(Updated June 2015)
- Potable water is in short supply in many parts of the world. Lack of it is set to become a constraint on development in some areas.
- Nuclear energy is already being used for desalination, and has the potential for much greater use.
- Nuclear desalination is generally very cost-competitive with using fossil fuels. "Only nuclear reactors are capable of delivering the copious quantities of energy required for large-scale desalination projects" in the future (IAEA 2015).
- As well as desalination of brackish or sea water, treatment of urban waste water is increasingly undertaken.
It is estimated that one-fifth of the world's population does not have access to safe drinking water, and that this proportion will increase due to population growth relative to water resources. The worst-affected areas are the arid and semiarid regions of Asia and North Africa. A UNESCO report in 2002 said that the freshwater shortfall worldwide was then running at some 230 billion m3/yr and would rise to 2000 billion m3/yr by 2025. Wars over access to water, not simply energy and mineral resources, are conceivable.
A World Economic Forum report in January 2015 highlighted the problem and said that shortage of fresh water may be the main global threat in the next decade.
Fresh water is a major priority in sustainable development. Where it cannot be obtained from streams and aquifers, desalination of seawater, mineralised groundwater or urban waste water is required. An IAEA study in 2006 showed that 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed areas, 1.7 billion of them having access to less than 1000 m3 of potable water per year. With population growth, these figures will increase substantially. Further demand in the longer term will come from the need to make hydrogen from water.
Water can be stored, while electricity at utility scale cannot. This suggests two synergies with base-load power generation for electrically-driven desalination: undertaking it mainly in off-peak times of the day and week, and load-shedding in unusually high peak times.
Most desalination today uses fossil fuels, and thus contributes to increased levels of greenhouse gases. Total world capacity in 2013 was 80 million m³/day (29,200 GL/yr) of potable water, in over 17,000 plants. A majority of these are in the Middle East and north Africa. Combining power generation and water production by desalination is economically advantageous and is widely used in the Middle East.
The largest desalination plant – the $3.8 billion Al-Jubail 2 in Saudi Arabia – has 948,000 m3/day (346 GL/yr) MED-TVC capacity, plus 2745 MWe power generation using gas turbines. The Saudi Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) takes about 62% of output to supply Riyadh. China is building a 1 million m3/d RO plant to supply Beijing. Two-thirds of the world capacity is processing seawater, and one-third uses brackish artesian water.
The two major types of desalination technologies used around the world can be broadly classified as either thermal processes, in which feedwater is boiled and the vapour condensed as pure water (distillate), or membrane desalination processes, in which feedwater is pumped through semi-permeable membranes to filter out the dissolved solids. The main thermal processes are multi-stage flash distillation (MSF), multi-effect distillation (MED) and vapour compression variants – thermal and mechanical (TVC, MVC). The main membrane process is reverse osmosis (RO).
More than three-quarters of the capacity is MSF and RO, but MED is increasing rapidly. New plants with total capacity of 6 million m3/d were expected to come on line in 2013, according to the International Desalination Association.
The major technology in use and being built today is reverse osmosis (RO) driven by electric pumps which pressurise water and force it through a semi-permeable membrane against its osmotic pressure*. This accounted for 63% of 2012 world capacity, up from only 10% in 1999. With brackish water, RO is much more cost-effective, though MSF gives purer water than RO. RO relies on electricity to drive the actual process and requires clean (filtered) feedwater.
Hybrid thermal-membrane plants have a more flexible power-to-water ratio, efficient operation even with significant seasonal and daily fluctuations of the electricity and water demand, less primary energy consumption and an increase of plant efficiency, thus improving economics and reducing environmental impacts. MSF+RO or MED-TVC+RO hybrid plants exploit the best features of each technology for different quality products or a blended product.
Several thermal distillation processes capable of using waste heat from power generation are in use: Multi-stage flash (MSF) distillation process using steam, was earlier prominent. It works by flashing a portion of the water into steam in multiple stages of what are essentially countercurrent heat exchangers and it accounted for 23% of world capacity in 2012. It is more energy-intensive than MED, but it can cope with suspended solids and any degree of salinity.
An increasing number of plants use multiple-effect distillation (MED) with 8% world capacity in 2012, or multi-effect vapour compression (MVC or VCD) distillation or a combination of these, e.g. MED-TVC with thermal vapour compression. Multiple-effect distillation (MED) is the low temperature thermal process of obtaining fresh water by recovering the vapour of boiling seawater in a sequence of vessels (called effects), each maintained at a lower temperature than the last. Because the boiling point of water decreases as pressure decreases, the vapour boiled off in one vessel can be used to heat the next one, and only the first one (at the highest pressure) requires an external source of heat, such as that from the condenser circuit of a power plant. It is higher-cost than RO but can cope with any degree of salinity.
Membrane distillation (MD) is an emerging process which is thermally-driven.
Desalination is energy-intensive. Reverse osmosis needs up to 6 kWh of electricity per cubic metre of water (depending on both process and its original salt content), though the latest RO plants such as in Perth, Western Australia, use 3.5 kWh/m3, or 4 kWh/m3 including pumping for distribution. Hence 1 MWe continuous will produce about 4000 to 6000 m3 per day from seawater. MSF and MED require heat at 70-130°C and use about 38 kWh/m3 thermal input, plus 3.5 kWh/m3 electrical for MSF and 1.5 kWh/m3 for MED-TVC. (IAEA 2015 quotes 100 kWh/m3 thermal input, plus 3.5 kWh/m3 electrical for MSF and 50 kWh/m3 thermal input, plus 2.5 kWh/m3 electrical for MED.) A variety of low-temperature and waste heat sources may be used, including solar energy (especially for MED), so the above kilowatt-hour figures are not properly comparable. For brackish water and reclamation of municipal wastewater RO requires only about 1 kWh/m3. The choice of process generally depends on the relative economic values of fresh water and particular fuels, and whether cogeneration is a possibility. Thermal processes are more capital-intensive.
Forward osmosis(FO) may be used in conjunction with a subsequent process for desalination. The FO draws water through a membrane from a feed solution into a more concentrated draw solution, which is then desalinated without the problems of fouling, such as often encountered with simple RO. FO plants operate in Gibraltar and Oman.
Some 40% of Israel's water is desalinated, and one large RO plant provides water at 58 cents per cubic metre, claimed to be the world's cheapest. It also claimed to have the world’s largest seawater RO plant as of late 2013, at Soreq, producing 627,000 m3/day. In 2016 it expects more than half the country’s water will be desalinated. In 2015 Israel and Jordan signed a $900 million agreement for a new desalination plant at Aqaba on the Red Sea, supported by the World Bank and based on a 2013 agreement. The new agreement involves desalination of 80 million m3 per year/220,000 m3/d at the Aqaba plant, with Israel buying half of that amount for use in its southern port town of Eilat and the Arava region – both desert areas with a chronic water shortage. Jordan will get half the water for the arid southern part of that country. As part of the deal, Israel will supply an additional 50 million m3 of water for the central and northern parts of Jordan from its Lake Kinneret. In addition to the desalination, over 100 million m3 of concentrated brine will be pumped 180 km north to replenish the Dead Sea.
Malta gets two-thirds of its potable water from RO, and this takes 4% of its electricity supply. Singapore in 2005 commissioned a large RO seawater desal plant supplying 136,000 m3/day – 10% of needs, at 49 cents US per cubic metre, and in 2013 commissioned a 318,500 m3/d RO plant on a build-own-operate basis, costing US$ 700 million, to provide water at US 36 cents/m3. Desalinated seawater will now provide 25% of Singapore's water, as one of the island state's Four National Taps, along with local catchment water, imported water, and NEWater, Singapore's own recycled wastewater. A further 228,000 m3/d plant is due online in 2016, supplying potable water at US 22¢/m3.
Saudi Arabia in 2011 obtained 3.3 million m3/d from 27 government-owned (SWCC) seawater desalination plants, 70% of the country’s requirements. Twelve plants, accounting for most of production, use multi-stage flash distillation (MSF) and 7 plants use multi-effect distillation (MED), in both cases the plants are integrated with power plants (cogeneration plants), using steam from the power generation as a source of energy for desalination. Eight plants are single-purpose plants that use reverse osmosis (RO) technology and power from the grid. The UAE is heavily dependent on seawater desalination, much of it with cogeneration plants. Algeria in mid 2013 had 2.1 million m3/d capacity and another 400,000 m3/d is envisaged.
In February 2012 China's State Council announced that it aimed to have 2.2 to 2.6 million m3/day seawater desalination capacity operating by 2015, and early in 2015 the target under the government’s Special Plan for Seawater Utilisation was 4 million m3/d. Some 400 of the 668 largest cities in China are reported to experience water scarcity.
The Kwinana desalination plant near Perth, Western Australia, has been running since early 2007 and produces about 140,000 m3/day (45 GL/yr) of potable water, requiring 24 MWe of power for this, hence 576,000 kWh/day, or 4.1 kWh/m3 overall, and about 3.7 kWh/m3 across the membranes. The plant has pre-treatment, then 12 seawater RO trains with capacity of 160,000 m3/day which feed six secondary trains producing 144,000 m3/day of water with 50 mg/L total dissolved solids. The cost is estimated at A$ 1.20/m3. Discharge flow is about 7% salt. Future WA desalination plants will have more sophisticated pre-treatment to increase efficiency. In August 2011 the state government decided to double the size of its new Southern Water Desal Plant at Binningup plant near Perth to 100 GL/yr, taking the cost to about $1.45 billion. Stage 1 of 50 GL/yr was within the A$ 955 million budget.
Nuclear desalination studies
Small and medium sized nuclear reactors are suitable for desalination, often with cogeneration of electricity using low-pressure steam from the turbine and hot seawater feed from the final cooling system. The main opportunities for nuclear plants have been identified as the 80-100,000 m³/day and 200-500,000 m³/day ranges. US Navy nuclear powered aircraft carriers reportedly desalinate 1500 m3/d each for use onboard.
A 2006 IAEA report based on country case studies showed that costs would be in the range ($US) 50 to 94 cents/m3 for RO, 60 to 96 c/m3 for MED and $1.18 to 1.48/m3 for MSF processes, with marked economies of scale. These figures are consistent with later reports. Nuclear power was very competitive at 2006 gas and oil prices. A French study for Tunisia compared four nuclear power options with combined cycle gas turbine and found that nuclear desalination costs were about half those of the gas plant for MED technology and about one-third less for RO. With all energy sources, desalination costs with RO were lower than MED costs.
At the April 2010 Global Water Summit in Paris, the prospect of desalination plants being co-located with nuclear power plants was supported by leading international water experts.
As seawater desalination technologies are rapidly evolving and more countries are opting for dual-purpose integrated power plants (i.e. cogeneration), the need for advanced technologies suitable for coupling to nuclear power plants and leading to more efficient and economic nuclear desalination systems is obvious. The IAEA Coordinated Research Program (CRP) New Technologies for Seawater Desalination using Nuclear Energy was organized in the framework of a Technical Working Group on Nuclear Desalination that was established in 2008. The CRP ran over 2009-2011 to review innovative technologies for seawater desalination which could be coupled to main types of existing nuclear power plant. The CRP focused on low temperature horizontal tube multi-effect distillation, heat recovery systems using heat pipe based heat exchangers, and zero brine discharge systems.
An IAEA preliminary feasibility study on nuclear desalination in Algeria was published in 2015, for Skikda on the Mediterranean coast, using cogeneration. The nuclear energy option was very competitive compared with fossil fuels.
Desalination: nuclear experience
The feasibility of integrated nuclear desalination plants has been proven with over 150 reactor-years of experience, chiefly in Kazakhstan, India and Japan. Large-scale deployment of nuclear desalination on a commercial basis will depend primarily on economic factors. Indicative costs are US$ 70-90 cents per cubic metre, much the same as fossil-fuelled plants in the same areas.
One obvious strategy is to use power reactors which run at full capacity, but with all the electricity applied to meeting grid load when that is high and part of it to drive pumps for RO desalination when the grid demand is low.
The BN-350 fast reactor at Aktau, in Kazakhstan, successfully supplied up to 135 MWe of electric power while producing 80,000 m³/day of potable water over some 27 years, about 60% of its power being used for heat and desalination. The plant was designed as 1000 MWt but never operated at more than 750 MWt, but it established the feasibility and reliability of such cogeneration plants. (In fact, oil/gas boilers were used in conjunction with it, and total desalination capacity through ten MED units was 120,000 m³/day.)
In Japan, some ten desalination facilities linked to pressurised water reactors operating for electricity production yield some 14,000 m³/day of potable water, and over 100 reactor-years of experience have accrued. MSF was initially employed, but MED and RO have been found more efficient there. The water is used for the reactors' own cooling systems.
India has been engaged in desalination research since the 1970s. In 2002 a demonstration plant coupled to twin 170 MWe nuclear power reactors (PHWR) was set up at the Madras Atomic Power Station, Kalpakkam, in southeast India. This hybrid Nuclear Desalination Demonstration Project (NDDP) comprises a reverse osmosis (RO) unit with 1800 m3/day capacity and a multi-stage flash (MSF) plant unit of 4500 m³/day costing about 25% more, plus a recently-added barge-mounted RO unit. This is the largest nuclear desalination plant based on hybrid MSF-RO technology using low-pressure steam and seawater from a nuclear power station. They incur a 4 MWe loss in power from the plant.
In 2009 a 10,200 m3/day MVC (mechanical vapour compression) plant was set up at Kudankulam to supply fresh water for the new plant. It has four stages in each of four streams. An RO plant there supplied the plant's township initially. The full MVC plant is being commissioned in mid 2012, with quoted capacity of 7200 m3/day to supply the plant’s primary and secondary coolant and the local town. Cost is quoted at INR 0.05 per litre (USD 0.9/m3).
A low temperature (LTE) nuclear desalination plant uses waste heat from the nuclear research reactor at Trombay has operated since about 2004 to supply make-up water in the reactor.
Pakistan in 2010 commissioned a 4800 m3/day MED desalination plant, coupled to the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP, a 125 MWe PHWR) near Karachi, though in 2014 it was quoted as 1600 m3/day. It has been operating a 454 m3/day RO plant for its own use.
China General Nuclear Power (CGN) has commissioned a 10,080 m3/day seawater desalination plant using waste heat to provide cooling water at its new Hongyanhe project at Dalian in the northeast Liaoning province.
Much relevant experience comes from nuclear plants in Russia, Eastern Europe and Canada where district heating is a by-product.
Large-scale deployment of nuclear desalination on a commercial basis will depend primarily on economic factors. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is fostering research and collaboration on the issue.
In 2014 Rusatom Overseas said it was planning to promote thermal desalination plants using nuclear power on a BOO (build-own-operate) basis. The first meeting of the Rusatom Overseas’ International Expert Council on Desalination took place in September in Moscow.
Small nuclear reactors suitable for desalination
SMART: South Korea has developed a small nuclear reactor design for cogeneration of electricity and potable water. The 330 MWt SMART reactor (an integral PWR) has a long design life and needs refuelling only every 3 years. The main concept has the SMART reactor coupled to four MED units, each with thermal-vapour compressor (MED-TVC) and producing total 40,000 m3/day, with 90 MWe.
CAREM: Argentina has designed an integral 100 MWt PWR suitable for cogeneration or desalination alone, and a prototype in being built next to Atucha. A larger version is envisaged, which may be built in Saudi Arabia.
NHR-200: China's INET has developed this, based on a 5 MW pilot plant.
Floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) from Russia, with two KLT-40S reactors derived from Russian icebreakers, or other designs for desalination. (If primarily for desalination the twin KLT-40 set-up is known as APVS-80.) ATETs-80 is a twin-reactor cogeneration unit using KLT-40 and may be floating or land-based, producing 85 MWe plus 120,000 m3/day of potable water. The small ABV-6 reactor is 38 MW thermal, and a pair mounted on a 97-metre barge is known as Volnolom floating NPP, producing 12 MWe plus 40,000 m3/day of potable water by reverse osmosis. A larger concept has two VBER-300 reactors in the central pontoon of a 170 m long barge, with ancillary equipment on two side pontoons, the whole vessel being 49,000 dwt. The plant is designed to be overhauled every 20 years and have a service life of 60 years. Another design, PAES-150, has a single VBER-300 unit on a 25,000 dwt catamaran barge.
See also: Small Nuclear Power Reactors paper.
Wastewater and groundwater treatment for irrigation
In the Middle East, a major requirement is for irrigation water for crops and landscapes. This need not be potable quality, but must be treated and with reasonably low dissolved solids.
In Oman, the 76,000 m3/day first stage of a submerged membrane bioreactor (SMBR) desalination plant was opened in 2011. Eventual plant capacity will be 220,000 m3/day. This is a low-cost wastewater treatment plant using both physical and biological processes and which produces effluent of high-enough quality for some domestic uses or reinjection into aquifers.
In Australia AGL plans to install a 2000 m3/d RO desal plant to treat water from fracking in its Gloucester coal seam gas project. This will be used for irrigation, rather than being potable quality. Also in Australia the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has found that the addition of nutrients could make desalinated water more financially attractive to farmers, who normally pay 20 cents/kilolitre for irrigation water, whereas most desal groundwater costs more than A$1/kL.
New desalination projects
Algeria has undertaken a study on nuclear power generation and desalination using RO and MED. The 500,000 m3/d Magtaa seawater RO desal plant at Oran costing $495 million was commissioned in November 2014, following the 120,000 m3/d Fouka seawater RO desal plant at Tipaza near Algiers in 2011, costing $185 million. The country is also considering MSF desalination for two new plants in addition to the 91,000 m3/d Arzew MSF plant now operating. Total capacity is 2.3 million m3/d.
Argentina: A 3000 m3/day seawater RO plant is being built at Puerto Deseado, Santa Cruz, about 1800 km south of Buenos Aries.
Australia: Six major seawater RO plants were commissioned at a cost of A$ 12 billion between 2006 and 2012. However, the Kurnell plant near Sydney is not used but costs some A$500,000 per day on care and maintenance.
In Victoria, a 450,000 m3/day (150 GL/yr) RO desalination plant near Wonthaggi built by Degremont has been commissioned to supply Melbourne. It claims to use 90 to 120 MWe of renewable energy, and is expandable to 200 GL/yr. However, it has not been used since 2012 and remains on standby.
Adelaide's 100,000 m3/d (36 GL/yr) plant started operation in 2011, with plans to expand it to 100 GL/yr. A 200-280,000 m3/d desalination plant to serve the expanded Olympic Dam mine in South Australia has environmental approval but now may not proceed.
Perth has two RO seawater desal plants, a 123,000 m3/d (45 GL/yr) one (costing A$ 387 million) completed in 2006 powered by a wind farm, and a 100 GL/yr one powered by 65 MWe of dedicated renewable energy, which together provide half the city’s needs. Following extensive trials, the city plans a groundwater replenishment scheme from treated wastewater which is expected to be half the cost and use half the energy of seawater desalination. It will include a new Advanced Water Recycling Plant and provide 7 GL/yr from 2016 and 28 GL/yr eventually about 2022.
Chile: BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto plan a $3.43 billion, 220,000 m3/day (79 GL/yr) seawater desal plant with twin 1.07m diameter pipes and pumps for their Escondida copper mine, which is 3100 m above sea level and 185 km inland. It will require over 1000 MWe from the grid for desal alone and be commissioned in 2017. Doosan is to build the plant at Caleta Coloso under Bechtel supervision.
China is looking at the feasibility of a nuclear seawater desalination plant in the Yantai area of Shandong Peninsula, producing 80-160,000 m3/day by MED process, using a 200 MWt NHR-200 reactor. A 100,000 m3/d seawater RO plant supplied by Abengoa of Spain started operating early in 2013 at Qingdao in Shandong province. Another project is for a 330,000 m3/day plant near Daya Bay.
A 50,000 m3/day Aqualyng plant was completed in October 2011 at Caofeidian on Bohai Bay in Hebei province, and a second stage doubled this in 2012. The Hong Kong based Beijing Enterprises Water Group (BEWG) with Aqualyng is building a 1 million m3/d RO plant at Caofeidian for CNY 7 billion to supply Beijing through a 270 km pipeline by 2019, and a 3 million m3/d plant is planned to expand this to supply the capital, providing about one-third of its needs. The pipeline, itself a major part of the project, will cost about CNY 10 billion, and supply desalinated water at CNY 8/m3 ($1.28/m3).
In March 2013 the National Development and Reform Commission announced new plans for seawater desalination, including for the cities of Shenzhen and Zhoushan, Luxixiang Island in Zhejiang Province, Binhai New Area in Tianjin, Bohai New Area in Hebei, and several industrial parks and companies. The cost is likely to be some CNY 21 billion ($3.35 billion). China aims to produce 2.2 million m3/day of desal water by 2015, more than three times the 2011 level. More than half of the freshwater channelled to islands and more than 15% of water delivered to coastal factories will come from the sea by 2015, according to the plan.
A 300,000 m3/d seawater desal plant at Tianjin is under construction and will be the first zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) plant in the world. It is due to supply petrochemical plants from 2017.
Egypt has undertaken a feasibility study for a cogeneration plant for electricity and potable water at El-Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast. In 2010 plans were being formed for four 1000 MWe-class reactors to be built there and coming on line 2019-25, with significant desalination capacity.
Egypt's largest desalination plant, 24,000 m3/day RO, being built at Marsa Matrouh in the northwest is to be supplied with Pressure Exchanger (PX) energy-recovery devices by Energy Recovery Inc of California. The first of four modules is due to start in 2013.
Ghana: Abengoa has built a 60,000 m3/day seawater RO plant at Nungua to supply Accra. The $125 million contract covers operation and maintenance for 25 years.
In India, further plants delivering 45,000 m3 per day are envisaged, using both MSF and RO desalination technology, and building on the extensive experience outlined above. For Chennai, the 100,000 m³/d Minjur RO seawater desalination plant was commissioned in 2010, the 100,000 m3/d Nemmeli RO seawater desalination plant was commissioned in 2013, and a 150,000 m3/d expansion is planned. A 200,000 m3/d plant is planned for Pattipulam nearby, with potential for doubling in size, and also serving Chennai.
Indonesia: South Korea investigated the feasibility of building a SMART nuclear reactor with cogeneration unit employing MSF desalination technology for Madura Island, and later studies have been on larger-scale PWR cogeneration in Batan.
Iran: A 200,000 m³/day MSF desalination plant was designed for operation with the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran in 1977, but initially lapsed due to prolonged construction delays. It is being completed by AEOI subsequently.
Iraq: Basrah has 400,000 m3/d desalination for saline river water, and a Hitachi-led consortium is building a new 199,000 m3/d RO plant there, for completion in 2016.
Israel has four desal plants including the 627,000 m3/d seawater RO plant at Soreq. It plans further capacity, including purchase of about 35-40 GL/yr from a planned plant at Aqaba jointly run with Jordan.
Jordan has a 'water deficit' of about 1.4 million m3 per day and is actively looking at nuclear power to address this, as well as supplying electricity. An 80 GL/yr/220,000 m3/d plant at Aqaba is planned, with Jordan using half the output.
Kenya plans a 100,000 m3/d desal plant near Mombasa.
Kuwait has been considering cogeneration schemes up to a 1000 MWe reactor coupled to a 140,000 m3/day desalination plant. Meanwhile it has a $1.4 billion contract with Hyundai and a Veolia subsidiary to build the Az-Zour North gas-fired combined cycle 1500 MWe power plant and 486,000 m3/d MED plant. It will account for about 10% of Kuwait’s power capacity and 20% of its desal capacity from 2016.
Libya: in mid 2007 a memorandum of understanding was signed with France related to building a mid-sized nuclear plant for seawater desalination. Areva TA would supply this. Libya is also considering adapting the Tajoura research reactor for a nuclear desalination demonstration plant with a hybrid MED-RO system.
Mexico has awarded a contract for the 21,000 m3/day El Salitral plant to be in operation from the end of 2013. A 378,000 m3/d seawater RO desal plant is planned at Rosarito, near the US border.
Morocco has completed a pre-project study with China, at Tan-Tan on the Atlantic coast, using a 10 MWt heating reactor which produces 8000 m3/day of potable water by distillation (MED). The government has plans for building an initial nuclear power plant in 2016-17 at Sidi Boulbra, and Atomstroyexport is assisting with feasibility studies for this.
In 2014 Abengoa was awarded a contract to build and run for 20 years a 100,000 m3/d seawater RO desal plant in Agadir, 45 km from that city. The capital cost is €82 million.
Oman commissioned a 45,460 m3/day seawater RO plant at Barka in November 2013, built under a BOO contract, expanding an existing facility to 136,000 m3/day. Another BOO project is Al Ghubrah, a 190,000 m3/day RO plant with commercial operation from Sept 2014. The Salalah plant was opened in May 2013 – a 69,000 m3/day seawater desal plant with 445 MWe gas-fired generation. A second, 57,000 m3/day, seawater RO plant is planned at Barka to be on line in 2015.
Pakistan: A 10,000m3/d RO plant costing US$ 3 million has been commissioned in the drought-ridden Sindh province, where the government is installing 300 RO plants of about 40 m3/d.
Qatar has been considering nuclear power and desalination for its needs which reached about 1.3 million m3/day in 2010. The Ras Abu Fontas A2 164,000 m3/d MSF seawater desal plant was contracted to Mitsubishi Corporation, as was the Ras Abu Fontas A3 project – a 136,000 m3/d RO plant due to operate from late 2016, the country’s first large RO plant. In May 2015 Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa) selected a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Corporation and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), named K1 Energy, to build an electricity and water plant comprising a 590,000 m3/d desalination facility and a 2.4 GW gas-fired power station at Umm Al Houl, 20km south of Doha.
Russia: A new 10,000 m3/d seawater RO plant is being built offshore near Vladivostok, for commissioning over 2011-12. It is designed for severe climatic conditions.
Saudi Arabia is expanding its Yanbu desalination plant to supply the Medina region. Phase 1 is a 146,000 m3/d hybrid plant, mostly MSF using heat recovered from a gas turbine power plant, but with two RO units. Phase 2 upgrades this and adds a 68,000 m3/day MED plant from Doosan using the heat from an associated 690 MWe power plant, all costing over $1 billion. It will be the world's largest MED plant. Doosan will also build Yanbu 3, a 550,000 m3/day MSF plant due for completion in 2016. A 600,000 m3/d RO plant is planned at Rabigh in the west.
The world's largest thermal desalination plant is Saudi Arabia’s 1,025,0003/d Ras Al Khair (Ras Azzour) MSF project northwest of Jubail, costing SAR 27 billion ($7.2 billion) and built by Doosan. The project includes a 2.6 GWe power plant. The hybrid desalination facility has a capacity of 727,000 m3/d multi-stage flash (MSF) evaporation and 307,000 m3/d RO membrane filtration. It will supply water from the Gulf to 3.5 million people in the Riyadh area. The 880,000 m3/d Shoaiba 3 plant was formerly the largest. Veolia has a $402 million contact to build a 178,600 m3/d ultrafiltration and RO plant for Marafiq at the $19.3 billion Sadara petrochemical complex, to come on line in mid-2015. The water will be for two cooling towers and as boiler feedwater.
The first of three phases of the King Abdullah Solar water initiative were expected to be operating by the end of 2013. Phase 1 involves construction of two solar plants which will generate 10 MW of power for a 30,000 m3/d reverse-osmosis (RO) desalination plant at Al Khafji, near the Kuwait border. Phase 2 will involve construction of a 300,000 m3/d desalination plant over three years. The third phase aims to implement the solar water initiative throughout Saudi Arabia, with the eventual target of seeing all the country's desalination plants powered by solar energy by 2020. One of the main objectives of this initiative under King Abdullah City for Science & Technology (KACST) is to desalinate seawater at a cost of less than Riyal 1.5/m3 (US$ 0.40/m3) compared with the current cost of thermal desalination, which KACST says is in the range Riyal 2.0-5.5/m3 (US$ 0.53-1.47/m3), and desalination by RO, which is Riyal 2.5-5.5/m3 (US$ 0.67-1.47/m3) for a desalination plant producing 30,000 m3/d.
Saudi Arabia's General Establishment for Water Desalination (GEWD) is, over the four years to 2019, implementing new projects with a total production capacity of up to 2.5 million m³/d in the Makkah region and the eastern province.
Singapore: The 318,500 m3/d Tuaspring RO plant was commissioned in 2013 as the second desal plant. A Chinese 228,000 m3/d RO plant at Changi is due online in 2016, built by an 80% subsidiary of Beijing Enterprises Water Group on BOO basis for 25 years at a first-year price of SGD 0.276/m3 (US$ 0.22).
South Africa: Veolia is building a 1700 m3/d seawater desal plant at Lamberts Bay, Cederberg municipality, upgradable to5000 m3/d. This will be the seventh plant along the west and south Cape coasts installed by Veolia. A 450,000 m3/d plant costing $1.23 billion is planned for Koeberg, near Cape Town
Spain is building 20 RO plants in the southeast to supply over 1% of the country's water. Spain has 40 years of desalination experience in the Canary Islands, where some 1.1 million m3/day is provided.
Tunisia is looking at the feasibility of a cogeneration (electricity-desalination) plant in the southeast of the country, treating slightly saline groundwater. It plans a tender for a 150,000 m3/day plant at Sfax.
The UAE is planning a 68,000 m3/d plant at Ras Al Kaimah. Sembcorp is expanding the Fujairah 1 136,000 m3/d RO plant, to bring its UAE capacity to 591,000 m3/d of which 307,000 is RO and 284,000 m3/d is MSF. Also the Shuweihat S2 IPP and seawater desal plant at Al Ruwais started full operation in 2011 and provides 1510 MWe and 454,000 m3/d by MSF. The Fujairah 2 plant is hybrid SWRO-MED and produces 454,600 m3/d. The Taweelah A1 cogeneration plant produces 1430 MWe and 385,000 m3/day and Umm Al Nar produces 394,000 m3/day. The 91,000 m3/d Al Hamriya RO desal plant with 400 MWe power station opened in June 2014 to supply Sharjah near Dubai, as part of a 636,000 m3/d and 2500 MWe complex. The 136,400 m3/d Al Zawra seawater desal plant is to be built at Ajman. GdF Suez has a 25-year power and water supply agreement with Abu Dhabi for the Mirfa project, including a new 136,380 m3/d RO plant and 1100 MWe power plant, costing $1.5 billion, alongside three existing 34,095 m3/d MSF units and a power plant.
In Dubai the Jebel Ali M cogeneration plant opened in 2013 with 6x243 MWe gas turbines and 8 MSF units providing 640,000 m3/d. Earlier, Dubai invited bids for constructing a 450,000 m3/day (165 GL/yr) seawater desalination plant as part of its Hassyan independent power project, but then announced its deferral.
In the UK, a 150,000 m3/day RO plant is proposed for the lower Thames estuary, utilising brackish water.
USA-Mexico: The 375,000 m3/day Rosarito seawater plant in Baja, California, is to supply potable water on both sides of the border.
USA: San Antonio, Texas, is building a 60,000 m3/day RO desal plant for brackish water from aquifers, to operate from 2016 and costing $193 million. Additions are planned to take capacity to 150,000 m3/day by 2026. A 189,000 m3/day salt water desal plant is planned for Carlsbad, NM.
San Diego has ordered a 415,000 m3/day RO wastewater treatment plant costing $3.5 billion. It is expected to meet one-third of the city’s daily drinking water requirement by 2035, making it the second largest potable reuse plant in the USA.
Most or all these have requested technical assistance from IAEA under its technical cooperation project on nuclear power and desalination. A coordinated IAEA research project initiated in 1998 reviewed reactor designs intended for coupling with desalination systems as well as advanced desalination technologies. This programme, involving more than 20 countries, is expected to enable further cost reductions of nuclear desalination.
Other CO2-free desalination
Renewable energy sources are able to be used for desalination more readily than for most electricity supply, since the product can be stored on any scale, unlike electricity. Also electricity can be borrowed from the grid and repaid when the wind is blowing or the sun shining. A 45 GL/yr RO plant at Perth, Western Australia is powered by electricity ostensibly from a wind farm. A new 100 GL/yr RO plant is powered by 65 MWe of dedicated renewable energy (10 MWe solar PV, 55 MWe wind).
IAEA 1997, Nuclear Desalination of Sea Water, proceedings of 1997 Symposium.
IAEA 1998, Nuclear heat applications: design aspects and operating experience, IAEA-TECDOC-1056.
Konishi & Misra, Freshwater from the Seas, IAEA Bulletin 43, 2; 2001.
IAEA Nuclear Desalination, paper on web.
International J of Nuclear Desalination, 2003, vol 1, 1.
UN World Water Development Report 2003.
Seneviratne, G 2007, Research projects show nuclear desalination economical, Nuclear News April 2007.
Khamis, I, 2010, Nuclear Desalination
New Technologies for Seawater Desalination Using Nuclear Energy, TecDoc 1753, International Atomic Energy Agency (January 2015)