Special Report – Desalination

As drought and climate change put pressure on water resources around the world, desalination is becoming increasingly popular as a solution to water woes in coastal areas. The Middle East has remained the world's desalination hub since Kuwait built the first ever large-scale desalination plant in the 1960s, but the technology is spreading fast. From sweltering Australia to 'rainy' England, governments and water companies are looking to desalination plants to increase supply, while entrepreneurs develop and commercialise new technologies.

Desalination’s high energy use, the associated running costs and greenhouse emissions are a major hurdle for the spread of the technique.

Plans to build a large desalination plant for London to treat the relatively low-salinity water of the Thames estuary met with much criticism over the greenhouse emissions the project would bring. Phil Burston of the RSPB outlines the proposed plant’s environmental costs, and points to less polluting alternatives.

But desalination could still be made green, as emerging technologies show – one new method developed in Australia, the world’s driest continent, taps into wave energy to power the process while producing electricity at the same time.

Meanwhile over in the United States, also increasingly plagued by drought, solar-powered desalination could be the ‘green’ solution, its developers argue.

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