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The Footprint of the Desalination Processes on the Environment

The Footprint of the Desalination Processes on the Environment

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Published by: Carlos Sánchez López on Mar 28, 2012
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Desalination 152 (2002) 141–154
0011-9164/02/$– See front matter © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved
Submitted to the EuroMed 2002 conference on Desalination Strategies in South Mediterranean Countries:Cooperation between Mediterranean Countries of Europe and the Southern Rim of the Mediterranean.Sponsored by the European Desalination Society and Alexandria University Desalination Studies and TechnologyCenter, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, May 4–6, 2002.
*Corresponding author.
The footprint of the desalination processes on the environment
Rachel Einav
*, Kobi Harussi
, Dan Perry
 Blue Ecosystems, Nature Conservation, Environmental Consulting, EIA, Hagat 177, Zichron Yaakov 30900, Israel Tel. +972 (4) 6390448; Fax +972 (4) 6392221; email: einavr@blue-ecosystems.com
 Adan Technical and Economic Services Ltd., POB 18294, Tel-Aviv 61181, Israel Tel. +972 (3) 5612791; Fax +972 (3) 5612792; e-mail: adantec@netvision.net.il 
Received 10 April 2002; accepted 25 April 2002
Processes of desalination of seawater are intended to reduce the deficits in potable water both at present and inthe future. Water desalination processes offer various environmental benefits (related to sanitation, water softening,quality of sewage effluents), but the process is also accompanied by adverse environmental effects. These effectscan be minimized by the appropriate planning. Most of the effects anticipated would then affect the local environmentin the vicinity of the desalination plants. Desalination may have an impact on five domains: the use of the land, thegroundwater, the marine environment, noise pollution, and finally the intensified use of energy. The impact on landuse
is caused by the use of the coastal land for the purpose of building factories, thus converting the coastal area intoan industrial zone instead of an area of tourism and recreation. The impact on groundwater mainly occurs if pipelinescarrying seawater or brine are laid above an aquifer. It also occurs in the case of feed drilling. In such cases theaquifer may be damaged either by infiltration of saline water or by disturbances of the water table. The impact on themarine environment takes place mainly in the vicinity of the concentrated brine discharge pipe. Even though theconcentrated brine contains natural marine ingredients, its high specific weight causes it to sink to the sea floor without prior mixing. In addition, chemicals, which are administered to the water in the pre-treatment stages of thedesalination process, may harm the marine life in the vicinity of the pipe’s outlet. The actual placement of thedischarge pipe may also damage sensitive marine communities. Noise pollution: A desalination plant, which is based on reverse osmosis technology, requires high-pressure pumps, which generate noise. Therefore the plant must be located at a suitable distance from population centers. Technological means may be employed in order to minimizenoise intensities. A desalination plant may also affect the environment indirectly, such as via the intensified use of energy by the plant. This increased use of energy results in an increased production of electricity by the respective
 R. Einav et al. / Desalination 152 (2002) 141–154
 power station, which in turn results in increased air pollution, pollution by coal dust, thermal pollution, etc. Theseverity of these effects differs in different areas according to: a) the hydrogeological nature of the marine body(bathymetry, depth, tides, waves, currents); b) the biological sensitivity of the marine habitat; c) the type of desalination plant, its size, the required secondary structures and infrastructure. Environmental awareness and preliminary planningcan minimize the adverse effects of the desalination process on the environment.
Marine; Environment; Desalination; Brine; Outlet; Intake
1. Introduction
According to the Bible, the first project of de-salination was conducted by Moses at the placeof Mei Mara in the Sinai desert, where by in-troducing a piece of bitter wood into the bitter water Moses has turned the previously bitter fluidinto potable water. The first scientific reportdescribing a technology designed for the desali-nation of seawater was published by ThomasJefferson, the American Secretary of State, in 1791[1]. Instructions for operation of the technology were posted on notice boards in every ship, for use in acase of emergency. During the Second World War,hundreds of portable desalination devices wereused by the troops of the various armies. In theearly fifties, research projects were initiated withthe aim of lowering the price of the desalination process. The incorporation of membrane processesresulted in a major improvement to the technique.The increase in the standard of living in thedeveloping countries during the second half of the 20th century resulted in an increased demandfor water for daily use as well as for industrialuse. At the same time, clear water, regarded inthe past as a natural resource, available and cheap,had turned into a precious commodity. A number of reasons may be given to explain this process:growth of the population, wasteful use of water, pollution of available water resources, and climaticchanges related to global warming. At the beginningof the third millennium, we are facing a revolutionin the desalination process, where reasonable costsand a continuous trend of further lowering the costs,will enable the supply of water of high quality atconvenient prices, thus allowing expansion of residential areas as well as an improvement inthe quality of life of people all over the world.The yearly deficit in Israel’s water budget, asestimated in 2001, is between 200 and 500 millionm
/y. A desalination plant, such as the one to beconstructed in Ashkelon, would be capable of pro-ducing 100 million m
/y of water (320,000 m
/d),accounting for 20–50% of this deficit. Being thefirst in a line of plants to be constructed places greatresponsibility on the planners and on those whoapprove the plans, to establish proper standardsthat can meet with environmental demands. Theconstruction of plants for seawater desalinationis the preferred environmental option for reducingthe water budget deficit, but first the environ-mental price of such plants should be thoroughlyresearched and taken into account.The common technologies for seawater desali-nation are based on two main processes — evapo-ration and membrane separation, as shown inTable 1 [2–4]. In general, all processes of evapora-tion require large amounts of energy and thereforeare suitable only to areas that are rich in cheapfuel. The cost of energy is the main productionexpense in desalination plants (excluding theamortization) and the process of reserve osmosis(RO) is the most efficient desalination process both in terms of energy and costs [5,6]. For this andother reasons reverse osmosis is becoming theestablished and preferred desalination process allover the world and in particular in Israel, andtherefore most of this paper will be dedicated to it.The process of reverse osmosis is based on thefact that in all salt solutions an osmotic pressurearises whose magni cxctude is proportional to thesalt concentration. When a semi-permeable
 R. Einav et al. / Desalination 152 (2002) 141–154
membrane is placed between two solutions of different concentrations and osmotic pressures,the difference in osmotic pressures will result ina flow of solvent (and a tiny part of the solute)through the membrane, from the less concentratedsolution to the more concentrated one. In the process of reverse osmosis, the direction of thesolvent flow is reversed by exerting external pressure, higher than the difference in osmotic pressures, on the more concentrated solution.A reverse osmosis plant consists of a bundleof membranes placed in a pressure chamber, ahigh pressure pump, a turbine for recoveringenergy from the high concentration brine whichis discharged from the plant, and a system for the pretreatment of the feed water and the productwater. In this process (see Fig. 1), the seawater enters a pretreatment system, which contains sandfilters, micron filters and a system for chemicaldosing. The purpose of this pretreatment systemis to protect the membranes from fouling by dirt, biological or chemical deposits. The feed pumpgenerates seawater flow at pressures of 55– 80atm. through the membrane system. Thedesalinated product water, which has passed throughthe membranes, then receives a final treatment,which includes the adjustment of its reactivityratio, the reduction of its corrosivity and its
Table 1Common desalination technologies [2,3]
Reverse osmosis (RO) Membrane processes, the most common system in use. A semi-penetrable membrane separatestwo solutions of different concentrations.Electrodialysis(ED/EDR)Membrane processes. A bundle of membranes is placed between two electrodes and an electricfield is induced. It is mostly suitable for brackish water and for the remediation of pollutedwells.Multi stage flash (MSF) Evaporation processes, in combination with power stations. The system includes a series of compartments. The flow of hot water into a compartment in which there is low pressure resultsin the evaporation of part of the water.Multi effect distillation(MED)Evaporation processes, based on the cycle of latent heat when generating steam, usually used incombination with power stations.Vapor compressiondistillation (VCD)Evaporation processes based on the principle of a heat pump. Repeated cycles of condensationand evaporation.
disinfection. The discharged brine passes throughthe turbine, which recovers 30–40% of the energyinvested by the process pump and is then returnedto the sea. A secondary system used for periodicalcleaning of the membranes is installed in eachreverse osmosis plant.There are five aspects to the impact of desali-nation plants on the environment:1.Adverse effect on land use. As factories arelocated near the shoreline, seashores serve as thesites for industrial plants and for pumping stationsrather than for recreation and tourism.2.Impact on the aquifer. If a desalination plantis constructed inland in order to minimize theimpact on the beach, there is a need for pipes totransport the seawater and brine. Leakage fromthe pipes may result in penetration of salt water and therefore presents a danger to the aquifer. Theaquifer is further endangered if drilling is initiatedin order to draw brackish feed water.3.Impact on the marine environment as a resultof returning the concentrated brine to the sea.Although the brine contains materials, whichoriginated in the sea, its high specific weight andthe potential presence of additional chemicalsintroduced in the pretreatment stage may harmthe marine population in the area of the dischargeof the brine. The installation of the feed and

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