Last week, the country of Israel announced that it would invest $423 million to build a massive new water desalination plant in the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashdod. When combined with the four other plants already in operation, desalination will eventually account for three-quarters of all the drinking water in Israel.
In today’s topsy-turvy world, more people own cell phones than have access to a toilet. Approximately 1 in 8 people lack access to safe drinking water, and 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.
Desalination has long been suggested as a way to extend human access to fresh water, even as climate change and pollution continue to shrink the world’s supply of potable water.
In ancient times, many civilizations used this process on their ships to convert sea water into drinking water, reports the USGS. Today, desalination plants are used to convert sea water to drinking water on ships and in many arid regions of the world, and to treat water in other areas that is fouled by natural and unnatural contaminants. Distillation is perhaps the one water treatment technology that most completely reduces the widest range of drinking water contaminants.
Distillation is too time-consuming, so the most modern desalination plants use reverse osmosis, where high pressure is used to push seawater through a membrane, thereby excluding salt molecules and producing clean, usable water.
Unfortunately, desalination is very costly and demands a large amount of consistent energy. Another way to keep production constant is by building an on-site power plant, thus avoiding production disruptions and price hikes associated with grid-based power. Although most rely on fossil fuels to produce this electricity, the improvement of solar, wind and wave energy technologies could reduce this carbon footprint in the future.
Israel, already one of the world’s most arid nations, has faced six straight years of drought. To avoid further depleting its main fresh water source, the Sea of Galilee (pictured above), it has become a world leader in desalination and wastewater recycling (Reuters).
When it is completed in 2013, Israel’s newest desalination plant will produce 100 million cubic meters of desalinated seawater a year, or 15 percent of Israel’s household water use. According to the country’s Finance Ministry, the water will cost 2.4 shekels ($.67) per cubic meter to produce.
Image Credit: Flickr – seetheholyland