Over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. Yet modern civilization can only access less than a percent to keep people hydrated, water crops, cool power plants, etc. 

Why is that? Today we answer that question, why we’ll need more fresh water in the coming years, and how water desalination may be the answer.  

What is Desalination? 

Desalination is an artificial process by which saline water is converted to fresh water. The process, which has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks if not earlier, is due to the fact there is actually very little available fresh water around the world. Only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water resources is made up of fresh water. Of that tiny figure, 68.7 percent is locked away in glaciers and the polar ice caps, while 30.1 percent can be found in underground reservoirs. Fresh water found on the surface like lakes and rivers make up a paltry 0.3 percent. 

The oceans hold the bulk of the world’s water supply at over 97.2 percent. It’s unusable though due to its high salinity or salt content. Desalination is done by taking away the mineral components. While sea water is the primary source of saline water, desalination is also done on brackish or brack water, which is saline water that has higher salinity than fresh water but less than sea water. 

Desalination – How it Works

Two major processes are used to desalinate saline water into fresh water. 

Thermal evaporation

In this water desalination process, which is also known as distillation, saline water is heated to produce water vapor. This is then condensed and gathered in a separate container as fresh water. Minerals like salt are left behind. 

Thermal evaporation is the oldest form of desalination and is still used throughout the world. Modern versions include: 

  • multi-stage flash (MSF) distillation 
  • multi-effect distillation (MED) 
  • mechanical vapor compression (MVC) desalination

Reverse osmosis (RO)

Plants using this water desalination process force saline water through various semi-permeable filters. Salt and other impurities cannot pass through the filters and are left behind, leaving only fresh water to be gathered. 

RO is the most common method used in water desalination being considered more effective in removing minerals from saltine water than distillation.

Future Water Supplies Are Grim

Climate change, rising populations, and water usage in industries such as agriculture to name a few are rapidly depleting current fresh water supplies. Estimates by the United Nations project that by 2025, the demand will rise by almost 56 percent. Up to 1.8 billion people will be affected by extreme water shortages. This will especially be true in water-scarce, arid regions like the Middle East. By 2030, one in four people worldwide may well experience water scarcity.

For these reasons and more, nations worldwide are turning to the oceans as a new source of fresh water.  

At the moment, there are about 21,000 desalination plants in operation worldwide. While that sounds like a lot, they only account for 1 percent of the world’s entire drinking water supplies. 

The Middle East is the major generator and user of desalinated water. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel, Qatar, and Bahrain account for up to 70 percent of worldwide capacity. They are followed by North African nations like Libya and Algeria who trail 6 percent. 

Solving Water Desalination Costs and Environment Impact

Water desalination is an expensive process and is the major reason why it’s found rarely outside the above countries. It can take between $1 to over $2 per cubic meter (264 gallons) to create fresh water from seawater. Compare that to less than 10 cents or even less per cubic meter pulled from a freshwater river. 

Another reason is waste. Water desalination leaves brine, a high concentration of salt. Many desalination plants get rid of it by pumping it back to the oceans. This can increase the salinity of the water in the area, severely affecting the marine ecology.

Countries are turning to science and technology to help with both these issues. Water desalination plants using Internet of Things (IoT) can monitor in real-time everything from the preheaters in thermal evaporation processes or energy recovery devices in RO facilities. This ensures they are working at optimum efficiency and potentially reduce costs by at least 50 percent if not more.

Fanless rugged mini PCs would be used in these setups. They are built to withstand the demands with industrial-grade parts and Power over Ethernet for low power requirements and easy placement. 

Other companies are looking at the brine as a possible resource. Recently, a team at Stanford developed a device that can convert the desalination waste product into sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. Both are used in many products with sodium hydroxide used to produce soap, paper, and detergent while hydrochloric acid for various industrial processes.  

Market for Water Desalination Technologies – 2022 and Beyond

The market for global water desalination technologies is estimated to be $15.2 billion this year. This covers products from membranes used in RO to industrial tablets. The figure is expected to grow at a compound annual interest rate (CAGR) of 9.8 percent to reach $22.5 billion by 2026.

Unsurprisingly, the Middle East region dominates the market. The fastest growing market though is the Asia Pacific region. Combined, they account for 41 percent of the current market.   

Closing Comment 

Human beings need fresh water daily, an increasingly scarce commodity due to global warming, an increasing population, and overdevelopment of easily accessible sources like lakes and rivers. Countries are turning to plentiful sea water as a new source of fresh water, using new technologies to reduce the high costs of desalination to more manageable figures.

If your company is looking to find out how industrial computers can be used in water desalination and its technologies,  contact a representative from Cybernet. 

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