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Contrary Newsletter #19: The Growing Importance of Desalination

Published 9 months ago • 3 min read

What's New:

Foundations & Frontiers

About 71% of the Earth is covered in water. While most of that water is found in the ocean, about 2.5% of it is freshwater, which can be used to drink or irrigate crops. However, as climate change begins introducing erratic weather patterns, resulting in lower rain and snowfall, thinner rivers, and drier lakes, the availability of freshwater required to sustain a growing population is becoming a matter of urgent concern.

Today, there are increasing worries that many communities are at risk of losing access to fresh water. There are already 1.1 billion people dealing with water scarcity, and up to 2.7 billion people don’t have access to enough water for at least one month out of the year. Water scarcity has profound humanitarian and economic consequences.

The supply of available freshwater, already limited, may continue to decline in the future if droughts become more common. On the other hand, demand for freshwater is likely to continue to rise as the global population is projected to grow from 8 billion in 2023 to nearly 10 billion by 2050. Preventing widespread water insecurity will require a new source of freshwater supply.

Further reading on desalination:

  • An excellent primer on US Water Infrastructure from the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • A post from Casey Handmer showing how California could replace its dependency on the Colorado River by desalinating.
  • This article from Scientific American documenting how Israel used desalination technology to save itself in the midst of a historic drought.
  • A great article on the future of desalination from Geographical.
  • An overview of one of California’s newest desalination plants near San Diego from Wired.

How We Work

As urban areas continue to grow horizontally and vertically, the demand for efficient transportation and utility systems is also growing. New challenges have emerged as subterranean construction becomes ever more complex and our urban landscape grows denser and more populous, requiring tunnels to be more resilient than ever before. Moreover, in the digital age tunnels also serve as conduits for data, helping move information in much the same way as they do cars, subways, and utilities.

The tunneling industry has recently seen major attempts at disruption, with Elon Musk’s Boring Company seeking to establish a reliable method to create low-cost, efficient tunnels that can accommodate various transportation systems such as cars or transit. As we’ve written about in a previous Foundations & Frontiers essay on the Frontier of Boring, it is still the case that most tunnel construction occurs as part of enormous, complex public works projects.

To understand how tunnel engineers do their work in more detail, we spoke with Theodora Vovou. Theodora is a senior tunnel engineer at Hatch, a New York-based consultancy. Theodora, who trained in Greece and the US, has worked in the industry both designing tunnels and managing major infrastructure projects for many years and brings a wealth of experience to illuminate how tunnel engineering works today.

Contrary Research

Contrary Research publishes thoughtful analysis of the best private technology companies.

Charm Industrial: Charm Industrial captures CO₂ for carbon offsets by converting biomass into carbon-rich bio-oil and injecting it into retired gas and oil wells for long-term carbon storage. The company uses leftover organic materials from harvesting corn, rice, almonds, and more in addition to timber slash and uses fast pyrolysis to instantly heat the material and produce oil and nutrient-dense ash for fertilizer. Read the full report here.

Revolut: Revolut is a London, UK-based neobank that initially offered money transfer and exchange services to reduce the costs of international exchange rates charged by traditional banks. Since launching in 2015, Revolut has expanded to offer additional financial services, such as automated investing, corporate banking, spending rewards, international transfers, multi-currency accounts, and travel insurance. Read the full report here. helps merchants manage the acquiring and issuing segments of the payment stack. As a result, instead of having to independently develop banking relationships, merchants can integrate’s APIs into their products and accept payments immediately, from customers worldwide. Read the full report here.


Join us on Thursday, October 5th for our first Tech Talk — an evening of technical demos and conversation featuring senior leaders from Hugging Face, Graphite, Replit, Slingshot AI, and Nomic.

Space is limited - register here for the chance to attend this in-person event in NYC.

Venture Partner Applications 2023

Each year, we assemble a team of exceptional student Venture Partners (VPs) to work closely with us on the HQ team.

As we head into this upcoming school year, we're excited to recruit the next generation of students to join the Contrary family. We will review applications as they come in, so apply now. The sooner the better. We have a final deadline of September 17th at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Read more about becoming a venture partner and apply here.

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