Can the Desalination of Ocean Water Quench our Thirst?

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Can the Desalination of Ocean Water Quench our Thirst?

Margot FAQ, News, Tank Services

By Margot Shellgren

I had a college professor who loved to discuss ideas on how to “save the world”.  One memorable topic was, how can we make hydrogen fueled cars safe for the environment? Desalinating ocean water was one of our ideas. Breaking down the ocean water into its elements; salt, oxygen and hydrogen, seemed brilliant. Playing devil’s advocate, our professor asked, “But what do you do with all the salt?” Good question.

Over 97% of our planet’s water comes from the ocean, and Earth’s human population has jumped from 3 billion in 1960 to 7.3 billion in 2015. That’s a lot of thirsty people. The BBC is reporting that researchers at MIT have created a system that allows for the desalination of water to use less energy than previous methods.  The benefits of desalinating our ocean water seem pretty obvious. This is especially true when you look at the condition of California during its historic drought. But what are the drawbacks? If we look back at our history, whenever we try and outsmart mother nature, we inevitably lose.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock
If water becomes too salty, as in the Dead Sea, few living things can survive. Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

There are some desalination plants that have prepared for production.”The largest seawater desalination plant ever, Israel’s Sorek plant near Tel Aviv, just ramped up to full production. It will make 624 million litres of drinkable water daily” That is roughly 165 million gallons of drinking water, a day.  Another plant popped up in Saudi Arabia and The U.S. has one plant in San Diego.

The traditional way to create drinking water from sea water is to boil it and collect the condensation as pure drinking water. This, however, uses too much energy to be beneficial.”but works well if combined with industrial plants that produce heat as a by-product. Saudi Arabia’s new desalination plant pairs with a power plant for this reason.”

Researchers at MIT have created a new energy efficient technology, but the question remains. What do we do with the leftover salt? “”You have to make sure the very salty water is pushed away far enough into the sea that you don’t have re-circulation of the water, because otherwise it will be getting saltier and saltier,” says Floris van Straaten of Swiss engineering company Poyry, the firm overseeing construction of the Ras al-Khair project.”

While the debate continues, officials have put a halt to the production of fresh water. “US environmental groups have fought construction of new desalination plants in the courts, saying the consequences of reintroducing brine to the ocean have not been adequately studied.”

While my professor still does not have his answer, the conversation continues. Every great idea has its repercussions, but does the gain outweigh the consequences?

Check out the whole article here, Can making seawater drinkable quench the world’s thirst?

This post is a summary of,” Can making seawater drinkable quench the world’s thirst?” written by and published by BBC News on October 13, 2015.