Desalination now ‘workable solution’

The report by market analysts Frost and Sullivan, entitled Desalination - Technology Benchmarking and Stakeholder Analysis, suggests that ultra pure water and potable water sectors in the water market are currently being driven by thermal and membrane desalination. Other industries such as concentrated solar power, produced water treatment, and ballast water treatment are also exploring the possibility of converting their effluent water into potable grade water.

While reverse osmosis (RO) has a positive outlook, research is ongoing in ion exchange processes and thermal technologies that involve utilisation of waste heat. "The only significant technology to have challenged conventional distillation techniques is RO, a membrane filtration process," says the Frost and Sullivan analyst. "Though RO is less energy intensive, some challenges surrounding fouling, durability, cost, and maintenance persist." Researchers also predict that hybrids may gain traction in the future.  

Research activities for desalination techniques have been conducted in countries such as Australia, China, and Singapore and in the western regions of the United States.

This comes as water scarcity becomes an increasing problem. "The world's growth rate since 1960 to the present year has marginally dropped from around 2.5% to 1.17% according to the World Bank," notes the analyst of this research service. "However, the total world population has risen phenomenally from 3 billion in 1960 to about 7 billion in the present time." On an average, the water requirement per person varies from about 80 litres per capita per day (LPCD) to 200 LPCD, depending on the place and country.  The Middle East is particular affected and countries in that region have been have been the pioneers in setting up large-scale distillation plants since the last quarter of the 20th century.

Frost and Sullivan’s report admits that two major impediments for the sector are the reluctance to adopt new methods and the hesitation of the general public to utilise recycled water. 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. However, the water industry is likely to deploy the available conventional technologies until a cost-effective breakthrough in technology takes place, with companies currently striving to maintain minimum water cost.