Let’s Make Magic Water Again!

Previously, I wrote about Te Kiri Gold, an extortionately priced product whose desperate users were told could cure cancer and suchlike. The product in question is no more than electrolysed salt water. I sardonically mused that such a product could be made from the reject stream of the reverse osmosis brine electrodialysis process, such as the one used in a chlor-alkali process designed by a team that I was involved with for an undergraduate project. Because of the low production cost and the attractive pricing, our generic Te Kiri Gold would generate a tremendous amount of revenue!

Recently Stuff.co.nz shared an article about another type of magic water, sold here in good ol’ New Zealand under the label of NZ Water Purifier Ltd. This magic water is different; while TKG was a solution of sodium hypochorite, NZ Water Purifier Ltd is a solution of dissolved chlorine dioxide. Chlorine dioxide should not be consumed by humans, let alone anything living. Funnily enough, it can also be produced by the chlor-alkali process!

During my undergrad project, another team also designed a chlor-alkali plant. They targeted it for use in the pulp and paper industry. A Kraft pulping plant is the perfect companion for a chlor-alkali plant since both the chlorine and NaOH are consumed on-site. Sodium hydroxide is used during the cooking and bleaching operations, while the chlorine is reacted with NaOH to produce sodium chlorate (famous for causing trousers to explode), which is reacted with hydrochloric acid to produce chlorine dioxide, which is the bleaching agent used.  Judging from the leading photo in the article (higher res at the original article at Newsroom.co.nz), sodium chlorite and HCl are sold in separate bottles* to mix together at home, or you can buy it pre-mixed for convenience.

Economically, how does this compare to TKG? We can’t use electrodialysis dilutate to produce NZ Water Purifier Ltd because the membrane cell requires highly concentrated brine (250 g/L as opposed to 32 g/L). So instead, lets just dump it back into the ocean and re-purpose the plant to make chlorine dioxide.

I’m not exactly sure about the amount of chlorine dixoide that can be produced, but from a crude analysis of the molar ratios in the chemical reaction equations I think there is a 2:1 ratio of sodium chlorate:chlorine. Thus we are limited by the amount of NaOH produced. There is then a 1:1 ratio of Chlorate:chlorine dioxide. Let’s say that from 90,000 t/y of NaOH, we can make 152,000 t/y of chlorine dioxide. (Note that I’ve ignored the production of HCl, which could be achieved from the remaining chlorine that isn’t used to make sodium chlorate. It becomes chlorine again during the reaction to produce chlorine dioxide anyway). Let’s assume we sell the solution at 25 wt%, then we are making 608,000 t/y of solution. Assuming a density of 1 kg/m³, and $190/L, we have a revenue of $116 million/y. Thus, we can conclude that a plant making Te Kiri Gold was a much better investment at $260 million/y in revenue.

Unlike TKG, this is not a kiwi product. In fact, NZ Water Purifier Ltd is already so infamous, that it has it’s own RationalWiki page (under the name, MMS). Consuming chlorine dioxide is a terrible idea, with some very unpleasant health effects. Beyond the usual aspirations of curing cancer, MMS has lately been marketed to parents of autistic children as a way to “detoxify” them. This is no doubt connected to the anti-vaccination movement, which has demonised autistic people as being “damaged” by vaccines. The level of ableist prejudice among the anti-vaccination and alternative medicine communities is outrageous. It only serves to increase the contempt that I have for them.

Fortunately, Medsafe has issued a warning over the product. Even better, the government has introduced the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill, which regulates the manufacture, sale, and export of “natural” health products and creates new offences for deceptive behaviour and harming human health. It’s currently at the committee stage prior to the third reading. Let’s get the bill passed and close NZ Water Purifier Ltd down.

*The concentrations of sodium chlorite and HCl are unclear. Are they weight percent, or per weight of water? Either way, it looks like sodium chlorite is in excess when the solutions are mixed. The pre-mix is given as 3000 ppm, is this weight, volume or molar? What  a bunch of scientifically illiterate bastards.

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Another Great Kiwi Invention to not be Proud of

In my final year of undergraduate study, I worked in a group of 4 people to design a chlor-alkali process plant. One of the interesting parts of this process is that you produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide. We needed to make sure that our process was positioned such that there was sufficient demand for both the chlorine and the sodium hydroxide.We obviously went for a membrane cell design because the other main types (mercury and diaphragm) use mercury and asbestos respectively. Sad!

After the usual jokes about supplying chemical weapons to dubious customers (which doesn’t sound so funny anymore), we settled on Australia. We would sell the chlorine to a PVC manufacturer in Victoria, the NaOH to the mining industry for bauxite processing and we would use the reject stream from a reverse osmosis desalination plant. Concentrating the brine solution was one of the trickiest parts, so it seemed helpful to have the hard work done for us, and it would reduce the damage done to the environment by the desalination plant.

However, it wasn’t that simple. The RO brine wasn’t concentrated enough! Thus, we opted to bump up the feed concentration using electrodialysis (I believe the recycle brine stream was concentrated using multi-effect evapouration). Such an approach was used with a plant in Kuwait (now called Al Kout Industrial Projects Company).

Despite using an innovative and efficient set-up, the profitability was very sensitive to the price of NaOH. If the price is too low, you may as well not bother.

I was thrilled to discover that there was another application for the chlor-alkali process: Te Kiri Gold magic water of course! You don’t even need to worry about concentrating up the feed solution, just dunk your electrodes in and go! Then approach vulnerable people, who will believe that it will solve their problems. Even better, get some rugby has-been to endorse it. Then charge $100 for 2 litres.

So our Victorian chlor-alkali plant used 5.9 million t/y of RO brine . Of that, 5.2 million t/y of that was electrodialysis dilutate, with a NaCl concentration of 32 g/L which I presume was dumped back into the sea. Instead of doing this and have to pay some kind of dumping fee (which we didn’t consider in the cashflow analysis) let’s make some magic water! As a volume, that is 5.2 million L/y. Given that no separation is required, the only operating cost is that of the electricity. At $50 per litre, the plant could make $260 million/y in revenue from magic water alone! The revenue from the chlorine and NaOH was only $160 million/y, and these were also much more expensive to produce.

There are a few issues to consider. First is demand; while there are enough people to defraud to make it worth the while of the shareholders, there aren’t enough people to defraud on such an industrial scale. The second is efficacy: MAGIC WATER DOESN’T FUCKING WORK! The third is ethics: could you live with yourself if you knowingly sold ineffective products that were giving people false hope? The dumbarse who manufactures this product doesn’t have this problem as his knowledge is woefully deficient. His claims of wanting to help people would be more believable if he wasn’t charging such an extortionate amount for it. Maybe he’s just that bad at business and that is what he needs to do to cover his costs.

I’m disappointed by the media coverage. The Stuff.co.nz articles are clearly aimed at the already sceptical, who will read the first few lines and snort with laughter. However the more easily misled may not pick that up. The expert criticism of the product only features at the end of the article where it’s less likely to be read. The Herald is worse, their “investigation” is a one-on-one chat with the manufacturer whose incorrect answers to the reporter’s questions go unchallenged. One Herald “article” is nothing more than an anecdote from one of the scam victims. The media has a responsibility to protect the public and needs to take a stronger view against Te Kiri Gold, which should be shut down immediately.