04 January 2013 11:23 [Source: ICB]
It is not so much that the world is short of potable water, it is the fact shortages are expected in areas of rapid population growth. Supplies in the developed world are under pressure, with 60% of medium to large European cities consuming groundwater at a rate faster than it can be replenished. In some rapidly developing regions the water supply situation is becoming critical.
Currently the 7bn people on Earth are "appropriating" 54% of all accessible fresh water, according to the United Nations. Withdrawal is expected to rise by 50% in developing countries by 2025 and by 18% in developed countries. Generally, agriculture and industry take most water, with municipal use sometimes restricted to preserve food production.
Access to clean water is a challenge
Some exotic new desalination processes are attracting attention alongside more traditional desalination techniques such as "multiple effect distillation" (MED), "multistage flash" (MSF) and "sea water reverse osmosis" (SWRO), say consultants ChemSystems. The new processes are designed to reduce capital and operating costs and include electrodialysis and solvent-based desalination (or "forward osmosis").
"Municipalities and industrial customers alike now must often weigh the costs and benefits of desalination for obtaining water from non-ideal sources, such as seawater or saline aquifers," ChemSystems says. It is proposing a new study looking at desalination technologies and their relative performance.
The increased interest in desalination has been driven by changed industrial as well as expanded municipal demand. New refinery and petrochemical facilities in some locations need water to be transported to the site having been constructed closer to energy rather than water.
And in parts of the world where refining and chemicals growth has been strong, such as the Middle East, future water supply to industry has become a critical issue - and one with some unusual consequences. The demand for more clean water has put stress on other natural resources in the Middle East. Here a growing population is placing increasing demands on gas for electricity generation and water desalination.
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