Desalination: the Solution to Climate Change

Executive Summary:

Desalination technology represents a critical solution in addressing the challenges posed by climate change, offering a multifaceted approach that not only addresses water scarcity but also holds the potential to revolutionize agriculture and mitigate the impacts of climate change. This technology involves the process of extracting freshwater from seawater, making it a valuable tool for expanding arable land and ensuring sustainable food production.

1. Water Scarcity Mitigation: Desalination provides a reliable and consistent source of freshwater, essential for regions facing acute water scarcity. As climate change exacerbates drought conditions and disrupts traditional water supplies, desalination becomes a crucial component in securing a sustainable and resilient water source.

2. Expansion of Arable Land: Desalination enables the transformation of arid and desert landscapes into fertile agricultural zones. By irrigating these previously inhospitable areas, we can significantly expand arable land, fostering increased food production and addressing the global challenge of feeding a growing population.

3. Climate-Resilient Agriculture: The ability to terraform deserts using desalinated water allows for climate-resilient agriculture. By creating controlled and optimized environments, we can mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events, fluctuations in precipitation, and changing temperature patterns, ensuring consistent and reliable food production.

4. Reduction of Pressure on Freshwater Sources: As the global demand for freshwater continues to rise, desalination technology can alleviate the strain on existing freshwater sources. By tapping into the vast seawater reserves, we can preserve and protect essential freshwater ecosystems, maintaining ecological balance and biodiversity.

5. Sustainable Food Production: Desalination technology, coupled with innovative agricultural practices, can lead to sustainable and resource-efficient food production. Controlled irrigation using desalinated water allows for precision farming, reducing the environmental impact of agriculture and ensuring the long-term viability of food systems.

6. Economic Opportunities: Investments in desalination technology create economic opportunities by addressing water scarcity, promoting agricultural development, and fostering innovation. This not only benefits the regions directly implementing desalination projects but also contributes to global economic stability and resilience.

In conclusion, desalination technology stands as a transformative solution to the intertwined challenges of water scarcity, food production, and climate change. By unlocking the potential to terraform deserts and harness unlimited freshwater resources, we can build a more sustainable and resilient future, ensuring the well-being of both current and future generations. Embracing and advancing desalination technology is a pivotal step toward achieving global climate goals and fostering a harmonious coexistence between humanity and the environment.

Low Cost, Low Energy Desalination

Scientists at ANU say they developed the world's first thermal desalination method. It is powered not by electricity, but by moderate heat generated directly from sunlight, or waste heat from machines such as air conditioners or other industrial processes.

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) say that while widespread, the current processes need large amounts of electricity and other expensive materials that need to be serviced and maintained.

Scientists at ANU say they developed the world’s first thermal desalination method. It is powered not by electricity, but by moderate heat generated directly from sunlight, or waste heat from machines such as air conditioners or other industrial processes.

It uses a phenomenon called thermo diffusion, in which salt moves from hot temperatures to cold. The researchers pumped seawater through a narrow channel, which runs under a unit that was heated to greater than 60 degrees Celsius and over a bottom plate that was cooled to 20 degrees Celsius. Lower-salinity water comes from the water in the top section of the channel, closer to the heat.

Desalinating Water Is Absurdly Cheap

How cheap is cheap? Energy Monitor notes that “globally, around 1% of the world’s drinking water is desalinated, but in Israel, that figure is around 25%.” Israel’s desalinated water comes from five desalination plants. The Sorek B plant has a capacity to desalinate 52.8 billion gallons a year and is contracted to produce water for $0.41 per cubic meter. There are around 264 gallons per cubic meter, so this puts the cost at about a penny per 6.4 gallons.

One hundred percent of the municipal water supply in the United Arab Emirates is desalinated. Dubai bloomed out of the desert with desalination technology. There are some 186 desalination facilities under construction or at the pre-construction phase around the world.

According to the website Filtration and Separation, in 2012, the cost to desalinate was $0.75 per cubic meter. In 2012, the average U.S. unskilled labor hourly wage was $10.97. In 2022, it had increased to $15.72. That puts the time price at about 4.14 minutes in 2012 and 1.56 minutes in 2022.

Put differently, in 2022 we were getting 165 percent more gallons of clean water for the same time price as was the case in 2012. Water abundance from desalination is growing at a 10.22 percent compound annual rate, doubling in abundance every seven years. These gains happened while we added 860 million people to the planet. Population was growing at a 1.14 percent annual rate, while desalination grew almost nine times faster.

We’re replacing salt with knowledge and turning a liability into an asset. Humans are exceptionally clever at innovating. Never underestimate our ability to adapt and thrive as long as we are free to discover valuable knowledge and share it with others in open markets.

Making Desalination Brine Waste into a Resource

A process developed at MIT could turn concentrated brine into useful chemicals, making desalination more efficient.

Desalination is an amazing technology but it leaves behind as a waste product: a lot of highly concentrated brine, which is usually disposed of by dumping it back into the sea, a process that requires costly pumping systems and that must be managed carefully to prevent damage to marine ecosystems.

Engineers at MIT say they have found a better way. In a new study, they show that through a fairly simple process the waste material can be converted into useful chemicals — including ones that can make the desalination process itself more efficient.

The approach can be used to produce sodium hydroxide, among other products. Otherwise known as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide can be used to pretreat seawater going into the desalination plant. This changes the acidity of the water, which helps to prevent fouling of the membranes used to filter out the salty water — a major cause of interruptions and failures in typical reverse osmosis desalination plants.

Call to Invest $100 Billion into Desalination

Investment in advanced desalination technology and research is not just a necessity but an opportunity to lead the world towards a sustainable and resilient water future.

The Case for a $100 Billion Investment

  1. Enhancing Technology Efficiency: Investment will accelerate advancements in desalination technology, making processes more energy-efficient, reducing costs, and minimizing environmental impact. Innovations such as reverse osmosis, solar desalination, and new materials can revolutionize the industry.

  2. Scaling Up Production: To meet the demands of a growing global population and the impacts of climate change, we need to scale up desalination infrastructure. This requires significant capital to build and upgrade plants and distribution systems.

  3. Research and Development: A robust R&D initiative will foster breakthroughs in desalination techniques, enabling the development of more cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions. This includes exploring new technologies, materials, and methods to enhance the overall sustainability of desalination.

  4. Economic and Social Benefits: Investing in desalination technology will create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and improve the quality of life for millions of people. It will provide access to clean water for communities currently suffering from water shortages, supporting health, agriculture, and industry.

  5. Environmental Stewardship: With a focus on sustainable practices, this investment will address environmental concerns associated with desalination, such as brine disposal and energy use, ensuring that the solutions we develop are aligned with global environmental goals.

We urge governments, private sector leaders, and philanthropic organizations to join forces in this critical initiative. By committing $100 billion to desalination technology and research, we can drive innovation, secure our water future, and make a lasting impact on global well-being.

Together, we have the power to transform the way we address water scarcity and build a future where clean, fresh water is available to all. Your support and investment will be instrumental in achieving this vision.


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