Desalination and Energy Efficiency – Bright Prospects for the Future

Desalination is now part of mainstream water resource management in many parts of the world, and a key industry focus has been reducing the amount energy required for various desalination processes.

We’ve all heard criticism that desalination consumes a lot of energy. The fact is that desalination is an industrial process – one that, by the way, provides some or all the daily water needs of more than 300 million people around the world – and all industrial processes need energy to work. To put this into perspective, IDA has addressed the issue of energy requirements in our video Desalination Myths and Misconceptions and we you to have a look at this informative piece.

The reality is that the energy footprint is just a fraction of what it was a couple of decades ago. Nevertheless, further increasing energy efficiency is clearly a goal that we all seek to achieve. In fact, IDA’s Energy and Environment Task Force has called for a further reduction of 20% in energy consumption in seawater desalination by 2015. That’s an ambitious goal, but we believe that it’s quite attainable. Here’s how.

First, desalination technology continues to advance. This is not just about improvements in existing technologies, but also about exciting new ones now being developed and/or commercialized. New thermal processes include low energy application to Multiple Effect Distillation (MED) technology, low temperature distillation, and membrane distillation.

On the membrane side, developments include forward osmosis, Biomimetics, high efficiency membranes, carbon Nanotube, and pressure retarded osmosis. While still in the R&D stage, graphene membranes have generated a lot of buzz. Furthermore, innovative hybrid applications such as tri-hybrid have been successfully tested. And one of the most exciting recent developments is the focus on desalination driven by renewable power.

The quest for more energy efficiency at the top of the list for the desalination industry. It’s a cause that has rallied the global desalination community. This focus bodes well for desalination’s increasingly important role in providing a “well that won’t run dry” for a thirsty planet.

About Patricia A. Burke
Patricia Burke is the IDA Secretary General and an officer on the Board of Directors for the International Desalination Association (IDA). Ms Burke was one of the founding members of the association and has been actively involved in IDA and its predecessors since 1973. Ms Burke has been a member of the US Water Resources Export Council, IDA Director, NWSIA Director and led a number of US Dept of Commerce Missions and is a representative to the UN NGOs and maintains membership in many professional societies.