Desalination Spending to Double, with United States Among Top 5 Markets

sand city desalination plant photo

Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch

Desalination is the process of purifying salt or brackish water into fresh water. While it has primarily been an energy intensive process that is used as a last resort for generating water in areas like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the technology has continually advanced and we're seeing more energy efficient -- and therefore cheaper -- possibilities for using desalination as a significant source for water. New research shows that over the next six years, spending on desalination will double, and the United States will be among the top five markets. According to Pike Research, global investment in desalination is set to double from $8.3 billion in 2010 to $16.6 billion per year by 2016, resulting in $87.8 billion in total spending. Further, global desalination capacity will grow from 76 million cubic meters per day to 126 million within that same time period.

The top five markets for desalination technology will be Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, China, and Israel.

There are a lot of pros and cons to desalination. The pros include of course the fact that fresh water can be created out of previously unconsumable water, and that it lessens the demand for groundwater, the mining of which is a long-term environmental disaster. However, the cons include everything from the amount of energy required to run a desalination plant to the pollution caused by the plant itself, from the environmental impact of making more water rather than minimizing consumption to the environmental impact of pulling seawater from the ocean and releasing brine, which can harm marine life.

However, new technologies to address these negative aspects of desalination are quickly making it a more attractive option to water-stressed areas. Using forward osmosis rather than reverse osmosis greatly reduces the energy requirement of a desalination plant to the point that renewable energy can be used to run it. Additionally, the design of a desalination plant itself, including where it pulls water and releases brine, can minimize its environmental impact.

While still not as perfect an option as minimizing water consumption in industry, agriculture, and businesses, desalination seems to be finding its niche in the global water market, the United States included.

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