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Desalination Update; China is on Track to become largest producer

Desalination Update; China is on Track to become largest producer

As the global population soars by about 74 million people a year, water shortages are becoming more severe. About 300 million people in rural China had no access to safe drinking water in 2005, according to the website of China’s Water Resources Ministry. At current rates of growth, the demand for water worldwide may exceed supplies by 40 percent by 2030, according to the World Bank-sponsored 2030 Water Resources Group.

With salt-filtering technologies replacing boiling and reducing the price of desalinated water, governments in Australia, China, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. are turning toward the oceans. From 2001 through 2011, the industrial capacity of desalinated water expanded 276 percent to 6.7 billion cubic meters (237 billion cubic feet) a day, according to the (IDA) International Desalination Association.

There are almost 16,000 plants operating today, according to the association, with Saudi Arabia standing out as the biggest producer. And the industry is now growing about 15 percent a year, says Julio Zorrilla, an international construction director at Acciona Agua, the water unit of Acciona SA, a Spanish renewable energy company.

The industry has introduced innovations that have reduced the costs of desalinating water. Companies started to adopt technologies to pump water through membrane filters to capture salt in the 1990s. That brought down the price of desalinated water to less than $1 a cubic meter from $3, says Ashvalom Felber, chief executive officer of IDE Technologies Ltd., one of the world’s three largest manufacturers of desalination plants.

Technology developed by San Leandro, California-based Energy Recovery Inc. and other companies that recirculates water in filtering plants has cut energy expenses by as much as 60 percent, says Energy Recovery CEO Tom Rooney. The technology lessens the cost of a cubic meter of desalinated water to about 50 cents, Felber says.

“The industry keeps evolving, and prices keep coming down,” Felber says.

Desalination plants will mostly spring up in regions willing to pay a premium for water to keep their economies growing, Rooney says. China plans to more than triple its production to 2.2 million cubic meters a day by 2015, according to the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission. The water will supply 15 percent of the needs of China’s factories along its industrial eastern seaboard, the commission says.

It’s clear that China is on track to become the world’s biggest producer of desalinated water, Rooney says.

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