With severe droughts and increasing population, could our seas hold the answer to our water scarcity problems? Developing sustainable seawater desalination technology could play a critical role in eliminating global water scarcity.
Oceans constitute over 70% of the earth's surface and hold over 96% of the planet's water resources. Though the planet's oceans have gazillion tons of water, it reminds us of the famous verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink.”
The biggest problem with seawater is that it's not suitable for human consumption. It's oversaturated with salt and other minerals.
Desalination is the process of converting salty seawater into potable water suitable for human consumption. Is desalination the silver bullet that will help our planet and its 783 million people access clean water? Will it help us overcome the devastating effects of severe droughts and worsening climate change?
Sea Water Desalination: The Progress So Far
Seawater desalination has progressed tremendously in the last few years. The development of powerful pumps for seawater desalination has helped in making this solution sustainable and cost-effective. According to data provided by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 20,000 desalination plants are currently operating across 150 countries.
Currently, the Middle East has emerged as a global leader in desalination, partly due to the region's geographical challenges. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Kuwait rely heavily on desalination plants to provide clean drinking water to their citizens. Over 40% of domestic water is Israel comes from desalination plants. Out of the 34 million population of Saudi Arabia, nearly 50% drink water from desalination plants.
As they say, "necessity is the mother of all innovation," countries in the Middle East have progressed significantly in saltwater desalination due to their fast-depleting groundwater and freshwater supplies.
Currently, 1% of the global population relies on desalination plants for their drinking water supply. As per reports by the United Nations, by 2025, 14% of the world’s population will depend on seawater desalination pumps and plants to meet their daily water needs.
So, what exactly is Saltwater Desalination?
Desalination is the process of converting salty seawater into potable drinking water. It's removing the extra salts and minerals from seawater, making it suitable for drinking. Several methods are used to convert seawater into freshwater. The popular methods are:
Reverse Osmosis – This is similar to the RO water purifiers you use at home. A thick membrane is used to retain salts and minerals in the water, providing fresh water.
Distillation – This is another popular method to convert seawater into freshwater. Distillation at desalination plants is carried out on a large scale and involves boiling seawater and collecting water vapour. This water vapour is then condensed to produce fresh water.
The biggest drawback of desalination plants is that both these processes are energy-intensive and require large-scale infrastructure. It's expensive. Another challenge with desalination is environmental concerns. Desalination plants use centrifugal water desalination pumps to take in saltwater directly from the ocean. There is a possibility of disrupting the aquatic cycle.
The final problem with desalination on a large scale is that it can significantly increase salinity levels in the world's oceans. This, in turn, makes further filtering time-consuming and expensive. This is why most desalination plants today convert brackish water into potable water instead of taking in seawater.
So, what’s the way forward?
Sustainable Desalination: Moving Toward the Future
While it's true that current desalination technologies are far from perfect, they can be made sustainable by focussing on a few critical criteria:
The intake systems (systems that draw in water from oceans) should not negatively impact the local marine environment. Some factors to consider include: no seabed erosion, low intake velocity, located away from fish breeding grounds, etc.
The discharge system (the system that pumps out wastewater – brine) must not impact the local marine environment. It should not discharge water at high temperatures and high velocities, introduce foreign particles or chemicals, or affect the local marine environment's flora and fauna.
The plant must operate at maximum efficiency. This includes using advanced centrifugal water desalination pumps that operate at minimum energy and maximum efficiency.
The plant must have minimal to zero impact on the local environment both during and after construction.
The plant must use energy from renewable sources like solar energy.
With these criteria, it’s possible to build sustainable desalination plants that tackle global water scarcity without harming the environment.
With severe climate change and droughts affecting a large majority of the population, we believe that desalination is the way forward. Combining renewable energy with improved technology can make desalination a sustainable solution in the next few years.
Sintech is a proud pioneer in the desalination industry. Our range of desalination pumps is built with world-class technology to offer maximum efficiency at competitive prices. To know more about our product range for the desalination industry, get in touch with our sales team at firstname.lastname@example.org.