Seawater desalination. Does it make sense in Poland?

Odsalanie wody morskiej

Poland, like many other countries, is increasingly facing water shortages. Due to insufficient retention, abundant precipitation flows down rivers to the sea and becomes unfit for our needs due to salinity. Many places around the world are implementing solutions to treat salt water. Is desalination a good way to ensure water security in our country? Under what conditions does such an investment work best?

Largest installations in the world

The largest seawater treatment plant in the world is located in Ras Al-Khair, Saudi Arabia. The facility produces 1 millioncubic meters of water per day. The plant uses multistage projective distillation technology combined with reverse osmosis [1]. The energy for this process is generated by the 2,400 MW power plant next door. As many as 3,500 are needed to operate the entire complex. Employees. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia desalinates 20 percent. of water extracted in this way and is a market leader. This position is due to large local needs, but also to the ability to use its own fossil fuels to produce energy for water treatment.

Desalination of seawater in Europe

European countries are also using similar technologies. Installations have already been set up in the UK and France, mainly on islands and in coastal regions where freshwater resources are limited and do not meet high demand. Several also operate in Corsica, for example. They provide drinking water for about 100,000. residents. However, the largest number of installations can be found in Spain. These are not as large desalination plants as in the Middle East, but there are already some. 800. In one day, they produce 5 million liters of drinking water. This is the result of more than 50 years of work on developing water policy and seawater desalination technology.

In recent years, the occurrence of long periods of drought has forced Spaniards to make fuller use of existing facilities, such as the Llobregat in Barcelona. It has a capacity of up to 200 million liters per day. By 2021. Desalination of water in this city satisfied only 3 percent of the city’s water supply. demand, and now it is already 33 percent. The impact of climate change is clearly seen in the increasing share of freshwater from a variety of previously little-used sources.

Israel – desalination technology tycoon

Seawater desalination is an industry in which Israel is a leader. Why? Because it has already been allocating funds to develop this method for years. Israelis are aware that they need to invest in obtaining fresh water, as it is a scarce good in their country. Now there are several hundred desalination technology companies there, with a total value of $2 billion.

From desalination plants comes 80 percent of the water available in Israel. However, this is not an economical solution. Desalination price of 1m3 of water is about 70 cents, but the consumer pays three times as much – $2.22 (as of 2022), still one of the lowest rates in the world for drinking water sourced from the sea. The largest plant is Sorek, located 15 kilometers from Tel Aviv, which produces more than 600,000 m.3 drinking water per day in a reverse osmosis system. Its construction cost $500 million.

Desalination process over the years

Desalination of seawater
pic. Data index of global growth in capacity and number of desalination plants from 1960 to 2020 source:

The first large desalination plants were built in the 1960s, but the energy intensity and high cost of the process meant that they were not used on a large scale. Over time, as populations grew in water-scarce places such as China, India, South Africa and the United States, desalination became a necessity. Also, climate change is contributing to the occurrence of drought in previously water-abundant regions.

Developments in technology are making seawater desalination cheaper relative to the cost of the process in its early years. Over the past three decades, the value has more than halved and the number of installations has tripled. More than 16,000 are currently in operation. desalination plants in 177 countries around the world.

The controversy is that the production of desalinated water consumes a lot of energy. It most often comes from burning fossil fuels. Admittedly, investments are already being made that combine desalination with renewable energy sources, such as solar panels or wind farms, but at this point these are exceptional situations. Experts view the rise of the plant with concern: desalination of water as a way to deal with climate change-induced drought emits more greenhouse gases, contributing to worsening global warming.

The dumping of the byproduct of the whole process, the brine, into the sea also remains problematic. In high concentrations, it can negatively affect ecosystems. Besides, along with seawater, fish and other organisms are sucked into the plant, becoming victims of the production process. Therefore, considering the economic and environmental costs of this technology, seawater desalination is used only where other sources of fresh water are really hard to come by.

Desalination of seawater in Poland

Poland has not yet developed a seawater desalination plant for municipal purposes, but we already have a track record in such technologies. Startup Nanoseen has developed a process for instant, low-cost and emission-free seawater treatment that uses nanomembranes and gravity. Filtration takes from 2 to 5 minutes. The carbon nanomembranes can be regenerated up to 10 times, and are biodegradable after use. They can absorb all sorts of contaminants and can be used in both small mobile devices and industrial-scale applications. The technology is still in the development stage, but investors are already coming to the startup.

Our country operates a desalination plant for industrial use. Azoty Police Group in 2019. has begun construction of such a plant for its own facility. When the water level in the Oder River decreases, salted water from the Baltic flows into its mouth. In order to ensure that the water captured by the plant from the river, whose salinity is therefore increasing, does not cause technological problems and does not require the use of a large amount of chemicals, a water treatment plant was built.

Desalination of seawater for nuclear power plant

Seawater desalination will be the solution used for Poland’s first nuclear power plant. It is to be built in Pomerania, and the cooling system will be supplied with water from the Baltic Sea.

The environmental impact assessment report states that water demand during the power plant’s operational phases depends on the type of cooling system used. Seawater will be desalinated or used directly, depending on the chosen solution. Currently, the construction of the power plant is in the design phase, so we still have to wait for binding information.

Should we source water from the Baltic Sea?

After analyzing the above information, one can conclude that desalination of Baltic water is not the best solution to Poland’s fresh water shortage problems at the moment. It is true that we suffer from periodic deficits, but the situation is not yet as critical as in the Gulf countries or Spain. High costs, high energy consumption and the production of toxic brine make desalination of seawater not a viable form of securing supplies for our country’s residents.

It is worth noting, however, that the use of such technology in industry may enable some plants to use seawater instead of fresh water. The presence of salt hinders technological processes and causes corrosion of metal machine components, and desalination will enable its use in production processes. Therefore, it’s possible that more coastal industrial plants will soon follow in the footsteps of the Police pioneer and invest in seawater desalination.

[1] Reverse osmosis is a process that uses an osmotic membrane to remove impurities and organic matter from water, leaving it pure and crystalline.

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