Supercomputers' Computational Capabilities to Save the World from Water Shortages!

Due to rapid population growth and industrial development, the world now faces water shortages. Engineers are working to commercialize technology to convert seawater, which comprises about 98% of the earth’s water resources, into fresh water and to develop systems to recycle used water. Development of new water separation membranes using nano-carbon through simulation that makes the most of supercomputers’ high computational capabilities has also begun. Fujitsu will contribute to solving problems on a global scale by providing people around the world with safe water through commercialization of innovative water creation and circulation systems.

With usable water representing only 0.01% of the earth’s water resources, two-thirds of the world population may suffer from water shortages in ten years

The phrase “blue planet” may lead many to assume that the earth has plenty of water. While that is true, 98% of such water is seawater. The remaining 2%, which is fresh water, includes difficult-to-use water such as water in glaciers and deep groundwater. Water resources such as lakes, rivers, wetlands, and shallow groundwater, which can easily be used in our daily lives, only account for less than 0.01% of the total.

For this reason, 700 million people, about 10% of the global population, cannot use drinking water continuously in their lives. Some 1.8 million children die each year from use of unsanitary water unsuitable for drinking. From this perspective, the world is already suffering from water shortages.

Water shortages are expected to become even more serious as the global population increases. Today, the earth’s population, which stood at two billion in 1927, exceeds seven billion. It has more than tripled in less than a century, and it is predicted that two-thirds of the global population will suffer from water shortages in 2025.

Humanity faces a major challenge in securing safe water resources

Population growth is not the only reason for water shortages. While increasingly large amounts of water are consumed in developed countries due to the diversification of lifestyles, consumption of industrial water is increasing rapidly in developing countries due to industrialization. According to U.N. statistics, consumption of industrial water per person globally rose by about 1.8 times in the 45 years from 1950 to 1995, and moreover that of domestic water tripled during the same period.

Another cause of water shortages is changes in rainfall attributed to global warming and other environmental problems. The amount of rainfall has decreased in areas that traditionally have had much rain, causing droughts, decreases in the amount of available groundwater, and shrinkage of lakes; meanwhile, large amounts of rain fall intensely in areas which have historically had little rainfall, causing flood damage. Water shortages are now a global challenge.

How to secure water resources is a major issue facing humanity.

What actions must we take globally for safe water?

In 2000 the United Nations General Assembly set a goal of halving the percentage of people who cannot continuously use safe drinking water and sanitary facilities by 2015.

The result is that after 1990, some 2.1 billion people globally became able to use safe drinking water and other water resources, and the goal was achieved for the present. Nonetheless, today as many as 768 million people still cannot use safe, sanitary water resources.

Furthermore, since 83% of such people live in rural areas, developing infrastructure to supply safe water, ensuring a stable supply of agricultural water, and taking measures to install sewerage systems and prevent water contamination are urgent issues to be addressed.

Saving the world from water shortages using supercomputers!

Japan has a major role to play in global initiatives for water resources, and specific moves are being made toward such initiatives in the country. One is the initiative of Shinshu University, where a team of researchers has begun to develop water separation membranes using nano-carbon and other innovative materials in order to create safe water resources.

Complicated analytical work and atomic-level simulations are indispensable to develop these water separation membranes, which require supercomputers having extremely high computational capabilities.

Fujitsu’s supercomputer was selected for this initiative. Effective use of supercomputer simulations enables the researchers to develop new nano-carbon water separation membranes that not only have a high level of water permeability and separation performance but are also highly resistant to chemicals and heat. Further, supercomputers assist in the commercialization of innovative water creation and circulation systems.

In the future, it may become possible to extract domestic, industrial, and agricultural water from seawater and oil, which have thus far been difficult to use as water resources. Fujitsu expects to contribute to solving problems globally by providing people around the world with safe water through the effective use of supercomputers.