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Water Desalination Capacity Climbs on Power, Energy Needs

Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Demand for water to generate power, energy and refining needs sparked such growth in desalination plants that 50 percent more capacity is due online this year than in 2012, according to newly published data.

A 30 percent improvement in energy efficiency of the best performing desalination plants contributed to the rise, said Christopher Gasson, publisher of Global Water Intelligence, which today released the DesalData report with the International Desalination Association.

“You could see this as the water–energy nexus in action,” Gasson said in a statement. “The energy industry needs water, both in refining and power generation as well as upstream. The water industry also needs energy, and the two seem to be coming together in increased demand for desalination.”

Desalination plants being commissioned this year alone can produce 6 million cubic meters a day -- as much fresh water as 28 months of rain in London, the report said. That raises the total capacity of the world’s 17,277 commissioned desalination plants to 80.9 million cubic meters, it said.

Seawater is the largest source of water for desalination at 59 percent, brackish water is next at 22 percent, then river water 9 percent and wastewater at 5 percent, according to the data. Towns and cities use 61 percent of the desalinated water, industry is the next biggest user at 26 percent, with power stations third at 7 percent.

Saudi Arabia has the largest online capacity of seawater desalination for its energy and domestic needs at 9.2 million cubic meters a day. Next is the United Arab Emirates at 8.4 million cubic meters and Spain at 3.8 million, according to the data.

Cleaning Water

Water cleansed of salt and impurities is used from cooling power plants to oil exploration, where it helps separate oil from sand in a process called low-salinity flooding that boosts recovery from older wells as much as 30 percent, according to data presented online that accompanied today’s statement.

More than two-thirds of desalination plants now use more efficient membrane and pumps to purify water, with the remainder employing conventional thermal systems that heat water to boiling and recover the salt-free steam, Oxford, U.K.-based GWI said.

Markets expected to see the fastest growth in desalination during the next five years, more than doubling capacity, are South Africa, Jordan, Mexico, Libya, Chile, India and China.

The report was released ahead of the 2013 IDA World Congress taking place Oct. 20 to Oct. 25 in Tianjin, China.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter S. Green in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nicholas Johnston at

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