Desalination to rival water reuse costs by 2015

Cost reductions predicted for desalination processes, despite expensive facilities in Australia to comply with environmental legislation...

Aug 11th, 2011

DUBLIN, Ireland, August 11, 2011 -- In as little as three years time the cost of desalinated water could be the same as water reused from wastewater processes.

Overall the costs for desalinated plants are continuing to decline with energy recovery devices fitted as standard to reverse osmosis (RO) plants. And with plans to fit energy saving feed water intake systems, costs are expected to fall further.

These are the findings from the Global Desalination Report from Research and Markets, which said 2011 is expected to be a "good year for the sector compared with 2010".

Desalination has been previously criticised for being energy intensive and expensive compared to water reuse, even in drier climates such as the Middle East where energy is cheaper. Despite RO taking over from distillation processes (see Water & Wastewater International article about RO establishing foothold in Israel ) as the preferred lower energy choice, such findings are likely to welcomed by the industry.

Along with the traditional desalination technologies forward osmosis and membrane distillation will become more commonplace, the firm predicted. Both have lower energy requirements than RO, but are not as mature.

Despite the cost reductions, the report highlighted the large plants now active in Australia, which are "expensive as they have to comply with stringent environmental legislation" (read WWi's update on desalination across Australia). Plants may have to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits or source electricity from renewable sources; and may also have to reduce the environmental impact of intake systems and produced concentrate in order to pass the permitting process.

The report stated that the economic downturn was still having an effect in 2010 with many projects put on hold. Despite projects commissioned in new markets, such as the Thames Water Beckton plant in the UK, many projects were put on hold. This included Trinidad and Tobago, where following the election of the new government, all "planned projects were shelved".

Elsewhere, it said, major markets were still Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the UAE and Spain; with Saudi and the UAE continuing to be predominantly thermal markets, and Spain and the USA as membrane markets.

On a smaller scale, the report noted increased interest in desalination plants powered by renewable sources. It referenced Saudi Arabia, which set up the National Initiative for Solar Water Desalination (NISWD) at the start of last year, with the aim of developing large solar desalination plants for both the domestic and export markets.

The documented Memorandum of Understanding signed in Bahrain to see if wind powered desalination could be introduced into the country for the first time is also an example of how the desalination sector is looking to off take renewable energy (see WWi story).

Moving forward, with access to finance becoming more readily available, along with developing major markets, growth is expected to be driven by China and India. Increased demand from mining industries in Chile and municipalities in the U.S. are also expected to be strong. However, demand from Australia, Algeria and Spain is expected to diminish after all three countries have recently completed new build out programmes.

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- For more information and to purchase the report, click here

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