Desalination is Here!

With desalination, reuse & recycling,
and smart agricultural irrigation, fish can
thrive, and humans can avoid rationing.

Editor’s Note: In this excerpt from an in-depth study authored by international water investment expert Laura Shenkar of the Artemis Project, the state of desalination technology today is examined. It is clear that desalination has come a long way – and just in time, in order to address the “triple threat” of population growth, crumbling water utility infrastructure, and climate change.

Even if you believe climate change is overhyped, and we do, the challenge posed due to population growth, combined with increasing global prosperity which increases per capita water consumption, along with scandalously inadequate investment in water infrastructure, makes any drought or climate irregularity far more likely to cause catastrophe. But with any threat comes opportunity.

To answer this triple threat is a triple opportunity – the promise of desalination, smart irrigation, and advanced water recycling techniques – that in aggregate bestow the potential of water abundance at a level and quality unimaginable a few decades ago.

Technology and free markets create wealth and abundance, which happens when businesses compete for customers, never through punitive rationing. Defining what is clean sets crucial ground rules, but only free markets create abundance. And while we define what is clean, we might be cognizant of which special interests may wish to set the bar so high that nothing is clean enough, that only endless and futile war, only socialist misery, is an acceptible moral choice. But is this true, or a convenient deception?

It is quite plausible that the entire notion of permanent water, energy and land scarcity is a myth, a temporary affliction, inevitably doomed by the promise of technology; desalination, drip irrigation, advanced water recycling, urbanization, population stablization, clean fossil fuel, clean nuclear power, as well as alternative energy where and when it is competitive. Will humanity seize this bright and prosperous future, or will we succumb to the propaganda of extreme environmentalists who feed on panic and fear? Because the environment won’t benefit from a socialist, backwards march into the past; the industrial filth of the USSR is testimony to that. But politics of fear will enable environmentalist nonprofits to collect more tax-exempt donations from the terrified multitudes (as well as legislated set-asides), and enable unionized public employees to pay themselves outrageous wages and ridiculously inflated pensions, instead of earning market rate compensation and working hard to build new utility infrastructure that creates abundance, and competes for energy and water customers on the free market.

Scarcity is not inevitable. Often it is a political choice, the result of concessions to powerful special interests who have a pecuniary interest in high prices, artificial scarcity, and fomenting fear. The precious bird of environmentalism has been flying for too long with only one wing, the left one. Read on, and learn a little more about how easy it might be to know abundance. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Desalination – A Technology Whose Time Has Come
by Laura Shenkar, June 16th, 2008
Industrial Workers at Desalination Plant
Industrial workers at a desalination plant.

The global desalination industry has been one of the first to benefit from the impact of the triple threat to water supply. Desalination offers a means for increasing the supply of fresh water from a source independent of existing ground and surface water supplies.

It can form an important supplement to existing water supplies during droughts or periodic water supply shortfalls. Worldwide, desalination operations are set to grow from a capacity of 39.9 million cubic meters per day (m3/d) at the beginning of 2006 to 64.3 million m3/d in 2010, and to 97.5 million m3/d in 2015. This represents a 61 percent increase in capacity over a five-year period, and a 140 percent increase in capacity over a ten-year period, according to the latest estimates for the desalination market.

The compound annual growth rate of installed capacity is roughly 9 percent. The compound annual growth rate of the market for new capacity hovers around 13 percent. This expansion of capacity will entail capital investment totaling $25 billion by the end of 2010, or $56.4 billion by the end of 2015.

Dramatic improvements through innovation have brought the cost of desalted water closer to that of other water sources than ever before. Improved membranes and pumping systems have sharply reduced electricity costs. For example, the Carlsbad, California, desalination plant expects to pay $1.10 in electricity to produce 1,000 gallons of water, down from $2.10 per 1,000 gallons at the mothballed Santa Barbara plant. Costs have been as low as $0.50 per 1,000 gallons in the large-scale plant in Ashkelon, Israel. Here are two companies on the forefront of desalination technology:

Energy Recovery Incorporated

Location: San Leandro, California, United States

Funding: $9.5 million from private individuals, S-1 registered for an IPO

Value proposition: Energy Recovery, Inc. (ERI) invented, patented, and commercialized an energy recovery solution: the PX Pressure Exchanger® (PX), which saves energy in high pressure hydraulic operations, such as reverse osmosis for desalination. The PX energy recovery device uses the principle of positive displacement and isobaric chambers to achieve extremely efficient transfer of energy from a high-pressure waste stream, such as the brine stream from a reverse osmosis desalination unit, to a low-pressure incoming feed stream. According to ERI, the PX is 98 percent efficient, losing little energy in the transfer.

ERI states that it has 10 times more operating experience than competing manufacturers of isobaric energy recovery devices, including 10 million unit hours of proven experience and over 6,000 units installed or contracted worldwide. This install base is estimated to account for more than 5.2 million m3/day of capacity installed or under construction, and more than 450 independent reference plants.

Take away: ERI has established a dominant position for energy recovery in the desalination market. Given that leadership and the revenue and profitability (9.6 percent net) that position affords the company, it should be able to enter a host of other water and energy markets that use high-pressure pumps, such as the considerable market for cooling energy generation facilities.

Israeli Desalination Enterprises (IDE)

Location: Petah Tikva, Israel

Funding: IDE is equally owned by ICL (Israel Chemical Ltd.) and the Delek Group. Both holding companies are multinational and multidisciplinary groups, with an annual turnover of approximately US$2 billion (2003) each.

Value proposition: Established in 1965, IDE Technologies Ltd. is internationally recognized as a pioneer and leader in the delivery of sophisticated water management solutions. IDE specializes in research and development of saline water desalination processes, concentration and purification of industrial streams, wastewater treatment, heat pumps, and ice/snow machines. The company develops, designs, manufactures, and installs sophisticated equipment for industrial and domestic applications throughout the world.

While IDE lacks the market presence that the larger desalination providers such as Veolia and Suez possess, it continues to win portions of key projects based on its innovative approaches to various processes such as pre-treatment reverse osmosis, energy recovery, and input water uptake.

Take away: Look for spinoffs from IDE that provide breakthrough technology and are able to work with IDE competition in their niche markets.

Laura Shenkar

Laura Shenkar is an international water expert on water investments and water technology, and a Principal of The Artemis Project, a consultancy that specializes in supporting innovative technology companies achieve their potential in the global market. As a member of the leadership team of three successful startups, she has learned how to employ the unique capabilities of a company’s technology and its team to target the best opportunities in an emerging market. Laura is an active member of several national and international water industry associations and participates in governmental water management initiatives as well as venture investment conferences. This combination of activities enables her to share with The Artemis Project clients a wide view of emerging opportunities and new product trends. This report was excerpted from a recently released study by the Artemis Project entitled “Water Matters: Venture Investment Opportunities in Innovative Water Technology,” which can be obtained by contacting Ms. Shenkar at

Additional EcoWorld reports on water and desalination:

- India’s Hydropower

- India’s Water Consciousness

- Our Endangered Oceans

- India’s Water Future

- Arctic to Aral

- Mangroves Stop Tsunami

- Clean the Ganges

- Seawater Farms

- Affordable Desalination

- California’s Water System

- Sverdrups & Brine

- Revisiting Desalination

- Photovoltaic Desalination

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EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

4 Responses to “Desalination is Here!”
  1. Geoff says:

    OK, the whole idea the reverse osmosis is the best desal to use is a farce. They chew up so much electricity as the water not only needs to be draw up from the ocean, it then needs to be pumped at very high pressures to allow the membrane to function correctly.
    It must also be recognised, that the pumps wear out extremely fast, as the duplex stainless stell impellors wear to tissue paper strength within six months – and when you weigh up this cost, plus removal + installation,plus electricity plus membranes – my god! The maintenance bill is gigantic!
    Then comes the waste, to supply a small town how many gigalitres per day is needed? remember,rule of thumb for R/O desalination is 70:30, that is 70% waste, 30% useable – that is a big amount of concentrate brine to put back into the oceans, but what the hell, we only have one planet – lets just kill everything, why not? even green groups believe desal is good by conveniently overlooking these facts

  2. Lenny says:

    RO technology has come a long way, newer methods are actually up to 50% recovery, through the use of concentrate energy recovery and new low pressure membranes. As for the fact that you are poisoning the ocean by adding more salt to it you must also consider the hydrologic cycle……that water that is desalinated and the salt water that is rejected will eventually be joined again, for matter is not created or destroyed. Sounds like someone spec’d in the wrong material for the pump A lot of SS alloys are very susceptible to chloride corrosion….stainless is not corrosion proof as the name insists.
    just a thought……if you only use 30% of the water that you are taking from the ocean and put the rest back then your salinity level of the waste actually gets closer to that of the ocean

  3. J says:

    By the way, that image is of a freshwater parrot fish not a goldfish. It is a hybrid between two cichlid species and because of anatomical deformities(fish cannot ever close its mouth, swimbladder issues) it has created much controversy within the fishkeeping hobby. It is viewed as the frankenstein of fish and quite a cruel experiment.

  4. >>> Then comes the waste, to supply a small town how many gigalitres per day is needed? remember,rule of thumb for R/O desalination is 70:30, that is 70% waste, 30% useable – that is a big amount of concentrate brine to put back into the oceans.

    Well said. Just the 70:30 threshold can be modified to 3:1 up to 5:1 depending on the system and pre-filtration method


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