Desalination in Spain

An interesting article/advertisement by Cynthia Graber in the Technology Review caught my eye. The topic – desalination. At first glance, removing salt from water doesn’t make for a rockin’ Saturday night. But, what if desalination technology could be used to bring sustainable clear water to millions of people in the Middle East, India and even North America? Now that’s a party . . . as can be seen below.

Workers inspect a seawater well to feed a desalination plant at a test site in Mauritania.

Apparently the Spaniards have been desalinating water for the last 40 years. I’m sure other countries are making strides in building similar facilities and developing similar technology but this article is ostensibly a pro-Spain piece. According to Graber, Spanish companies built their facility in 1964 in the “water-poor” Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. Since then, the Spanish have built over 700 plants worldwide, producing 1,600,000 cubic meters of water each day, enough for about 8,000,000 people. Not too shabby.

After readers get through some passages inserted by the Spanish government’s marketing department on “Why Spain?” and “Spanish Companies” they’ll find that worldwide presence of Spanish desalination companies is actually quite impressive. But, the article spends too much time tooting the horns of the people who desalinate water and not enough time talking about implications of the technology itself. I think that’s called reviewing technology, and some semblance of the act can be found in the cryptic magazine title, Technology Review. Let me know if you have trouble. Yeah, yeah, the article has “Special Ad Section” stamped all over it but I don’t really care.

The ongoing debate about ethanol and biodiesel got me thinking about the costs and benefits of desalinating water. It’s clear that many people on this planet need potable water but what effect does providing this have on the environment? The number one concern is that for every liter of water taken from the sea, less than half becomes desalinated. The leftover brine, which is usually returned to the sea, has about twice the salinity of ordinary seawater. (Spanish) companies deal with this in two ways. One, they study the resistance of marine life to varying level of salinity before returning saltier water to sea. If the overall rise in salinity won’t affect marine life nothing else is done. If it will, desalination facilities will be constructed near thermal power plants and will use the cooling water from the plant to dilute the brine to a percentage close to that of the original seawater. And to boot, these plants are being built using renewable energy sources like wind power and solar power.

Renewable energy used to power a desalination plant at the Canary Islands Institute of Technology.

Until desalination is so prevalant it threatens the seas, I’m all for the idea. If wind and solar energy can be used to clean water for the poorest of people on this planet it should be done. More countries need to follow in Spain’s footsteps. If people are struggling to find food or water they can’t accomplish much else. This idea can help entire countries find not only stability, but a foundation from which to rise up.

One comment

  1. lloret de mar

    I’ve always pondered about desalination since I was a kid. It seemed so ‘easy’ to me, to solve the human thirst for drinking water. I think this topic gets hotter als the climate change proceeds.

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