Published December 2010
Increased water scarcity around the world is the main driver for growth of the seawater desalination market. Scarcity is a function of growing demand for water in situations where there is limited availability of fresh water resources. Water scarcity is exacerbated by population growth in areas such as the Arabian Gulf region, southern Spain, North Africa, the California coast, and China. Global warming has no predictable impact on overall water scarcity although it is believed to increase the risk of both floods and droughts. Thus, certain water resource agencies around the world must plan for these eventualities.
The market for seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination outside the Arabian Gulf region will grow at a faster pace than within the region. Although water scarcity may be growing more quickly in other parts of the world, new markets, particularly in China and the U.S., are beginning to develop plans for large-scale SWRO plants. Beyond 2015, the rate of growth in the SWRO industry is expected to accelerate, when large markets such as the U.S. and China will by then have established working financial and political models to pursue large-scale plant projects. The rate at which the installed capacity increases is expected to move into double digits and annual incremental capacity growth is expected to increase by an average of more than 15%.
In this Review, we first provide an overview of the status, materials choices, and cleaning options for spiral-wound membrane elements. Next, we profile alternative membrane module configurations. Then we describe the various types of pre- and post-treatment process options for a network of membrane modules. We also describe alternative brine disposal and energy minimization techniques. Finally, before picking a basis for design and providing an economic evaluation of a complete SWRO membrane process to remove salt from seawater to produce drinking water, we discuss the market potential for the construction of future SWRO plants in the U.S. and China. Process design and economics are then presented for a single-stage 15 million gal/day desalination plant.