Large scale thermal/RO desalination gains traction

Lower cost desalination and increased water scarcity is helping facility capacity to reach over one million cubic meters per day...

Lower cost membrane desalination and increased water scarcity is now meaning that large scale desalination plants are coming online outside of the Middle East.

The largest membrane desalination plant in the world – the 444,000 m3/d Victoria Desalination Plant in Melbourne, Australia – came online last month, but it will be soon surpassed by the 500,000 m3/d Magtaa plant in Algeria, and the 510,000 m3/d Soreq plant in Israel.

The largest thermal desalination plant in the world is the 880,000 m3/d Shoaiba 3 desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, although this will be displaced in 2014 as the largest desalination plant in the world by the 1,025,000 m3/d Ras Al Khair project in Saudi Arabia, which uses both membrane and thermal technology.

Data published from the International Desalination Association (IDA) showed that over the past five years a 57% increase in the capacity of desalination plants coming on-line has been witnessed.

The installed base of desalination plants around the world now has a capacity of 78.4 million m3/d compared to 47.6 million m3/d at the end of 2008.

Around 60% of desalination capacity treats seawater; the remainder treats brackish and less saline feedwater. Historically, large scale desalination has mainly been built in the Gulf region where there is no alternative for public water supply.

Desalination is now practiced in 150 countries, from Australia to China and Japan, the United States, Spain and other European countries, the Middle East and North Africa.

Patricia Burke, secretary general for the IDA, said: “The desalination industry has done much to lower the cost of desalination by developing technologies that lower energy requirements, implementing practices that achieve greater operational efficiency, and adopting measures to enhance environmental stewardship.”

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