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Is Desalination A Solution To The World’s Water Crisis?

by | Jul 27, 2022 | Environment

More than 40 percent of the global population is facing extreme water shortages, while more than 700 million people worldwide do not have access to clean and drinkable water. According to the United Nations, approximately 2 billion people worldwide reside near river basins that need supplementary clean water sources.The global community and world leaders need to implement a solution to solve this problem. Is desalination a solution to the world’s water crisis?

0.7 percent of water is available as freshwater, and around 96.5 percent of water is salt water. An increasing population’s rising demand for fresh water will continue to pressure the earth’s freshwater resources. If water consumption increases or continues at the current pace, demand for water globally will exceed supply by about 40 percent in 2030.

The global community and world leaders need to implement a solution to solve this problem. Is desalination a solution to the world’s water crisis?

Need For Water Technologies

As the world’s population grows every year and increases to 9.7 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need to explore solutions and approaches to solve this serious issue. Various water technologies need to be looked into.

Water desalination is one of the many innovative water technologies. It has received a warm welcome from governmental leaders and industry players. The method of eliminating salt, impurities, and other minerals from the water so that it can be supplied to various cities and communities mainly involves two types of techniques- Thermal Desalination and Reverse Osmosis.

Around 20,000 desalination plants over the world use these techniques, which deliver around 25 billion gallons of desalinated water per day. Over 4 percent of water desalination initiatives worldwide are occurring in North Africa and the Middle East, with the global market reaching $32.1 billion by 2027.

desalination a solution to the world's water crisis

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Even though water desalination globally cannot tackle the rising water crisis by itself, so far, it is proving to be one of the most efficient and helpful methods of handling water scarcity. It is also effective in boosting the water supply to millions across the globe who are facing water shortage problems, according to Matthew Wasike, a water engineer at the University of Nairobi.

Water Desalination

Thermal Desalination: Thermal desalination involves using heat to eliminate salts from water by imitating natural water processes like the evaporation of water to obtain vapor and condensing it to collect salt-free liquid. Around 75 percent of the water that goes through this process comes out as brine. As this process requires huge amounts of energy and heat to supply fresh water, it is not a preferred method of desalination. It is also expensive, and reverse osmosis is much more effective.

desalination a solution to the world's water crisis

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Reverse Osmosis: Reverse Osmosis is the most preferred method as half of the water going through this process comes out as portable water. Water is first taken from the ocean through certain structures. The water is then filtered where particles like rocks, sand, seaweeds, etc., are removed. Water then goes through reverse osmosis membranes that remove salt molecules. Water free from salts and impurities is then collected and supplied. The concentrated salt stream, also known as brine, goes back into the ocean through an outfall.

Experts regard water desalination as an advantageous alternative to freshwater resources due to its reliability. It provides a low-risk water supply that is not vulnerable to disasters and natural events such as depletion and droughts. In contrast, other water sources like rivers and lakes are susceptible to such disasters.

Almost 40 percent of the world’s population lives in coastal communities. Desalination could provide water supply to these communities at the local level. For example, water desalination provides 55 percent of domestic water to a dry country like Israel. Thus, desalination is an effective technique to consider in the face of increasing climate change.

Desalination Limits

Today, one of the biggest problems with water desalination processes is its ecological impacts. Half of the water that gets thrown back into the ocean, brine is a major issue as it affects marine organisms. To prevent the impacts of brine on marine life, it is necessary to ensure that it is disposed of properly. Brine could be mixed with sea water before disposal or disposed of in areas with no sensitive marine ecosystems.

Desalination plants could extract salt from the brine and use it for various other purposes like de-icing roads during winter. A few plants are currently doing this. However, other plants should also undertake this and make it compulsory.

The brine contains certain toxic chemicals and metals that can harm habitats and ecosystems. To prevent ecological damage, evaporation pools can be installed to collect toxic chemicals and metals like uranium which is found in brine.

Water desalination is an expensive process and is also energy intensive. Due to the environmental crisis the world is currently facing, it is important that we use systems that do not cause further damage and aggravate climate change. Thus, the plants need to use renewable energy to reduce the ecological effects and carbon emissions of desalination.

Installing an energy recovery pump is also an option. Energy recovery pumps utilize a booster device to work the reverse osmosis membrane and concentrate salt stream energy. Devices like these can help reduce the cost of desalination plants, making it a preferred method compared to other water technologies.

Desalination is one of the possible solutions to the water crisis. It has the ability to provide water to several communities and regions that are affected by increasing climate change impacts and water scarcity issues. However, desalination is not the only solution to the world’s water crisis. There are several water technologies that are yet to develop.

Desalination continues to be an expensive process that can cause ecological damage. If several desalination plants shift to renewable energy and dispose of brine in an appropriate manner, it could act as an effective solution to the world’s water crisis. It provides the opportunity to supply a safe and reliable water source when efficiently implemented.

 

Author

  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.

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