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the seawater desalination market

Update 30/09/2019


The seawater desalination is the process by which fresh water is obtained (drinking or irrigation water) from salt water (often sea water). The process is based on the extraction of fresh water from salt water more than in the extraction of salts from water. However, it is simpler and cheaper to treat freshwater sources directly (lakes, rivers or groundwater) than to desalinate seawater. Seawater desalination is a major challenge, especially for the driest regions.

The question of the profitability desalination of seawater frequently arises, particularly for food agriculture with a price of the water used far exceeding the value of future agricultural production. However, the seawater desalination market is experiencing a development very important at the global level and particularly in coastal regions. The construction of seawater treatment plants and their production capacity continue to expand. There are more than 18.400 plants in 2017 of desalination in the world, in 150 countries . Their production capacity could double over the next five years. These units treat 80 million cubic meters of seawater (80 billion litres) that have benefited more than 300 million people, and generate more than 12 billion dollars of global revenue each year . Annual growth is estimated at around 10% in the coming years, or more than 19 billion dollars that should be generated by this sector in 2019.

However, the authorities are introducing very demanding water management policies which aim in particular to limit the construction of plants for seawater desalination. Thus, in theory, a plant could be built only to address a well-identified local problem. Nevertheless, desalination units continue to multiply all over the world. Currently, the leading countries in the seawater desalination market are the United States, China, Canada, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Israel and Libya, most of which are major oil producers. The latter is a very important competitive advantage in a sector that requires considerable resources for its development, since 50% of production costs correspond to energy consumption, leaving few opportunities for undeveloped countries. Consequently, fossil fuel prices are highly correlated with the production cost of seawater desalination. French plants are well established in this market, Veolia and Suez represent ¼ desalination plants currently operating worldwide Suez is the world's number two in the water management market.

However, non-oil producing countries are beginning to develop seawater desalination plants operating with renewable energies . This could mean a significant reduction in production costs in the medium term. Currently, the average cost of one m3 is about 1 euro, and could drop to 0.47 euros thanks to renewable energies

The growth of this market partly responds to the problems of water stress and to water shortage in some regions, but this is far from sufficient. However, seawater desalination is not the only alternative technology on the water treatment market. Today, there are companies capable of collecting and treating wastewater through wastewater treatment plants that allow this water to be reused as an alternative resource for agriculture and industry. Moreover, companies that master this technology claim that their production is less expensive than desalination, which represents a potential risk for the seawater desalination market in the long term. Desalination plants also present an environmental challenge because they release waste into the water that disrupts the biosphere. Research is ongoing to limit this impact.

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