Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147

Water requirements and remote arid areas: the need for small-scale desalination
J. Ayoub*, R. Alward
Brace Research Institute, Faculty of Engineering, Macdonald Campus of McGill University, PO Box 900, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec H9X 3 V9, Canada Tel. (514) 398-7833; Fax (514) 398-7767; E-mail: AE12000@MUSICA.MCGILL.CA

Received 24 June 1995; accepted 10 March 1996


Global replenishment of accessible flesh water supplies is equivalent to 1,800 m3/person/y, some 50 times the recommended VMO standard for human needs. However, distribution of rainfall is uneven, and the timing unpredictable. Many countries now face or will be experiencing water supply and quality problems. This paper reviews the status of selected water-rich and water-poor countries with respect to renewable flesh water resources in order to delineate the scale of the problem. One solution for many water-poor countries is the conversion of saline water to potable water through desalination. Large-scale desalination for industries and urban centres has become a marketable technology over the last three decades. However, the marketplace has not inspired similar developments in small-scale desalination technology for smaller, and particularly, remote arid areas.
Keywords: Desalination; Solar stills; Small-scale; Remote communities

1. Introduction Currently, one in 15 people live in areas with inadequate fresh water supplies. Using the United Nations' minimum population projections and data on renewable fresh water supplies, it is estimated that one in three people world-wide will be living under these conditions by the year 2025 [1]. However, these statistics hide the enormity of the problem because they deal with

national averages that often fail to take into account discrepancies between wet and dry regions and between urban centres and rural areas. In many developing countries, where 80% of the population lives in the rural areas, their fresh water supplies can be far lower per capita than in urban centres. Recent studies by various United Nations agencies and by international development organizations all point to the seriousness of

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42 0.372. Technical and economic comparisons of the various larger processes are now well documented.8% of its water. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 emerging water scarcity and quality problems in several European countries. those supplying fewer than 2000 people typically located in remote areas and coastal communities.009 Saline lakes and inland seas 108. Kuwait. most of which is of little practical use to humans as it is locked up in glaciers and ice-caps.008 Average in rivers and 1. In tropical locations annual rainfall can be as much as 5 m.00 2.411.132 J. oceans.61 Ice-caps glaciers and 30.15 99. Bahrain and their neighbours account for twothirds of this output. and they use large-scale systems. The Middle East countries of Saudi Arabia. Current conservative estimates indicate that of the remaining 10 million km 3 of fresh water. Iraq. The Occupied Territories. In arid and semi-arid areas of the 1.15 Atmosphere 13. Lebanon. Land-based desalination plants.00 0. are generally less attractive commercially. I. they receive very little attention from the desalination industry. 550.0001 streams Soil moisture and near69.00 97. or agricultural applications.2 Total Source: Popkin [3]. Egypt. industrial use.005 surface ground water Deep ground water 8. on average. Ayoub. on the other hand. In some locations. such as the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. and due to the markets they serve. Table 1 shows how the world's water supply is distributed: The oceans cover roughly 70% of the earth's surface and contain all but 2..902. In some places it rains frequently and gently throughout the year.000 km3/y. came into use only in the early 1900s and were encouraged by the evolution of the petroleum industry. and in others. these waters contain such high concentrations of dissolved salts (in the order of 35.13 million km 3 is contained in lakes and streams. R. Jordan. The technology for converting sea and brackish water to potable water is well established. The major users of desalination technology today tend to be the middle. tend to have higher costs per unit of fresh water output. of which about 20% falls on land [1]. torrential rains can occur for a few weeks leaving the rest of the year almost rain-free.25 0.30 0.310.and high-income water-poor countries.90 0.000 mg/l and above) that they are virtually unsuitable for drinking.a b o u t 40 million km 3 . Today. As a result. Ethiopia. The r e m a i n d e r . 2. 8. However.001 Oceans 1. Global resources One of the great paradoxes of the world water system is that most of the water on earth is in .610. while in some Arab Gulf States rainfall is insignificant.66 million km 3 is stored in relatively inaccessible ground water and about 0. This basic process continued in use on shipboard well into the late 16th fresh water.28 0.. Israel. World water scene Table 1 Estimated global water resources Location Water volume Percent of (×1000 km3) total water Fresh water lakes 129.98 2. Aristotle first described the production of drinking water by distillation of seawater undertaken by Greek sailors in the fourth century BC [3]. world-wide installed capacity of potable water from desalination is approximately 16 million m3/d [1] from nearly 9000 separate plants. particularly in the waterpoor countries of the Arabian Gulf [3].660. and these tend to justify the economics of scale. rainfall is effectively zero. Syria. the Sudan. Turkey and the states of California and Florida in the US [2]. Small-scale systems. Global replenishment of water through rainfall is. Many of these countries and states border on oceans or have large underground reserves of brackish water.

Agricultural demand for water for irrigation is by far the largest and most rapidly expanding fresh water use sector. However. These global figures lead to the conclusion that there are no serious overall water shortages yet. Thus. Variations in the cycles of global precipitation can also contribute to regional water shortages. Ayoub. Global irrigation practices currently account for 3.. differentiation between reliable rainfall and reliable supplies of run-off must also take into account the way rainfall varies over the shorter time period . An additional 225 km3/y is used by power stations as cooling water. Areas that have been known to receive adequate rainfall most years can experience lower amounts in other years.5 km 3.. of which some 28. Rainfall. To increase reliable runoff.500 billion litres a year. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 133 world. cause water shortages. large reservoirs for water storage and canals for transporting water from water-rich to waterpoor areas are the common large-scale solutions adopted.. The above total per capita is approximately 43% of available and accessible annual underground water and surface run-off. land subsidence. However. Domestic needs . This is equivalent to about 1.could be adequately met everywhere in the world by less than 100 I/d per person [1.000 km3/y. This intervention has predominated in many arid and semi-arid countries. coupled with regional imbalances within countries. ground water extraction exceeds renewal rates leading to a lowering of the water table. these statistics conceal large regional differences in availabilityanddemand[2].J. Human intervention in dealing with water shortages has traditionally been along two interrelated fronts: water harvesting.drinking. industry and agriculture.000 km 3. the global run-off is roughly 40. . Water needs Water is required for domestic needs.000 km 3 is lost to floods and cannot be utilized. about 9. hygiene and cooking . industrial water use is approximately 200 km3/y or twice the actual domestic consumption.000 km3 a year is underground and surface flow which is easily accessible and economically usable [I]. modem techniques of water extraction from deep aquifers have reduced interest in this process.800 m 3 of global water availability per person per year. where almost 600 million people make their homes. One hundred litres a day is equivalent to 36.5 m 3 per person per year.2]. R. techniques are employed to collect and use rainwater as near to where it falls as possible in order to counteract evaporation and transportation losses. Global run-off. Such global imbalances in the distribution of rainfall and run-off. All too often. is balanced by run-off (surface and underground). and 40 kma/yis taken up by livestock watering [4]. Of this. and increasing the volume of reliable run-off.2. Given a world population of 5 billion people. Planners must. Clarke [2] notes that water planners usually assume 35% of total rainfall as reliable in any given year in their calculations. Of the total rainfall over the land mass. for planning purposes.300 km 3 of water per year supplied not only from stable run-off but from pumped ground water sources as well. If it were so. it would be more than adequate to support current world needs (see below for estimates). approximately 70. is not evenly distributed on earth.which makes the calculation processmorecomplex. In water harvesting. and saline-water infiltration of coastal aquifers. however. the provision of 100 l/d per person would amount to approximately 182. This represents about 2% of the accessible run-off. therefore. rainfall is generally less than 300 mm/y. Table 2 shows the breakdown of global water use based on 1977 estimates [4]. or 182. differentiate between reliable rainfall and total rainfall.000 km 3 is evaporated [2]. Of the remaining 12. Globally. 2. evaporation and evapo-transpiration of plants. between 1 to 2 l/d is all that is required for drinking. however. Moreover.

6].800 16.2 4. Although total animal water consumption is significantly higher than humans.800 21.000 500 1.0 38.3.5 Desirable content 11. fresh water imported from distant sources supplements these supplies during periods o f local water deficiency.0 0. when available.3 0.0 9.0 15. Briefly.67 0.000 6. animal and agricultural fresh water requirements Purpose/activity Max.0 Fresh water requirement (l/d) Humans • • • • .800 18.drinking and cooking Absolute minimum water Minimum Minimum water in extreme heat Minimum water in extreme heat 3.0 95.8 3. their tolerance for higher salt content can place a lower demand By sector (km3/y) Domestic Industrial Cooling Livestock Agriculture Total Source: L'Vovich [4].4 Animals drinking • Sheep • Horses • Beef cattle • Dairy cattle Irrigation • All purposes • Most purposes • Most except for sowing • Limit of tolerance 0.200 2.T.5 16.000 11. The basic daily needs for fresh water for people and animals living in remote and arid areas are listed in Table 3.11 19.6 3. 10 I will be needed for these activities if they are undertaken in extremely hot environments [5.0 Per hectare: 17.6 5.0 10.11 0. In remote arid and water-short areas it is highly unlikely that desalinated water would be used for these purposes.000 24.900 16. 100 200 225 40 3. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 rainfall catchment as well as extraction from ground water sources. Note: Water requirements for sanitation and waste disposal are not included in this table because saline water can be used for these activities.300 3.000 3.5 @1. Ward [5]. consuming community resources which would have otherwise been invested in productive activities.500 6.134 Table 2 Global water use J. Ayoub. salt content Consumption (mg/l) (l/d) Mixing ratio: distilled water/brackish water @10.000 12.000 3.900 16.6 9.0 4. . the prevailing methods o f water collection in remote and arid areas consist o f Table 3 Human. Often.3 2. R.3 8.000 9.0 46.3 9.865 Per capita (m3/person/y) 20 40 45 8 660 773 2. Remote andaridareafreshwaterneeds Traditionally.000 2.900 Source: Adapted from G.000 7.3 2.000 9.000 mg/1 2. the table shows that typically about 5 I/person/d is the minimum water requirement for human consumption (drinking and cooking).0 2.

575 m3/capita/y.000 m3/person/y: general water problems • 1.7]. Water scarcity Water shortages have economic. 2. River flows from other countries are excluded. Yet it is one of the heaviest per capita users of water at4. She based her index on "water competition levels" . R. particularly Turkey. sociocultural patterns and physical geographic constraints. it is usually the urban centres that win over rural areas. However. In 1987 Swedish hydrologist Malin Falkenmark developed a water scarcity index in order to assess the water problems facing many African countries [7]. and. cultural. people living in cities are usually the last to feel the pinch of water supply cutbacks. the country is one of the major users of desalination . finally. Since irrigation outstrips all other sectors in its use of water. However. is almost twice the amount that canbe replenished internally through rainfall.670--10.000 m3/person/y: limited water problems • 1. is one of the driest countries in the world. the water competition levels in 1992 of a selected sample of some 30 countries world-wide are shown in Table 4.202 m 3 is relatively high for an arid country. In the struggle for access to fresh water supplies and for water delivery systems.J. countries where one flow unit supports between 2000 and 3000 people are "beyond the water barrier" [7]. Countries which have one flow unit of water supporting 100 people or less have limited water problems. the following values are obtained: • greater than 10. as it is difficult to define where "hardship" begins and "plenty" ends [2]. crop production would be the first area to suffer when water supplies are inadequate [2. for example.possibly leading to conflict. water availability includes only internal renewable resources. Iraq is in the same predicament as Egypt. Should the upstream countries of the Sudan and Ethiopia decide to use more of the Nile water. making them both dependent on their upstream neighbours for food security [1 ]. By far the highest demand for fresh water supplies is the agriculture sector. if we exclude the water that the Nile brings in estimated at 50 times more than replenishment through rainfall [1 ]. Closer examination of both Egypt and Iraq shows that the agricultural sectors of their respective economics consume nearly 90% of annual withdrawals. those countries where one flow unit supports between 600 and 1000 people are regarded as "water-stressed". Ayoub. as of June 1988. those having between 1000 and 2000 people relying on one flow unit have reached the lower limit of the "water barrier". Water flowing in from other countries. The exercise of delineating water scarcity is a complex undertaking. whose internal water availability is practically non-existent. physical. agricultural activities in remote and arid areas are usually small scale.4. chronicwater scarcity • less than 500 m3/p/y: beyond "water barrier" On this basis.000-1670 m3/person/y: water-stressed • 500-1000 m3/p/y: "water barrier". social. hydroclimatic and political dimensions. they could seriously constrain Egyptian development . In the case of Kuwait. annual withdrawal quantities include not only river flows from other countries but also. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 135 for fresh water if there is a brackish water source nearby.. Also. Transposing the above figures to reflect m 3 o f water availability per person p e r year. Its annual per capita water consumption at 1. desalination capacity.defined as the number of people that can be sustained by each flow unit of water (a flow unit is equivalent to 1 million m3/y). those countries which have one flow unit supporting from 100 to 600 people have general water problems (usually related to quality and seasonal variations). Egypt. technical. Also. It is important to note that these figures are only approximate. reflecting local population densities.

136 J.370 m 3.162 901 317 462 48 612 1.030 3.800.00 49.00 2.00 2.40 760.00 4. Jordan Saudi Arabia Libya Malta Qatar Egypt Kuwait World 2.45 3.00 1.00 110.350 2.420 1.04 0.40 0.752 m 3.00 40. C a n a d a has one o f the highest per capita annual water resource availabilities at 109.20 16.752 744 211 2.740 9.80 6.00 45.50 467.50 50.40 196.10 0.790 1.370 59. Adapted from Falkenmark [7]. ~Water resources include both internal renewable resources and river flows from other countries.290 610 590 460 370 200 190 160 160 150 70 60 30 0 Annual withdrawals Total (km3) 42.80 3. plants which provide approximately 240 m3/ capita/y.240. R.00 8 660 Source: Adapted from World Resources Institute [1 ].00 I 1.02 1.620 1.05 0.34 1.940 4.90 0.00 7.03 0.60 460. Ayoub.50 Percentage of Per capita water resourcesa (m3) 1 1 1 19 15 8 16 2 18 39 43 15 0 16 7 18 30 9 7 53 88 5 299 41 164 404 92 663 97 X 1.673.520 1.00 14.00 117.02 0.478.00 1990 per capita (m3) 109.901.30 0.800 1.40 42.80 11. yet annual per capita withdrawals are only 1.00 357.70 0.03 0.70 2.690 1.81 9. Some o f these plants were partially destroyed in the recent conflict between Kuwait and lraq.20 15.20 0.362 4.00 144. b"Water competition levels".080 1.575 294 46 271 167 404 472 449 48 325 447 117 565 173 255 623 68 415 1.80 3.80 0.90 0.00 1.83 0.30 22.09 2.00 2.470 2.20 1.357.202 238 Limited water problems General water problems Water competition levelb Water stressed Chronic scarcity Beyond "'water barrier" 40.170 2.75 0.60 2.520 2.00 54.75 1. . The high water availability figure.15 56.30 1.850.21 380.70 0.50 34. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 Table 4 Fresh water resources and withdrawals Annual internal renewable water resources Total (km3) Canada Panama Bangladesh United States Mexico Turkey China Ethiopia India Iran Iraq Peru Haiti Lebanon Somalia South Africa Poland Syria Kenya Tunisia Israel Barbados United Arab Em.550 11.690 3.

the essential daily basic requirements. producing 1000 m3/d of fresh water [10]. Italy. has not been realized.C. Pakistan. Brazil. 3. not just one of convenience. and much of the work in this field remained experimental. distillation remains the dominant process. This spurred intensive research and development into a variety of desalination processes. Ayoub. By the mid-1960s. distillation had become the common practice [3]. Mexico. Conservative predictions for the year 2000 also indicate an expected water shortage in the Mediterranean area of some 10 million m3/d [9]. in 1930. Australia and the United Slates (particularly California and Florida) are in the process of. the population of Africa is expected to increase from the present figure of about 645 million to at least 1. These result from exhaustion and/or pollution of natural fresh water resources. The first large land-based desalting unit may have been the one installed in Aruba. As environmental issues continue to gain world-wide attention. Other locations where water is becoming more scarce include most of the Arab countries. includes some poor quality water caused by heavy industrial contamination and atmospheric acid rain pollution. Africa's combined annual growth rate is in the order of 3% and is expected to maintain that level in the long term. However. Desalination and fresh water production Mankind has used desalting of seawater to obtain potable water for centuries. but by the fourth century. at least. The first known patent for a desalination process involving steam distillation was granted in England in 1869. In the same year. on existing infra-structure and increase demand for essential resources. Chile.a process known as distillation. the first reported application of a land-based distillation plant was built in Aden by the British Government to supply fresh water to merchant and naval vessels stopping at the port. Greek sailors used this method on board ships in the fourth century B.J. improving on earlier designs of plants which failed to meet expectations. and some South Pacific Islands[2. the Romans are reported to have filtered seawater through a clay soil to obtain drinking water. Annual growth rates of only 1% in developing countries impact significantly. Conversion of saline water to potable water has been the major response undertaken by water-poor countries to provide their populations with. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 137 however. the world is becoming increasingly aware of shortages of fresh water. This. especially for fresh water [8]. desalination was still somewhat of a novelty for community water supply. it was not until the mid-1950s that the use of large land-based desalination plants. For example. Netherlands Antilles.. UK. although it has become technologically sophisticated and varied with time.7]. a decline in their quality of life due to reductions in daily water consumption. or will be experiencing.D.500 million by the year2025 [1]. South and Central America. Spain. however. regions within India and China. R. In the first century A. with projections anticipating significant continued growth. particularly those using multistage flash (MSF) distillation. began to appear economically feasible for non-industrial purposes. The earliest method was to boil seawater and condense the vapour . The development of desalination technology has been stimulated and the industry encouraged by oil-producing countries since oil- . It was expected that the significant effort in desalination technology would lead to a continuing decrease in the cost of desalted water in developing countries. Today. Other countries such as Greece.. This problem is exacerbated by population growth in many developing countries. and almost always negatively. France. The extent of the shortage often implies that water may become a question of life and death in those areas.

886 units operating in some 120 countries in December 1991 with a total installed or contracted capacity of about 16 million m3/d [12]. The delineation o f "small-scale" desalination systems Although there is general agreement in the desalination industry on what constitutes largeand medium-scale operation.000 m3/d by 1990. Since 1960. has declined from about 79% of total capacity in 1969 to slightly above 30% in 1991. to at least 775.372.413. Typically. Smaller plants typically use the membrane separation process of reverse osmosis (RO).000 m3/d.483 332.4) (3. reflecting the slow adoption of the technology.610 631.0) (2. Desalination plants are increasingly being used for applications other than the production of potable water. a consensus on what . and the states of Florida and California in the USA are able to pay the high cost of desalted water (see Table 5).4) (1. 1. Ayoub. and the treatment of municipal water to make ultra-pure water for the electronics industry [1].841 260.1) (4.092 2.7) (9. Note: Percentages indicate share in relation to all other countries.5) (0. 12] (see Fig.4) (15.2) (9.7) (4. Kuwait. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 Table 5 Total capacity and number of desalting plants (percentagesin parentheses)producing 100 m3/unit or more of fresh water daily for selected major user countries (1991 figures) Country Saudi Arabia USA United Arab Emirates Kuwait Japan Libya Qatar Spain Iraq Bahrain lran Desaiting capacity (m3/d) 3. However.5) (2. a sharp rise began taking place in the mid-1960s with an average annual increase in cumulative capacity in the order of 125. Approximately two-thirds of all plants in operation world-wide are converting seawater and about one-third are treating brackish water.901 304 155 859 397 63 312 209 136 218 (16.10.7) (3.474 1. such as the treatment of effluent waters and ground water that has been polluted by agricultural nitrates and pesticides.1) (1.11]. 3.1) (4.030 398.997 629.6) (2.864 297.157 1. the world-wide capacity of installed desalination plants has increased enormously [11.138 J. up from 10% in 1969.4) (1. R.5) (2.6) (21.5) Source: Wangnick [12].or high-income and oilproducing arid regions are the major users of this technology. RO plants accounted for about 45% of global capacity by 1991.1. MSF. middle. revenues have enabled them to use desalination as their most reliable and secure solution to the problem of providing fresh water [1.609 (24.9) (1.655.0) (2.297 1.5) (10. the dominant distillation process. Following an early gradual increase in the desalination capacity.800.527 in December 1986 to 8. This rate of increase jumped three-fold from the early to mid-1970s and six-fold. but it still plays a significant role in very large plants and in dual-purpose plants coupled with power generation [12].7) Number of desalting units 1.189 380. Very large plants such as the 1 million m3/d Jubail plant in Saudi Arabia typically use distillation. Countries such as Saudi Arabia.)The number of desalination units producing more than 100 m3/d increased dramatically from 3.

Alward/Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 20 ~ t I I I 139 ~ 1 0 o 5 ' ~ 0 1960-64 . Other values of small scale mentioned in the literature tend to fall within this wide range. contributed slightly less than 20. approximately 85 units of 25 m3/d or less capacity. Technologies such as MSF.289 Contract Year constitutes small-scale desalination is lacking. I Fig. For example. shared the desalination market with 8. installed or contracted units . They fall within two processes: thermal and membrane. 1. Small-scale desaltingplant inventory In a 1991 world-wide inventory of desalting plants [12]. 1965-69 19"/0-74 1974.. Buros [14] categorized the various levels according to the following: small as less than 20 m3/d.J Ayoub. Almost all of these small-scale units are powered by solar and wind energy.000 m3/d of total installed capacity. 3. with capacities over 100 m3/d systems.. whereas Hornburg [10] places a 4.000 ma/d MSF plant in the same category. then 20 m3/d of desalted water would adequately provide for up to 4000 people . medium between 20 and 400 m3/d.886 large. producing a total of about 16 million m 3 of water/d. and large as greater than 400 m3/d.79 1980-84 1985. Prabhakar et al. membrane distillation and solar humidification usually have 3. Thus. multi-effect evaporation (ME). In some thermal processes.. The inventory also found that a small number of units. and vapour compression (VC) distillation are typical of this type and are generally cost-effective in large scale since the unit cost of product water is lower. Cumulative world capacity of } all land-based desalting plants capable 1990-91 of producingmore than 100 m3/unit of fresh water daily against contract year [12]. for the purpose of this evaluation.3.the typical size of a small rural community. small-scale desalination assumes a fresh water production of less than 25 m3/d. They are mainly used to supply municipal drinking water and have high commercial viability. and with a total production of roughly 600 m3/d. relatively high temperature thermal energy input is required to bring about a phase change in the sea or brackish water. R. Other thermal processes such as freezing.2. Brief survey ofdesalting methods Desalination processes currently in use can be characterized by the quality of energy inputs involved. and are generally being used for demonstration purposes by educational facilities and by renewable energy research centres. [13] assume a 10 ma/d RO system is "small-scale". Given that about 5 1 of fresh water/person/d is the minimum daily drinking and cooking water requirement in arid and semi-arid areas [6].

. treat municipal waste water. . pumps. VC. alarms. As most plants are on line continuously.24-29]. technical evaluations are applied to assess the ease of operation/start-up/shut-down. They are principally used to supply community or household drinking water supplies. and supply community potable water.140 J. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 Table 6 Commercially available desalination processes Process Feed water source Capacity (m3/d) Power source Market share 1991 . subjective. a lower quality energy requirement (i. R. ED and EDR. Table 6 gives some characteristics of the various commercially available desalination processes.e.15-24].30].000 2. RO.000-30. none of the processes should be difficult to operate. largesize membrane plants do not have the potential for the economies of scale that occur with distillation plants [15].000 20. Ayoub. Comparisons and economics of large-scale desalination plants There are two conventional approaches that nearly all desalination experts agree on when comparing the various desalination methods: performance comparison and cost comparison [11.10 m3/d to virtually any capacity. In performance comparison. } ME.000 Various Various Various 38-750 1 m2 of collector area is needed to produce 4 l/d of water Natural gas Natural gas Electric Electric Electric Electric Electric Solar 32 } ) 52 / ) 50 } 33 } Minor processes • • Vacuum freezing Solar distillation Negligible Negligible Source. In fact. ED and EDR share the remaining 18% and 15% of market share and total installed or contracted desalting capacity. These processes are adaptable to large. 4.. high-grade electrical or mechanical energy inputs are required to produce fresh water without a phase change in the sea or brackish water. However.and smallscale applications and can be used to supply industrial process water. and required skills of operating personnel) and maintenance requirements [17. auxiliary systems.17.000-10.2. the level of process complexity (number of small-scale systems. lowgrade thermal energy from such sources as industrial waste heat or solar collectors) and are cost effective in medium. respectively [12]. Adapted from [ 12. ED and EDR are amenable to a wide variety of capacities from 0. This comparison is. however. In membrane processes such RO.Total (%) (1991 installed or configures) tracted desalting capacity (%) Major processes Thermal: • MSF • ME • VC Membrane: • RO • ED • EDR Sea Sea Sea Sea/brackish Sea/brackish Sea/brackish Sea Sea/brackish 4.

) of operation.. R. possibly. On the basis of the cost parameters enumerated.25]. • Lower costs for RO systems can be achieved by developing more efficient recovery systems and reducing costs of membranes. Therefore. . the cheaper the energy will be [25]. etc. namely.32]. some fundamental truths do hold. water costs generally tend to be lower for brackish water by as much as 50% [35]. Also. • RO plants appear to have the lowest capital cost on a consistent basis whereas MSF plants have the highest in both desalting equipment and civil works required [25. In cost comparison. This is one of the main reasons why seawater desalination plants located near power stations that use their waste heat tend to be more economical than other desalination plants. • More extensive materials and more energy are utilized by MSF systems than by RO systems making the overall unit cost of desalted water by RO lower than that obtained by MSF distillation [28]. • Desalination of brackish water is much cheaper than desalting seawater by any membrane process because of problems associated with the high TDS levels of seawater. Pappas [26] estimated that distribution costs could vary from country to country by up to 40% of the total unit water cost to the consumer. a comprehensive appraisal of direct and capital costs of various desalination processes often encounters difficulty because of the reluctance of plant owners to release all the necessary information [33]. principal findings of the various desalination technologies include the following: • Capital costs of all desalination processes increase with increasing productioncapacities of desalination plants [ 12]. and the fewer the transformations. Here the actual cost of the energy and differences in the plant capital costs are factored in [17. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 start-up time becomes a significant factor only if the plants were to be frequently shut-down and restarted [25].31.each requiring different levels of maintenance. It is not a straightforward process to estimate the real cost of electrical or thermal energy. the equivalent performance ratio (PR) (unit o f fresh water production per unit o f energy input) of each process is taken into account. However. However. it is difficult to derive a standard maintenance schedule to compare the various desalination processes because each process has its own optimal parameters (temperature. The PR is the main parameter for the optimization of a distillation plant [31.32].28.35]. as well as distribution administrative costs. water storage facilities. Increasing the PR number implies a decrease in the specific energy cost but. 50% of desalinated water cost 141 is attributed to production and plant installation costs [34]. Table 8 presents relative unit water costs of some large-scale desalination plants. water distribution systems. Ayoub.J. that energy transformation makes the final energy cost more expensive due to conversion inefficiencies [33-35].32. • Operating costs per unit of product water of all desalination processes decreases with increasing plant capacity. Thus. most cost estimates tend not to factor into their analysis the costs of land purchases. Financial considerations such as amortization (depreciation over assumed plant life)and interest on investment are also factored into the appraisal. On the other hand. the closer a desalination plant is located to the energy source. an increase in the specific capital cost. Unit energy cost is also an important factor influencing process selection and the cost of producing water by desalination [28. Lowtemperature thermal compression plants experience little scaling whereas RO units are subject to fouling . Table 7 gives a consensus of the basic elements for assessing operating and capital costs that desalination experts seem to agree on. However. pressure.

Understandably. pumps.142 J. The choice will depend on local conditions and local costs requiring an independent analysis to be carried out for each application [36]. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 Table 7 Parameters for appraising capital and operating costs of desalination processes Costs Direct capital Factors • • • • Indirect capital • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Land costs Site conditions including civil works development associated with saline water intakes and outfalls. R. feed water quality and location with respect to water source Water delivery and water storage systems Components including membranes. • T h e cost o f water produced by seawater RO plants tend to be less sensitive to energy cost increases than most dual-purpose MSF and power plant combinations [33]. Small-scale desalination f o r r e m o t e a r e a s Small desalting units in rural arid and semiarid areas m a y provide individual households and communities with sources o f clean drinking water otherwise unavailable. power recovery turbines. particularly in locations where people live near sources o f brackish or seawater and must travel long distances to bring freshwater to their homes [36]. there is really no "ideal" system or " o p t i m u m " solution. 5. electrical equipment and electrical wiring Plant design (consideration for capacities and feed water types) Materials and components procurement Management Supervision Working capital Contingencies Required for control and fouling Annual staff/labour Materials and spare parts Membrane replacements Energy consumption Cost per unit of energy consumed Land and structure taxes Delivery time of desalination equipment Required operator experience Operator training Process reliability Manufacturer warranties Product water quality/acceptability Displacement of traditional water delivery systems Chemicals Operating and maintenance Hidden or "non-cost" considerations Note: Leitner [27] states that these costs could influence process selection and in some cases suggest a higher cost process. A considerable potential exists for this scale o f desalination in developing areas o f the world. . Ayoub. motors. these units would be required to operate simply and to have In determining which system to use to keep the total drinking water costs to a minimum.

dMSF and RO plants located in Bahrain. amortization rate and operating expenditures control the cost of product water. A number of studies give relevant information on the parameters that constitute capital investment. especially by governments of countries with the greatest need. A cursory survey of the literature on the costs of product water from currently operating small-scale desalination systems is presented in Table 11. technical. and economic factors prevalent in the intended location. such as India and Egypt. operational expenditures and maintenance costs of small-scale desalination systems [13.11 Year/ Reference 1993 [26] 1992 [27] 1985 [31] 1991 [30] "Costs do not include product water storage. reliable. In the case of solar stills the costs for material. The basic criteria for estimating costs of small-scale desalination systems do not differ radically from those for large-scale systems. Low unit water costs attributed to inexpensive energy costs.01 Unit product water cost (US $/m3) 1. renewable energy sources are looked upon to replace scarce and expensive standard fuels. To date commercial development of simple. there is continued interest in developing desalting equipment suitable for village use. Ayoub.10 1. Costs will vary depending on site conditions and the specific desalination system chosen (Table 10). high reliability.34 2. and inexpensive desalting units has been very limited due to high engineering and manufacturing costs.02 0.40 2. Some of the salient parameters are listed in Table 9. as they would be located in isolated communities without immediate access to technical assistance [14]. social. Absolute comparisons of unit water costs .05 0.7 0.d. Comparing unit product water costs in Tables 8 and 11 reveals the significantly higher costs for water from small-scale desalination plants.07 0.70b 1.64 1. physical.12 0.9 Up to 57 Up to 57 228 20 39 Power source Electric Natural gas Electric Steam Electric Natural gas Natural gas/ steam Electric Unit power costs (US$/kWh) Not available 0.10 1. Nevertheless. cUnit cost of MSF and RO product water after blending.08c 0.37-45]. Contrasted to large-scale desalination systems where optimization of energy costs and plant performance are major determinants in the choice of desalination technology. in small-scale applications [14].05 0. distribution and distribution administrative costs. such as coal and oil.07 0. the selection and design of small-scale systems is often based on a combination of climatological. interest charges. transportation and construction depend directly on location and local conditions [46]. R. capital investment. To defray energy costs in these and other countries. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 143 Table 8 Unit water costs of selected large-scale desalination plantsa Plant type RO MSF General Thermal and membrane processes RO MSF Dual-purpose MSFd ROd Feed water Seawater Brackish Seawater Seawater Brackish/ seawater Brackish Plant capacity (× 1000 m3/d) 20-30 11-30 Up to 1.0001 0. bAverage cost taken over 7% and 15% interest rates and varying plant RP values. In the economics of small-scale desalination in remote areas.60b 0.

location) User perception of alternative practices and technologies Local water use policy (for saline and product water) Traditional rights and beliefs concerning water Community's/individual's willingness to pay for the product water Existing rights and obligations amongst members of a community Other related factors Technical Location Energy Water quality Financing Available labour System infrastructure Socio-cultural Note: Some of the information adapted from Lawand [6].) Operational expenditure Maintenance and parts replacement Amortization of investment (if applicable) Local vs. components and supplies Possible pumping systems for the saline water and fresh product water Brine disposal (method.144 J. T h e design parameters are different and there is v e r y little c o m m e r c i a l production o f e q u i p m e n t f o r the former. t h o u g h high. are realistic and similar to those projected for Costa Rica. M e x i c o and India. Ayoub. etc. T h e B o t s w a n a stills. plant purchase. E v e n t h o u g h the cost o f p r o d u c t water . have been operating for several years and the costs. however. R. imported labour Local supervision Training/education requirements Community acceptance of operator(s) Appropriate technical skills for operation and maintenance Access to appropriate desalination technology Access to materials. between small-scale remote-based and large-scale u r b a n . and costs are extrapolations based on short production periods and/or projected plant costs. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 Table 9 Parameters relevant to the selection and design of small-scale desalination systems for remote areas Climatic • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Solar intensity and variation Wind intensity and variation Mean annual precipitation Temperature System design to accommodate local capabilities Land availability Acceptability to local population Proximity to reliable brackish or seawater sources Proximity to users Source dependability Cost Relatively clean (free of solids) Saline Capital investments (land. M a n y o f the plants listed in Table I 1 are demonstration units.b a s e d desalination systems are not useful.

taxes.00 Year/ Reference 1989 1989 1987 1989 1992 1989 [13. In m a n y remote areas.00 12. amortization of capital costs. etc.53 10. clearing.800 c 0.) Electrical Maintenance Labour Administration Insurance and taxes Other charges 145 Annual operating charges Table 11 Unit water cost of selected small-scale desalination plants Plant type Location Feedwater Plant capacity (m3/d) l0 b 5 0. etc. cost of feedwater (if charged). piping. bTwo units each of 10 m3/8-hour day capacity. ~Experimental solar stills.. RO and ED plant costs were heavily subsidized by the government. ~Cost of product water usually includes the following items [46]: pumping power (kg of fuel or kWh). are often preferable. piping. is high. . T h u s stand-alone systems. reservoirs Product water lines.00 12. if necessary Site development (survey. due to fuel transportation o v e r long distances and poor roads.37] [38] [42] [43] [44] [45] RO ED Solar Solar Solar Solar stills stills stills stills India India Botswana Costa Rica e Mexico e India Brackish Seawater Brackish Seawater Seawater Seawater Notes: Unit power cost values not available. often.d. pumps. c128 solar stills producing combined output of 800 ! of product water per day.) Feed water pumps.00 5. distribution system Desalination system and system components purchase Brine drain and disposal Services input (water. drainage) Fencing Amortization on capital investment (desalting system.009 NA Power source Electric Electric Solar Solar Solar Solar Unit product water cost a (US $/m 3) 4.006 0. operating f r o m solar or wind energy.50 d 12. etc. electricity. operating and maintenance labour. is very high. storage tanks. the reliability o f delivered fuel is low. where applicable. studies h a v e s h o w n these costs to be l o w e r than the least cost alternative which. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 Table 10 Relevant cost parameters of small-scale desalination systems Cost factors Capital investment Particulars • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Site purchase. auxiliaries. lines. Ayoub. dThe cost after 10 y of operation. pretreatment cost (if required). R. system components. insurance. and the cost. cost of maintenance materials and equipment. is transportation b y truck [42].

Every small-scale desalination system will have to be uniquely designed within the context of the physical.I. Germany. R. Malek. is a significant limiting factor. 1980. Ramani. Tusel and K. [18] K. [14] O. Galnesville. In many areas. Montreal. Desalination and Water Reuse. the creation of a small local labour force associated with the desalination system. Grosvenor Press. 9/2 (1992) 41. [15] O. 73 (1989)37. Buros. 1993. 1991. Salt-water Purification. McGill University. Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN. [16] O. [20] W. Desalination for Remote Areas.S. for robust stand-alone desalination systems using locally available energy resources. 1993.J. Kupitz. 6/1 (1977) 13. Developing World Water. Prabhakar. Experimental results indicate that these units could very well be used to upgrade existing water supplies. FL. More effort has to be put into developing small-scale systems that are dependable.E. World Resources 1992-93: Toward sustainable development. [5] G. Patra.K. T-177. Land and Water Development Division. Desalination. what may be assessed economical or practical in one location may not be applicable in another. Informal Working Bulletin No. [7] M. L'Vovich.S. 1961. 230-232. Earthscan. The ability of communities to pay for these systems. However. [10] C. Clarke. NewYork. one should keep in mind the intangible benefits that accrue from such issues as avoidance of water-borne diseases. [4] M. Brace Research Institute. Small-scale desalination.K.N. Montreal. Agricultural Engineering Branch. Misra and M. Technol.D. 3/4 (1993)20. pp.. if they have the funds to do so. 1962. Ambio. Falkenmark. The need is. 1968. Desalination: Water for the World's Future.. Develop. The benefits do not lend themselves easily to quantification. [17] A.A. [12] K. Ho. not only are fresh water resources limited but the local populations are also often outside any potential reasonable-cost water and energydelivery infrastructure. . The Story of Freeze Desalting. IDA. social and financial parameters of the particular communities they intend to serve. 81 (1991) 505.P. however. Wangnick. BRI Pub. The need is magnified in isolated villages and in arid. Popkin.F. Hong Kong. Oxford University Press. Hawlader and J. While considering the economics of smallscale desalination systems. The Desalting ABC's. 12. many households in water-short areas will likely pay any price for their basic water requirements. In these locations. Crijns. Ambio. New York. Recommendations J. Johnson. The case for family-sized desalination systems. [19] K. Gnarrenburg. Wiley. Falkenmark. G. The World of Desalting. McGill University. 1992 IDA Worldwide Desalting Plants Inventory Report No. 16/4 (1987) 191. Ambio. In the final analysis. Water: The International Crisis. Wangnick. London. Dabbagh and A. could improve their quality of life. 1992.N.A.C. and the freeing of women and children from carrying water over long distances. 1990. Homburg. M. References [1] World Resources Institute.146 6. semiarid and coastal communities. The USAID Desalination Manual. Possibilities for the utilization of solar energy in underdeveloped rural areas. Buros. Sci. Desalination. 1987. 16.A. 1991. Ayoub. inexpensive and commercially viable. CH2M Hill International. [13] S. B. 81 (1991) 19. [9] A. [3] R. the development of small desalting units utilizing wind or solar energy for the production of potable water has not advanced much beyond demonstration status. Wangnick. Rome.K. Desalination. often. [8] M. Desalination. [2] R. they are already paying a high price each day for their water in terms of water-bome diseases and associated loss of productivity. R. Alward/ Desalination 107 (1996) 131-147 There is a growing need to find solutions to the problems of fresh water supply. ASEAN J. As a result. Buros. Mass. Paper presented at the Second Brace Research Institute Conference.T. [6] T. New York. AI-Saqabi.M. At the same time imaginative programs for financing such systems will need to be developed if a market is going to be created. Ward. when properly applied. [11] T. Lawand. M. 18/2(1989) l12. Praeger. Spiegler. Wangnick Consulting. Ez-Dean.

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