Desalination Sustainability?

Chip Harris considers the sustainability of desalination practices

Chip Harris, MD, Aqualyng
Chip Harris, MD, Aqualyng

Aqualyng MD, Chip Harris, considers the sustainability of current desalination practices

In many parts of the world, people live in an area of fresh water abundance… and those areas are typically not considered to be in the global geography known as the Middle East.

In the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) area, which rings the Arabian Gulf, desalination is in many areas the ONLY source of potable water, as the severe lack of natural potable water mandates.

There are many who see this as an unquestioned need for the region, and others who see the “outbreak” of desalination as a significant problem, albeit a necessary one.

The question of sustainability of the sea water desalination process is one voiced by a number of sources; critiquing many areas of the process, as such:
· Does the process have a reasonable/low CAPEX cost?
· Does the process have a reasonable/low OPEX cost?
· Does the process impact the environment?
· Can the process be continued indefinitely?

The answers to such questions above, in many cases, do not appear to support the sustainability of sea water desalination; yet the concept of desalination for water-poor regions continues to flourish. This is mainly due to needs which might be potentially better realised by other concepts; those such as conservation and reuse.

Many variations of desalination outcry can be cited, from numerous sources; this author does actually support the idea that the desalination of sea-water in its current technological state is not sustainable. And if you note the wording closely, that does not mean we should be shutting down the desal plants tomorrow… but tomorrow may bring better alternatives to the current “state of the art”.

The key to new technology is having the “open minds” to realise better methodology for a simple purpose: the extraction of pure water from the sea.

Ongoing efforts regarding this, in the terms of technological advancements to increase performance, lower costs and address environmental issues, are continuing steps which WILL lead to a more, or more truly, sustainable method of producing potable water from the sea.
Improvements are being developed at a rapid pace in regards to both of the most prevalent “types” of desalination technology - in both membrane and thermal technologies.

The “open mind” concept expressed above is also important to review our image of water necessity (or responsibility); do I need to have pure water processed from sea water in order to wash the car, water the garden, flush the loo, or other “needs”?

Do I need to, along with my fellow countrymen, continue to use water at such an alarming rate (in a geographic location where all water is made, not found) that equals or exceeds the usage in countries with abundant natural supply?

Many who decry the issues surrounding sea water desalination do so in line with their understanding of the “facts”, and many do nothing more than condemn the practice and cite immediate change.

For those, please, a message from the desalination industry that we understand the issue and ARE moving towards change… and that such change does not happen overnight.

It should be noted here that from the origins of commercial desalination in the 1950’s, until today, we as an industry have made significant advances in the capital, operational and environmental areas surrounding desalination, and will continue to do so as an industry. We urge others do their best to reduce both use and dependence on such, that we may better concentrate on change and spend less time and funding on continuing the status quo.


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