Desalination Techniques Emerge in the Spotlight as Fresh Water Supplies Diminish Steadily

Thermal and membrane desalination are the technologies driving the ultra pure water and potable water sectors in the water market. Thermal technologies are highly favored in countries where energy is cheap and abundant. The water market is growing, and other industries such as concentrated solar power, produced water treatment and ballast water treatment are exploring the possibility of converting their effluent water into potable grade water.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, (, Desalination: A Technological Assessment finds that reverse osmosis (RO) has a bright future in the desalination market, but research is ongoing for ion exchange processes and thermal technologies that involve utilization of waste heat.

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"The world’s growth rate since 1960 to the present year has marginally dropped from around 2.5 percent to 1.17 percent according to the World Bank," said Technical Insights research analyst Kumar Narasimhan. "However, the total world population has risen phenomenally from 3 billion in 1960 to about 7 billion in the present time."

On average, the water requirement per person varies from about 80 liters per capita per day (LPCD) to 200 LPCD, depending on the place and country. The socioeconomic factors, extent of urbanization, availability of fresh water, local regulations and many others affect water usage. To cater to the needs of the expanding local population, the concerned governments are exploring options to ensure potable water for their citizens.

Generally, research activities undertaken to obtain potable water in regions are affected by water scarcity. Research activities for desalination techniques have been vigorously conducted in countries such as Australia, China, Singapore and in the western regions of the United States.

Countries from the Middle East have always had to cope with water scarcity. They are the pioneers of setting up large-scale distillation plants since the last quarter of the 20th century. The region has abundant oil reserves, which keep the cost of energy very low. Large-scale distillation plants cater to the water needs of the region.

"The only significant technology to have challenged conventional distillation techniques is RO, a membrane filtration process," said Narasimhan. "Though RO is less energy intensive, some challenges surrounding fouling, durability, cost and maintenance persist."

The two major impediments for the sector are the reluctance to adopt new methods and the hesitation of the public to utilize recycled water. Hence, recycled water has not been adopted for potable use until now but has been reserved for secondary uses such as agriculture, irrigation, gardening, street washing and so on. The Singapore government has made some progress in the recycle and reuse of treated wastewater, using treated water to recharge their reservoirs and replenish their drinking water supplies.

The industry will mostly deploy the available conventional technologies until a tremendous breakthrough in technology takes place, which is also cost effective. Expenditure is the most important parameter and companies are striving to maintain minimum water cost. Multi-stage flash distillation (MSF), multiple effect distillation (MED) and RO techniques are stand-alone types, but researchers predict that hybrids may gain traction in the future.

Desalination: A Technological Assessment, a part of the Technical Insights subscription, throws light on the current state of the desalination sector of the water industry. Further, this research service includes detailed technology analysis and industry trends evaluated following extensive interviews with market participants.

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