Decoding Desalination

How a little investment in the future could save it!

Desalination uses reverse osmosis technology to separate water molecules from seawater. Water from the ocean is forced through thousands of tightly-wrapped, semipermeable membranes under very high pressure. The membranes allow the smaller water molecules to pass through, leaving salt and other impurities behind. Desalination provides people with potable water (clean & fresh drinking water). Provides water to the agricultural industry. Water quality is safe (not dangerous or hazardous to any living thing). Uses tried-and-tested technology (the method is proven and effective).

Desalination can extend water supplies beyond what is available from the hydrological cycle, providing an “unlimited”, climate-independent and steady supply of potable water. By definition, drinking water should have a salt content of no more than 0.01 per cent. And desalination technology is more than capable of providing this water to all parts of the globe with investment far less costly than allowing regions to become uninhabitable. Another plus is that most desalination plants work by reverse osmosis, meaning energy is needed to push water past a membrane at high pressure in order to separate the salt (learn more how it works). A typical plant takes an average of 10 to 13 kilowatt hours of energy per every thousand gallons processed. This energy can easily be provided by wind, solar or ocean wave/tidal energy recapture coupled with industrial battery storage.

In the past the desalination of water required a lot of energy supplied by fossil fuels. Salt dissolves very easily in water, forming strong chemical bonds, and those bonds are difficult to break. Energy and the technology to desalinate water were expensive, and that meant that desalinating water was pretty costly. Governments are now rethinking this attitude when they have experienced the economic downturns relying on old fuel sources have caused. There is even a push to repurpose the current pipelines that we use for fossil fuels both oil and gas, to transport much needed water to farmlands etc. This infrastructure already offers a cost effective and non prohibitive answer to supplying agrarian areas with much needed water to sustain crop productions and avoid mass starvation caused by climate change This repurposing would also,easing the strain on rivers and aquifers that supply growing populations. Of course some billionaires (who will NOT be named) that invested in lands with aquifers hoping they could force large populations of the public to buy their water or die, won’t be happy about us solving this problem, but the citizens of nations globally will be safer, and their children will live to grow up and have families of their own.

Breakthroughs come every year in desalination technology that lower costs and force people to take this course of action seriously. In 2021 by making the filtration membranes more uniform in density at the nanoscale, the researchers were able to increase desalination efficiency in a plant by 30 to 40 percent, therefore cleaning more water with less energy and lowering the overall cost by the same margin. The findings were published in the journal Science!

A team of researchers from the University of Texas and Pennsylvania State University, in partnership with DuPont Water Solutions, discovered the problem was essentially that desalination membranes were inconsistent in mass distribution and density, impairing the performance of reverse osmosis. Discoveries like this are coming at a critical time as solving the issues of climate change, population growth, and pollution are necessary to give everyone equal access to safe drinking water. Another plus about desalination is that it can mediate the problem of Sea level rise which threatens all coastal areas especially those with port cities! Scientists believe that Sea level rise can be prevented by desalinating the additional water accumulated into oceans annually for human consumption, while the excess amount of water can be stored in dams and lakes. It is predicted that SLR can be prevented by desalination plants. Overwhelmingly worldwide, desalination is increasingly seen as one possible answer to problems of water quantity and quality that will worsen with global population growth and the extreme heat and prolonged drought linked to climate change. The nations that embrace this technology will be the future leaders of the globe; those that don’t will see great economic downturns and losses of farmlands. Sadly the main opposition of this technology are greedy corporations who only care about potential loss of their personal profits not the losses of their nations.

Currently The Middle East is home to 70% of the world's desalination plants – mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Wisely they used profits from oil to invest in their nations future, thus assuring continued growth even after the transition from oil to renewable energy occurs. While there are many variables related to the cost of desalinated water, Texas Water Development Board states a good rule of thumb is $1.10-2.40 per 1,000 gallons for brackish water and at the date of publication of this article $2.00-3.20 per 1,000 gallons for seawater desalination the price the average consumer pays for 1 gallon of spring water!

California Coastal Commission staff issued a report in late April recommending that the panel reject the proposed $1.4 billion plant that would process 50 million gallons per day. Also, the Stop Poseidon Coalition, a collective of environmental justice, coastal and ocean conservation groups, submitted a petition with more than 12,500 signatures to the Commission panel opposing the proposed plant.I the future this decision may come back to haunt them. Water treatment experts, routinely have seen first-hand how desalination helps ensure water supply security despite climate and overpopulation concerns and for this reason the misinformation around desalination needs to be addressed.

Desalination is the process of converting saline water to fresh water by taking out the salt to make it potable (drinkable). The process usually involves treating either sea or brackish water. And, together with water reuse, it can help provide a water supply solution in water-scarce or drought-stricken areas.You may be surprised how prevalent the use of this technology is. In fact, your local municipality might be using a desalination plant to keep up with water supply demands everyday. In South Africa, for example, desalination is also used by many mines to help clean up water as well as acid mine drainage. Furthermore, the smaller towns have also relied heavily on desalination to get through periods of extreme drought. The anticipated ‘Day Zero’ in Cape Town also led many wineries, hotels, and resorts to implement small-scale desalination plants to ensure their water demands were met and continue to be met.

According to the International Desalination Association, there are an estimated 20,000 desalination plants worldwide, providing water for more than 300 million people!

Although desalination is slightly more expensive than treating surface water, the certainty, and security, of supply far outweighs the minor premium. Still, it’s competitively priced compared to the more complex treatment solutions required in numerous areas globally. There's a strong energy efficiency movement which is made possible by improved technologies and new, novel, designs. One solution to this is powering desalination plants with solar energy as seen extensively throughout Africa, the Middle East and SouthEast Asia.

The reality is that, yes, there are toxic brines that get released into water bodies like the ocean and rivers. However by implementing proven Brine management strategies that are commonplace globally like Using brine outfalls, plants can dispose of and disperse brine carefully, mixing it with seawater to further minimize any possible impact. There is even new research that shows that brine has the ability to help drive environmental restoration in coral reef bodies.

It was discovered that coral areas living in highly saline waters are more tolerant to rising water temperatures.One of the most incredible cold-water coral groups is Lophelia pertusa. These corals can form reefs; interestingly, Lophelia pertusa reefs extend for more than 2,800 miles along the European continental margin. In comparison, the Great Barrier Reef is 1,200 miles.Increasing the salt level in this area could save the reef and the life it supports. KAUST researchers have shown that salinity directly influences the ability of the sea anemone Aiptasia, a model for coral, to cope in warmer water researchers observed that corals from highly saline waters like the Red Sea can tolerate high water temperatures, but no one prior to them had systematically analyzed this

.A previous study led by Voolstra showed that a compound found in corals called floridoside is increased, or upregulated, under high-salinity conditions. Floridoside is an antioxidant that also regulates osmotic pressure within the animal. This means it may counter the stress-induced overproduction of toxic reactive oxygen species within cells and help prevent severe bleaching. We now know thermotolerance is increased at high salinity for many host-symbiont relationships it is species specific and that floridoside is abundantly present at high salinity,high salinity may cause some species to leave a certain area but the give is that it could save the reef in its entirety while mitigating sea level rise and ocean acidification.We know that increasing salinity level does not influence water acidity (pH) and adding it to seawater will only change the volume, not the pH.