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Planet Desalination: a Look into the Future of Global Water Technology

2012 November 19
by andreakbass

It’s been heralded as the technology that has allowed the sudden emergence of Middle Eastern “global city” powerhouses like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha, Qatar. Desalination – a process by which seawater is purified of its saline content by means of boiling – has proven that even in the driest parts of the Earth, cities can bloom alongside palm fronds and camels. In fact, experts estimate that Dubai – the poster-child par excellence of free market globalism – spends $18M/day on its desal needs. Clearly, given the geography and climate that Dubai finds itself in, desalination will necessarily play a critical role in its future development if it plans to remain globally competitive for the long run.

But for many years, desalination technology has found detractors – particularly in the States – who argue it is too costly in relation to the benefits it produces. The cost arguments run more-or-less twofold: first, that most current desalination technology consumes disproportionate amounts of energy in comparison with the amount of water it produced. Small wonder, their argument continues, that desalination has been applied principally in oil-rich Gulf States who can afford to lavish vast numbers of oil barrels on keeping their water supply up and running for business, residential, and tourist-related industries.

The second argument is that the resultant chemical and biocide waste produced by desalination is still higher than the numbers of sheer clean water produced. The byproducts of the desalination process eventually find themselves being dumped back into the ocean from whence they came; the only difference being that they are now chockfull of contaminants. Some studies have indicated that the effect on marine life via desalination run-off has been extensively harmful.

These arguments have their merits, certainly. But we at PEI are already looking ahead to what lies on the horizon in terms of building clean desalination technology. Already, solar-powered desalination plants are up and running on a limited scale in countries such as India (as well as the city-state of Abu Dhabi) – much of this technology having been developed by companies in the United States such as Solar Water Energy, LLC of Detroit, Michigan. Furthermore, there are multiple ongoing international research studies that advocate better solutions for mitigating – perhaps even eliminating – desal’s impact on oceanic life. Many of these studies already appear to be quite promising in the near future.

The fact of the matter is, global freshwater supplies are dwindling drastically. Already 1 billion people in the developing don’t have access to freshwater resources. Like it or not, as our human population continues to peak throughout this coming century, desalination technology will have a continual presence at the table of possible solutions. We at PEI anticipate a day when our photochemical etching capabilities will be called upon to produce parts for desalination plants worldwide. When that inevitable call comes, you won’t find us napping at the switch.

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