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Desalination, desalinization, or desalinisation refers to any of several processes that remove excess salt and other minerals from water. More generally, desalination may also refer to the removal of salts and minerals, as in soil desalination.

Water is desalinated in order to be converted to fresh water suitable for human consumption or irrigation. Sometimes the process produces table salt as a by-product. It is used on many seagoing ships and submarines. Most of the modern interest in desalination is focused on developing cost-effective ways of providing fresh water for human use in regions where the availability of fresh water is limited.

Large-scale desalination typically uses extremely large amounts of energy as well as specialized, expensive infrastructure, making it very costly compared to the use of fresh water from rivers or groundwater. The large energy reserves of many Middle Eastern countries, along with their relative water scarcity, have led to extensive construction of desalination in this region. By mid-2007, Middle Eastern desalination accounted for close to 75% of total world capacity.

The world's largest desalination plant is the Jebel Alimarker Desalination Plant (Phase 2) in the United Arab Emiratesmarker. It is a dual-purpose facility that uses multi-stage flash distillation and is capable of producing 300 million cubic meters of water per year.

The largest desalination plant in the United Statesmarker is the one at Tampa Baymarker, Floridamarker, which began desalinating 25 million gallons (US Gal.) (95000 m³) of water per day in December 2007. The Tampa Bay plant runs at around 12% the output of the Jebel Ali Desalination Plants. A January 17, 2008, article in the Wall Street Journal states, "World-wide, 13,080 desalination plants produce more than 12 billion gallons of water a day, according to the International Desalination Association."


As of July 2004, the leading method is Multi-stage flash distillation (85% of production world-wide).The traditional process used in these operations is vacuum distillation—essentially the boiling of water at less than atmospheric pressure and thus a much lower temperature than normal. This is because the boiling of a liquid occurs when the vapor pressure equals the ambient pressure and vapor pressure increases with temperature. Thus, because of the reduced temperature, energy is saved.

In the last decade, membrane processes have developed very quickly, and most new facilities use reverse osmosis technology. Membrane processes use semi-permeable membranes and pressure to separate salts from water. Membrane systems typically use less energy than thermal distillation, which has led to a reduction in overall desalination costs over the past decade. Desalination remains energy intensive, however, and future costs will continue to depend on the price of both energy and desalination technology.

Considerations and criticism


Cogeneration is the process of using excess heat from power production to accomplish another task. In the sense of desalination, cogeneration is the production of potable water from seawater or brackish groundwater in an integrated, or "dual-purpose", facility in which a power plant is used as the source of energy for the desalination process. The facility’s energy production may be dedicated entirely to the production of potable water (a stand-alone facility), or excess energy may be produced and incorporated into the energy grid (a true cogeneration facility). There are various forms of cogeneration, and theoretically any form of energy production could be used. However, the majority of current and planned cogeneration desalination plants use either fossil fuels or nuclear power as their source of energy. Most plants are located in the Middle East or North Africa, due to their petroleum resources and subsidies. The advantage of dual-purpose facilities is that they can be more efficient in energy consumption, thus making desalination a more viable option for drinking water in areas of scarce water resources.

Shevchenko BN350, the world's only nuclear-heated desalination unit
In a December 26, 2007 opinion column in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nolan Hertel, a professor of nuclear and radiological engineering at Georgia Techmarker, wrote, "... nuclear reactors can be used... to produce large amounts of potable water. The process is already in use in a number of places around the world, from Indiamarker to Japanmarker and Russiamarker. Eight nuclear reactors coupled to desalination plants are operating in Japan alone... nuclear desalination plants could be a source of large amounts of potable water transported by pipelines hundreds of miles inland..."

Additionally, the current trend in dual-purpose facilities is hybrid configurations, in which the permeate from an RO desalination component is mixed with distillate from thermal desalination. Basically, two or more desalination processes are combined along with power production. Such facilities have already been implemented in Saudi Arabiamarker at Jeddahmarker and Yambu-Medina.

A typical aircraft carrier in the U.S. military uses nuclear power to desalinate 400,000 gallons (US Gal.) or 1514 m³ of water per day.


A number of factors determine the capital and operating costs for desalination: capacity and type of facility, location, feed water, labor, energy, financing and concentrate disposal. Desalination stills now control pressure, temperature and brine concentrations to optimize the water extraction efficiency. Nuclear-powered desalination might be economical on a large scale.

But, critics will point to the high costs of desalination technologies, especially for developing countries, the impracticability and cost of transporting or piping massive amounts of desalinated seawater throughout the interiors of large countries, and the byproduct of concentrated seawater, which some environmentalists have claimed "is a major cause of marine pollution when dumped back into the oceans at high temperatures"

While noting that costs are falling, and generally positive about the technology for affluent areas that are proximate to oceans, one study argues that "Desalinated water may be a solution for some water-stress regions, but not for places that are poor, deep in the interior of a continent, or at high elevation. Unfortunately, that includes some of the places with biggest water problems." and "Indeed, one needs to lift the water by 2000 m, or transport it over more than 1600 km to get transport costs equal to the desalination costs. Thus, it may be more economical to transport fresh water from somewhere else than to desalinate it. In places far from the sea, like New Delhimarker, or in high places, like Mexico Citymarker, high transport costs would add to the high desalination costs. Desalinated water is also expensive in places that are both somewhat far from the sea and somewhat high, such as Riyadhmarker and Hararemarker. In many places, the dominant cost is desalination, not transport; the process would therefore be relatively less expensive in places like Beijing, Bangkokmarker, Zaragozamarker, Phoenixmarker, and, of course, coastal cities like Tripolimarker." After being desalinized at Jubailmarker, Saudi Arabiamarker, water is pumped inland though a pipeline to the capital city of Riyadhmarker. For cities on the coast, desalination is being increasingly viewed as an untapped and unlimited water source.

Nevertheless, desalination does not take into account recycling water and broken infrastructure. Water is reused in Fountain Valley, CA, Fairfax, VA, El Paso, TX and Scottsdale, AZ. This process is an alternative to desalination that requires 50% less energy due to the significantly lower salt content and produces new water at 30% less cost to the consumer than desalinated sea water without the damage to marine life and ecosystems common to desalination plants.

Israel is now desalinating water at a cost of US$0.53 per cubic meter. Singapore is desalinating water for US$0.49 per cubic meter. Many large coastal cities in developed countries are considering the feasibility of seawater desalination, due to its cost effectiveness compared with other water supply options, which can include mandatory installation of rainwater tanks or stormwater harvesting infrastructure. Studies have shown that the desalination option is more cost-effective than large-scale recycled water for drinking, and more cost-effective in Sydney than the vastly expensive option of mandatory installation of rainwater tanks or stormwater harvesting infrastructure. The city of Perthmarker has been successfully operating a reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant since 2006, and the Western Australia government have announced that a second plant will be built to service the city's needs. A desalination plant is being built in Australia's largest city, Sydneymarker, and at Wonthaggi, Victoria in the near future.

The Perth desalination plant is powered partially by renewable energy from the Emu Downs Wind Farm. The Sydney plant will be powered entirely from renewable sources, thereby eliminating harmful greenhouse gas emissions to the environment, a common argument used against seawater desalination due to the energy requirements of the technology. The purchase or production of renewable energy to power desalination plants naturally adds to the capital and/or operating costs of desalination. However, recent experience in Perth and Sydney indicates that the additional cost is acceptable to communities, as a city may then augment its water supply without doing environmental harm to the atmosphere.The Queensland state government recently announced that the Gold Coast desalination plant will be powered entirely from renewable sources, bringing its environmental footprint down, in line with the other major plants that will be operating around the same time, in Perth and Sydney.

In December 2007 the South Australian Government announced that it would build a seawater desalination plant for the city of Adelaide, Australia located at Port Stanvacmarker. The desalination plant is to be funded by raising water rates to achieve full cost recovery. [23883] [23884] An online, unscientific poll showed that nearly 60% of votes cast were in favor of raising water rates to pay for desalination. [23885]

A January 17, 2008 article in the Wall. St. Journal states, "In November, Connecticut-based Poseidon Resources Corp. won a key regulatory approval to build a [US]$300 million water-desalination plant in Carlsbadmarker, north of San Diegomarker. The facility would be the largest in the Western Hemisphere, producing 50 million [U.S.] gallons [190,000 m³] of drinking water a day, enough to supply about 100,000 homes... Improved technology has cut the cost of desalination in half in the past decade, making it more competitive... Poseidon plans to sell the water for about [US]$950 per acre-foot [1200 m³]. That compares with an average [US]$700 an acre-foot [1200 m³] that local agencies now pay for water." [23886]$1,000 per acre-foot works out to $3.06 for 1,000 gallons, which is the unit of water measurement that residential water users are accustomed to being billed in. [23887].

While this regulatory hurdle was met, Poseidon Resources is not able to break ground until the final approval of a mitigation project for the damage done to marine life through the intake pipe, as is required by California law. Poseidon Resources has made progress in Carlsbad, CA despite its unsuccessful attempt to complete construction of Tampa Bay Desal, a desalination plant in Tampa Bay, FL in 2001. The Board of Directors of Tampa Bay Water were forced to buy Tampa Bay Desal from Poseidon Resources in 2001 to prevent a third failure of the project. Tampa Bay Water faced with 5 years of engineering problems and operation at 20% capacity due to marine life and growth captured and stuck to reverse osmosis filters prior to fully utilizing this facility in 2007.

According to a May 9, 2008 article in Forbes, a San Leandro, Californiamarker company called Energy Recovery Inc. has been desalinizing water for US$0.46 per cubic meter.

According to a June 5, 2008 article in Globe and Mail, a Jordanian born chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawamarker named Mohammed Rasool Qtaisha has invented a new desalination technology that is alleged to be between 600% and 700% more efficient than current technology. According to the article, General Electric is looking into similar technology, and the U.S. National Science Foundation announced a grant to the University of Michiganmarker to study it as well. Because the patents were still being worked out, the article was very vague about the details of this alleged technology.


One of the main environmental considerations of ocean water desalination plants is the impact of the open ocean water intakes , especially when co-located with power plants. Many proposed ocean desalination plants initial plans relied on these intakes despite perpetuating ongoing impacts on marine life . In the United Statesmarker, due to a recent court ruling under the Clean Water Act these intakes are no longer viable without reducing mortality, by ninety percent, of the life in the ocean; the plankton, fish eggs and fish larvae. There are alternatives including beach wells that eliminate this concern, but require more energy and higher costs while limiting output. Other environmental concerns include air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the power plants that provide electricity and/or thermal energy to the desalination plants.

Regardless of the method used, there is always a highly concentrated waste product consisting of everything that was removed from the created fresh water. This is sometimes referred to as brine, which is also a common term for the byproduct of recycled water schemes that is often disposed of in the ocean. These concentrates are classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as industrial wastes. With coastal facilities, it may be possible to return it to the sea without harm if this concentrate does not exceed the normal ocean salinity gradients to which osmoregulators are accustomed. Reverse osmosis, for instance, may require the disposal of waste water with salinity twice that of normal seawater. The benthic community cannot accommodate such an extreme change in salinity and many filter-feeding animals are destroyed by osmotic pressure when such water is returned to the ocean. This presents an increasing problem further inland where one needs to avoid ruining existing fresh water supplies such as ponds, rivers and aquifers. As such, proper disposal of concentrate needs to be investigated during the design phases.

To limit the environmental impact of returning the brine to the ocean, it can be diluted with another stream of water entering the ocean, such as the outfall of a waste water treatment plant or power plant. While seawater power plant cooling water outfalls are not freshwater like waste water treatment plant outfalls, the salinity of the brine will still be reduced. If the power plant is medium to large sized and the desalination plant is not enormous, the flow of the power plant's cooling water is likely to be at least several times larger than that of the desalination plant. Another method to reduce the increase in salinity is to spread the brine over a very large area so that there is only a slight increase in salinity. For example, once the pipeline containing the brine reaches the sea floor, it can split off into many branches, each one releasing the brine gradually along its length through small holes. This method can be used in combination with the joining of the brine with power plant or waste water plant outfalls.

The concentrated seawater has the potential to harm ecosystems, especially marine environments in regions with low turbidity and high evaporation that already have elevated salinity. Examples of such locations are the Persian Gulfmarker, the Red Seamarker and, in particular, coral lagoons of atolls and other tropical islands around the world . Because the brine is denser than the surrounding sea water due to the higher solute concentration, discharge into water bodies means that the ecosystems on the bed of the water body are most at risk because the brine sinks and remains there long enough to damage the ecosystems. Careful re-introduction can minimize this problem . For example, for the desalination plant and ocean outlet structures to be built in Sydney from late 2007, the water authority states that the ocean outlets will be placed in locations at the seabed that will maximize the dispersal of the concentrated seawater, such that it will be indistinguishable from normal seawater between 50 meters and 75 meters from the outlet points. Sydney is fortunate to have typical oceanographic conditions off the coast that allow for such rapid dilution of the concentrated byproduct, thereby minimizing harm to the environment.

In Perth, Australia, in 2007, the Kwinana Desalination Plantmarker was opened. The water is sucked in from the ocean at only 0.1 meter per second, which is slow enough to let fish escape. The plant provides nearly 140,000 m³ of clean water per day. [23888]

Desalination compared to other water supply options

Increased water conservation and water use efficiency remain the most cost effective priority for supplying water for certain areas of the world where there is a large potential to improve the efficiency of water use practices. While comparing ocean water desalination to waste water reclamation for drinking water shows desalination as the first option, using reclamation for irrigation and industrial use provides multiple benefits. Urban runoff and storm water capture also provide multiple benefits in treating, restoring and recharging groundwater.An emerging alternative to desalinization in the State of California and other areas in the American southwest is the commercial importation of bulk water either by very large crude carriers converted to water carriers or pipelines. The idea is presently politically unpopular in Canada where governments have been scrambling to impose trade barriers to bulk water exports as a result of a claim filed in 1999 under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by Sun Belt Water Inc. a company established in 1990 in Santa Barbara, California, to address pressing local needs due to a severe drought in that area. Sun Belt maintains a web site where documents relating to the dispute are posted online at Company website.

Experimental techniques and other developments

In the past many novel desalination techniques have been researched with varying degrees of success.Some, such as Forward osmosis are still on the drawing board now while others have attracted research funding. For example,to offset the energy requirements of desalination, the U.S. Government is working to develop practical solar desalination.

As an example of newer theoretical approaches for desalination, focusing specifically on maximizing energy efficiency and cost effectiveness, Passarell Process may be considered .

Other approaches involve the use of geothermal energy. From an environmental and economic point of view, in most locations geothermal desalination can be preferable to using fossil groundwater or surface water for human needs, as in many regions the available surface and groundwater resources already have long been under severe stress.

Recent research in the U.S. indicates that nanotube membranes may prove to be extremely effective for water filtration and may produce a viable water desalination process that would require substantially less energy than reverse osmosis.

On June 23, 2008 it was reported that Siemens Water Technologies had developed a new technology that desalinizes one cubic meter of water while using only 1.5 kWh of energy, which, according to the report, is one half the energy that other processes use.

According to MSNBC, a report by Lux Research estimated that the worldwide desalinated water supply will triple between 2008 and 2020.

LTTD Process

LTTD is 'Low Temperature Thermal Desalination' uses low pressures inside chambers created by vacuum pumps and the principle that water boils at low pressures, even at ambient temperature. To cool the water vapors, cold sea water located 600 metres below the sea level is pumped through coils to condense the water vapors and then collect the pure water into storage tanks.The temperature of ocean water declines with an increase in depth, the water on surface of sea water is hot and water down below 600 metres is much cooler. The NIOT, India was able tosuccessfully commission a 1000m3/day capacity floating barge based desalination plant off the coast of Chennai.It is also possible to use the LTTD process for power plants where huge amounts of warm water are discharged continuously from the plant. An experimental plant is being set up at Chennai Thermal Power Station.


Thermo-ionic process

In October 2009, Saltworks Technologies, a Canadian firm, announced a process that uses solar or other thermal heat to drive an ionic current that empties all the sodium and chlorine ions from the water.

Existing facilities

Tampa Bay Water Desalination Project

The Tampa Bay Water Desalination project was originally a private venture led by Poseidon Resources. This project was delayed by the bankruptcy of Poseidon Resources successive partners in the venture, Stone & Webster, then Covanta (formerly Ogden) and its principal subcontractor Hydranautics. Poseidon's relationship with Stone & Webster through S & W Water LLC ended in June 2000 when Stone & Webster declared bankruptcy and Poseidon Resources purchased Stone & Webster's stake in S & W Water LLC. Poseidon Resources partnered with Covanta and Hydranautics in 2001, changing the consortium name to Tampa Bay Desal. Through the inability of Covanta to complete construction bonding of the project, the Tampa Bay Water agency was forced to purchase the project from Poseidon on May 15, 2002 and underwrite the project financing under its own credit rating. Tampa Bay Water then contracted with Covanta Tampa Construction, who produced a project that did not meet required performance tests, and Covanta Tampa Construction filed bankruptcy in October 2003 to prevent losing the contract with Tampa Bay Water, which resulted in nearly 6 months of litigation between Covanta Tampa Construction and Tampa Bay Water. The plant was not fully operational until 2007.

The Island of Aruba has the worlds 3rd largest desalination plant.

El Paso (Texas) Desalination Plant

Brackish groundwater has been treated at the El Paso Plant since around 2004. Producing 27.5 million gallons (104,000 m³) of fresh water daily (about 25% of total freshwater deliveries) by reverse osmosis, it is a crucial contribution to water supplies in this water-stressed city.

See also



  1. "Desalination" (definition), The American Heritage Science Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin Company, via Retrieved on 2007-08-19.
  2. "Australia Aids China In Water Management Project." People's Daily Online, 2001-08-03, via Retrieved on 2007-08-19.
  3. There exist a new solution with the HelioTech products. HelioTech company ltd. Takashi, Kume, Amaya Takao, and Mitsuno Tooru. "The Effect of Soil Desalinization in the Hetao Irrigation District, Inner Mongolia, China." Transactions of the Japanese Society of Irrigation, Drainage and Reclamation Engineering, No. 223, pp. 133-139, 2003, abstract via Retrieved on 2007-08-19.
  4. Note: only the first two paragraphs are available on-line for no charge.
  5. Applause, At Last, For Desalination Plant, The Tampa Tribune, December 22, 2007
  6. Kathryn Kranhold, Water, Water, Everywhere..., The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2008
  7. Source:
  8. Hamed, Osman A. (2005). “Overview of hybrid desalination systems – current status and future prospects.” Desalination, 186, 207-214.
  9. Misra, B.M., J. Kupitz. (2004). “The role of nuclear desalination in meeting potable water needs in water scarce areas in the next decades.” Desalination, 166, 1-9.
  11. Ludwig, Heinz. (2004). “Hybrid systems in seawater desalination – practical design aspects, present status and development perspectives.” Desalination, 164, 1-18.
  12. How Aircraft Carriers Work
  13. "Nuclear Desalination: UIC Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper #74," Uranium Information Centre Ltd., Melbourne, Australia, October 2006. Retrieved on 2007-08-20.
  14. Barlow, Maude, and Tony Clarke, "Who Owns Water?" The Nation, 2002-09-02, via Retrieved on 2007-08-20.
  15. Zhoua, Yuan, and Richard S.J. Tolb. "Evaluating the costs of desalination and water transport." (Working paper). Via a Hamburg University website. 2004-12-09. Retrieved on 2007-08-20.
  16. Desalination is the Solution to Water Shortages, redOrbit, May 2, 2008
  17. Sitbon, Shirli. "French-run water plant launched in Israel," European Jewish Press, via, 2005-12-28. Retrieved on 2007-08-20.
  18. "Black & Veatch-Designed Desalination Plant Wins Global Water Distinction," (Press release). Black & Veatch Ltd., via, 2006-05-04. Retrieved on 2007-08-20.
  20. "Sydney desalination plant to double in size," ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), via, 2007-06-25. Retrieved on 2007-08-20.
  21. Australia Turns to Desalination by Michael Sullivan and PX Pressure Exchanger energy recovery devices from Energy Recovery Inc. An Environmentally Green Plant Design. Morning Edition, National Public Radio, June 18, 2007
  22. Fact sheets
  24. Hydro-Alchemy, Forbes, May 9, 2008
  25. Ottawa student may hold secret to Water For All, Globe and Mail, June 5, 2008
  27. untitled
  28. Gleick, Peter H., Dana Haasz, Christine Henges-Jeck, Veena Srinivasan, Gary Wolff, Katherine Kao Cushing, and Amardip Mann. (November 2003.) "Waste not, want not: The potential for urban water conservation in California." (Website). Pacific Institute. Retrieved on 2007-09-20.
  29. Cooley, Heather, Peter H. Gleick, and Gary Wolff. (June 2006.) "Desalination, With a Grain of Salt – A California Perspective." (Website). Pacific Institute. Retrieved on 2007-09-20.
  30. Gleick, Peter H., Heather Cooley, David Groves. (September 2005.) "California water 2030: An efficient future." (Website). Pacific Institute. Retrieved on 2007-09-20.
  31. Team wins $4m grant for breakthrough technology in seawater desalination, The Straits Times, June 23, 2008
  32. A Rising Tide for New Desalinated Water Technologies, MSNBC, March. 17, 2009
  33. Current thinking, Oct 29th 2009, The Economist
  34. Saltworks Technologies

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