable membrane. The reverse osmosis creates two product streams; a freshwater stream and a concentrated brine. The freshwater stream is treated further using remineralization, re-carbonation, and re-chlorination before being transported to the city. The concentrated brine is further concentrated using electrodialysis and the water is evaporated in a crystallizer leaving behind sea salt, which is sold to help with the margins on the water.
The STS research paper focuses on the salt and its production through the framework of technological politics. I will analyze the usage of salt in the events surrounding the satyagraha started by Mohandas Gandhi, which was in protest to the Salt Act of 1882, which was imposed by the British. How salt is used between the British and Gandhi displays the flexibility of certain technologies to be used in a democratic or authoritarian way is outlined by Langdon Winner in his framework technological politics. The large land usage but also easy access for salt production lends itself to be both regulated heavily but also hard to fully control. This dichotomy allows the British to take full control of salt production in India during their reign, but also allows Gandhi to make a full wide protest involving salt gathering almost impossible to stop by force. Reports, laws, speeches, memos, and published papers will be used to gain perspective on the choices made and the motives behind them surrounding laws put in place by the British and the course of action taken by Gandhi. The research helped improve the understanding of how salt can be used and seen beyond just its common usages for food, preservation, and other common utilities. The results of this research give insight into the history of India as well as enlighten us on how basic necessities are used to leverage power in today’s society, whether they are used to in an authoritarian manner or a democratic one.
I was able to gain additional insights and understanding of the project by completing the technical and STS proportion at the same time. The work and technical design of a desalination plant has made me realize how much work must be done to help secure additional essential resources for a country in a deficit, as well as a better understanding of how many countries and communities are in need of a stable freshwater source. The STS research helped me take a closer look into how scarcity, oppression, and externalities can hold so much control over a nation, and how the loss of a certain resource can be devastating to the people living there. It also helps me understand how much effort had to be put in to re-secure that resource for themselves. These two projects enlightened me to the hard work and effort that is required to have equity and availability for basic resources like salt and water, when external factors like environments or foreign counties can hinder the stability of those resources.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Desalination, Reverse Osmosis, India, Technological Politics, Salt March, Salt Satyagraha

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Toni Ajala, Catriona Corallo, Stephanie Gernentz

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