‘Desal’ fuel: The water desalination industry is booming in cities lookin’ for clean H2O

Desalination plants are on the rise, and California is trying to become a player


June 28, 2019

For decades, a growing population of citizens in coastal regions around the world have been promised a major water desalination industry…

One that would not only use the ocean to provide clean water locally, but also bankroll the clean quenching of every living human thirst on earth — saving the world and employing people while doing it — a tiny, beautiful, eazy-peazy to execute, business model…

Needless to say, progress has been slow. But now, as technology advances, the cost of desalination drops and the world runs low on drinkable water, the industry boom-gone-bust is makin’ noise again.

A tall glass to fill

The first large-scale desal plant — giant, man-made miracle boxes that turn salty seawater into Crystal Geyser — was built in 1957

But progress in desal production failed to scale over the next 3 decades because, well, to actually clean water it costs an even cleaner penny, and it hasn’t been historically the best for the environment.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Food & Water Watch has long denounced ocean desalination as a solution to water shortages. In a 2009 report, the organization found that ocean desalination created a “myriad of environmental and social problems,” including polluting waterways and threatening marine environments.

But, as the population grows, water continues to disappear, and as technology washes away desal economic hurdles, the industry has made its way to the surface across the world.

“As existing surface water supplies are being tapped out or groundwater is depleted or polluted, then the problems are acute and there are choices to be made,” Michael Kiparsky of the Wheeler Water Institute told Wired. 

*Calmly gives nod to mother ocean*

Now there are some 20k facilities globally turning high-cholesterol water into wine-water for more than 300m people every day, according to the International Desalination Association.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Israel have all become major players (Saudi Arabia produces ⅕ of the world’s desalinated water), and California is riding the wave for the US.

The sunny C has gone from 0 to 11 desal plants over the last (almost) 6 decades, including the largest in North America, and has plans to build 10 more. But, while some places across the globe have made it economical, the US is still financially dehydrated from pricey shipping costs.

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