You are on page 1of 10

Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Chemical Engineering Journal

journal homepage:

Seawater desalination in China: Retrospect and prospect

Xiang Zheng a,b,, Di Chen a, Qi Wang a, Zhenxing Zhang c,

School of Environment & Natural Resources, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, PR China
State Key Laboratory of Urban Water Resource and Environment (SKLUWRE), Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin 150090, PR China
Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Harrisburg, PA, USA

h i g h l i g h t s
 Comprehensively review the history of seawater desalination in China.
 Desalination is a key strategy to address water resources shortage in China.
 Perform techno-economic analysis of desalination technologies.
 Present outlook of seawater desalination in China.

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 29 August 2013
Received in revised form 28 December 2013
Accepted 31 December 2013
Available online 8 January 2014
Seawater desalination
Economic analysis

a b s t r a c t
China has been and will be facing water shortage issues due to the disparity between water supply and
demand, especially within Chinese coastal areas. Seawater desalination can increase the total water supply and is an important component in addressing water shortage issues in China. With the development
of the last six decades, seawater desalination technologies and applications have been advanced remarkably. Total seawater desalination capacity has increased from 10,000 m3/d in 2000 to approximately
660,000 m3/d in 2011. Seawater desalination has been primarily used in power generation, steel manufacturing, petrochemical industry, and public water supply. 75 desalination plants have been constructed
in China, among which 16 desalination plants have capacities of 10,000 m3/d or more. Nine desalination
plants are under construction, which will provide capacity of 408,000 m3/d. Most of the desalination
applications (99.5% of the desalination capacity) are located within ve provinces: Liaoning, Shandong,
Hebei, Tianjin, and Zhejiang. The dominant desalination technologies are reverse osmosis (RO) and
multi-effect distillation (MED). 80.3% of desalination plants employ RO and 14.5% of desalination plants
adopt MED. The desalination capacities of RO and MED are 348,000 and 232,000 m3/d, respectively. Facing the challenge of water shortage, seawater desalination is of necessity in China and is increasingly an
inevitable national strategy to address the issue. China is one of the most promising market for seawater
desalination. However, international desalination companies will still dominate seawater desalination
market for the foreseeable future.
2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
China started research on seawater desalination about 60 years
ago. Studies on electro-dialysis (ED) technology started in 1958
and investigations on reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation technologies started in 1965 [1]. To facilitate research on seawater
desalination technologies and development strategies, Chinas
State Oceanic Administration founded the Institute of Seawater
Desalination and Multipurpose Utilization in 1984. The institute

Corresponding authors. Address: School of Environment & Natural Resources,

Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, PR China (X. Zheng). Tel.: +86 10 6276
4261; fax: +86 10 6284 3276.
E-mail addresses: (X. Zheng),
(Z. Zhang).
1385-8947/$ - see front matter 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

was located in Tianjin City, a northern port city. Since then, distillation and RO technologies in China has remarkably advanced,
which has placed China at the front of advanced seawater desalination technologies, along with the USA, France, Japan, and Israel
[24]. While research on seawater desalination technologies has
attracted much attention for over six decades, the applications of
these technologies only took off in the last decades [5,6]. The
research on the applications of seawater desalination technologies
has been focused on the following facets.
(1) A comparison of seawater desalination and long distance
water transfer. Long distance water transfers are a key solution to uneven temporalspatial distribution of Chinese
water resources [7]. Long distance water transfers coupled
with exclusive institutional arrangements have been the

X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

primary focus of both government and academia, to the detriment of research and applications of seawater desalination. The Institute of Seawater Desalination and
Multipurpose Utilization was founded in 1984, the same
year that the Luanhe-Tianjin Water Diversion Project was
completed and began supplying water to Tianjin city. Seawater desalination became a kind of strategic reserve technology. The advancement of seawater desalination
technologies reduced the capital and operational cost of seawater desalination in the 1980s and 1990s with more promising applications on the horizon [8]. The Chinese
government started to implement the SouthNorth Water
Diversion Project in 2002, which made seawater desalination even less economically attractive. The provincial and
local governments lost interest in large-scale seawater desalination. Long distance water transfer could only redistribute
water resources from wet regions to the water-starved
regions but could not increase total available fresh water.
Seawater desalination could provide extra fresh water for
the country. Thus policy and economic stimulus should be
provided to facilitate the applications of seawater desalination [9]. Seawater desalination has not been as competitive
as long distance water transfer due to the following factors:
long distance water transfer projects are funded by government and water is underpriced due to government price
control. Seawater desalination projects are usually funded
and operated based on market forces. The misconception
that the cost of seawater desalination is too high compared
with long distance water transfer is very common in public
and media, primarily because seawater desalination is not
subsidized [10]. Due to the emphasis only on long distance
water transfer and lack of investment in seawater desalination industry, seawater desalination industry in China still
has a big gap compared with that of the USA and Japan [11].
(2) Selection of seawater desalination technologies based on
techno-economic analysis. Feng [12] concluded that the capital and operational cost of multi-effect distillation (MED) is
higher than that of RO for large-scale municipal water plants
[13]. With the advancement of new energy recovery technologies, the energy consumptions of RO are less than
3.9 kWh/m3. Liu and Huang [14] reached the same conclusion as Feng based on his cost benet analyses on Shandong
Huangdao Power Plant which has both MED and RO
seawater desalination facilities with the same capacity of
3000 m3/d. Liu et al. [15] compared MED and RO and found
that MED is competitive in the production of boiler make-up
water for coal-red power plants if the cost of steam generation is ignored and RO is favored in providing municipal
public water. Generally, the factor that limits seawater desalination applications is relatively high cost [16,17].
(3) The impact of seawater desalination and its mitigation measures. In the process of seawater desalination, a large
amount of concentrated seawater will be produced [18,19].
The discharge of concentrated seawater will damage the seashore environment [20]. Nie and Tao [21] simulated the
impact of a seawater desalination system with the capacity
of 100,000 metric tons/d on Bohai water quality using a
hydraulic and water quality model, and found that the area
with increased salinity with 10-day continuous discharge is
four times of that with 3-day continuous discharge. In addition, the waste heat discharge of seawater desalination process could increase seawater temperature and result in
harmful algal blooms. Seawater desalination facilities were
determined as the potential reason of harmful algal blooms
in the sea area of 1600 square kilometers around Huanghua,
Hebei Province [22]. Applications of combined water and


power and coupled MEDRO technology are commonly used

to mitigate these impacts. The development of combined
water and power and coupled MEDRO technology could
decrease the cost of steam generation by using the low grade
superheated steam and reduce energy consumption by using
cooling water. Many researchers proposed to utilize concentrated seawater by combining the process of seawater desalination and salt production [23]. Concentrated seawater
utilization and zero-discharge technology is warranted to
facilitate sustainable development of seawater desalination
industry [24]. However, application of zero-discharge technology is currently limited due to the high cost [25].
On the global scale, about 16,000 desalination plants now operate in over 125 countries with a total capacity of 40 million m3 of
water per day. 80% of the seawater desalination capacity is employed to provide drinking water for about 100 million people
[63]. It is projected that additional desalination capacity 24 million m3 of water per day will be materialized in the next decade.
The three commonly used technologies in worldwide for seawater
desalination include multi-phase ash (MSF), MED, and RO. MSF
was applied for water generation in 1950s and was advanced
remarkably since 1980s. MSF is employed for 26% of total desalination capacity worldwide [64]. Interestingly MSF has seen limited
applications in China due to its massive capital cost and high energy consumption. MED was the primary technique for seawater
desalination before 1960s. MED is applied in more desalination
plants but generate less water than that of MSF [23]. RO was applied in seawater desalination in 1950s. With the higher permeability membranes, installation of energy recovery devices, and
the use of more efcient pumps, the cost has decrease from $2.1
per m3 water in 1975 to $0.5 per m3 water, and the energy consumption decreased from 1520 kWh/m3 to 1.52.4 kWh/m3
Development of seawater desalination in China has been hindered by the aforementioned factors in the last six decades. Recently, with the move of iron & steel and petrochemical
industries to coastal areas, the development of seawater desalination has been ramped up. It is critical to systematically review the
history of the development of seawater desalination. In this paper,
we examine the need for seawater desalination in China, review
seawater desalination applications, and outline the prospect of
the industry.

2. The need for seawater desalination in China

With the economic development, population growth and
increasing urbanization, water demand has been increased substantially. 22% of the worlds population lives in China which has
only 8% of the worlds water resources. The supply and demand
imbalance in Chinese coastal areas is even worse, compared with
Chinese inland areas, because of the need to support more population and industry with less water resources. The average water resources per capita in 11 Chinese coastal provinces are only
1915 m3 (by the end of 2010). The 11 coastal provinces lay along
the 1800 km coastal line, occupying 13.7% of Chinas territory with
43.0% of Chinas population (by the end of 2010). 49.0% of Chinas
urban population lives in the 11 coast provinces (by the end of
2009). Table 1 shows the urbanization level in the 11 provinces
compared with the national level. In 2009, the urbanization level
in the coastal areas was 57.7%, compared with 48.3% national average urbanization level.
Table 2 compares water supply in coastal areas with the country. It is easy to see that the stress on water resources in coastal
areas is more intensive than that of the whole country. The total


X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

Table 1
The urbanization level of 11 coastal provinces in China.a


2000 (%)

2005 (%)

2009 (%)





Data from Chinese Statistical Yearbook, 2010 [26].

water supply accounts of 51.1% water supply capacity in coastal

areas while the national water supply is 50.4% of the water supply
capacity. In coastal areas, there is also a higher percentage of population served by public water. The average water use per capita in
coastal area is 185.2 liters/person/d, compared with national average water use of 171.4 liters/personal/d.
Economic development and industry are much more advanced
in coastal areas compared with inland China. This results in more
stress on water resources in coastal areas. Table 3 shows the water
resources and theirs utilization in coastal areas compared with the
national average. The Gross Domestic Production (GDP) in coastal
areas in 2010 is 24.6 trillion Chinese yuan, accounting for 61.3%
of the national GDP. However, the total water resources in coastal
areas only account for 28.6% of the national total water resources.
The total water use in coastal area is 248 trillion m3 which is about
41.2% of the national total water use. 28.1% of the water resources
have been utilized in coastal areas while the national average
water efciency is only 19.5%.
In general, the water supply and demand imbalance in coastal
areas has deteriorated for decades due to economic development,
population growth, and urbanization. These three factors will be
intensied in the next two decades in the coastal areas, especially
in the regions of Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta, and Bohai
Rim. Thus, the water resources stress in coastal areas will not be
relieved in the near future. One of the most challenging issues facing water resources professionals in China is how to address the
increasing imbalance between water supply and demand.
3. Retrospect of seawater desalination
Based on scales of the subject seawater desalination projects
under research and development [28], the last 6 decades are divided into 3 phases which are described in details below.
(1) 19581996, laboratory experiments and pilot-scale.
Researchers in the Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy
of Sciences started investigating ED technology in 1958
and RO technology in 1965 [1]. In 1980, an ED seawater

desalination facility with a capacity of 200 m3/d was completed in Xisha, Hainan province, the energy consumption
of which was as high as 18 kWh/m3. Pilot-scale tests of
MSF technology with a capacity of hundreds m3/d were conducted through late 1980s [29].
(2) 19972004, 5005000 m3/d. During this period, practical
applications on the scale of hundreds to thousands of m3/d
were developed, primarily to serve residential and industrial
need. The rst seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination station was constructed in 1997 in Shengshan Island
of Zhoushan, Zhejiang province [30,31]. The station had a
capacity of 500 m3/d and employed mainly imported technologies and instruments. A seawater desalination plant
with a capacity of 1000 m3/d, using RO technology, was
completed in 1999 in Dachangshan Island of Dalian [32].
In 2003, a seawater desalination system using RO technology with capacity of 5000 m3/d was constructed in Shidao
Island, Rongcheng, Shandong province [33]. In 2004, a seawater desalination system using low temperature MED
(LT-MED) technology with capacity of 3000 m3/d was completed in Huangdao Power Plant of Qingdao [34]. After
nearly 40 years of research and development and demonstrations, Chinese seawater desalination technology has
become increasingly mature, which make it possible for
large scale application.
(3) 2005present, large-scale of over 10,000 m3/d. Large-scale
desalination plants with a capacity of over 10,000 m3/d have
been developed and constructed in this period. In 2005, the
rst large-scale seawater desalination system (10,800 m3/d)
was completed at the Datang Wangtan Power Plant [41]. In
2006, 2  10,000 m3/d LT-MED device was introduced to
China [35]. The existing independent LT-MED device ranges
from 3000 to 12,500 m3/d [29,3639] and are mainly used
for power plant boiler make-up water supplies [40]. In
2009, the rst desalination plant with a capacity of over
100,000 m3/d was completed in Tianjin [34]. Presently there
are 60 SWRO desalination plants with a total capacity of
348,000 m3/d and 11 LT-MED desalination plants with a
total capacity of 222,300 m3/d [42].
4. Present seawater desalination in China
In 2005, China developed ambitious goals for its seawater desalination industry [43]. The goal for total capacity of desalination
was set at 0.81 million m3/d by 2010, and 2.53 million m3/d for
2020. However, by the end of 2010, the total completed capacity
was only 583,000 m3/d and the amount under construction was
408,000 m3/d, well under the goal for 2010. Fig. 1 shows the annual
and cumulative completed desalination capacity [9,60]. It demonstrates that desalination capacity expanded remarkably since 2005.
Annual completed desalination capacities in both 2009 and 2010
were more than 100,000 m3/d. By 2010, there were 75 completed
desalination plants in China. Table 4 shows the 10 largest desalination plants in China. Fig. 2 shows the geographic distribution of the
10 largest desalination plants in China. The cumulative desalination capacity in China has been growing in the annual rate of

Table 2
The coastal area and national water supply in 2010.a



Total water supply

(billion m3/d)

Total water supply/water supply

capacity (%)

Urban population

Population served with public

water (million)

Average water use (liter/













Data from Chinese Statistical Yearbook, 2011 [27].

Date of 2009, from Chinese Statistical Yearbook, 2010 [26].


X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

Table 3
Water resources and its utilization for coastal areas and entire China in 2010.a



Total water resources

(billion m3)

Total water use

(billion m3)

Average water resources per capita


Industry water useb

(billion m3)

GDP (trillion

Water use














Data from Chinese Statistical Yearbook, 2010 [26].

Industrial water use includes agriculture water use.

Hebei with the capacity of 123,000 m3/d; and 6 plants were located
in Tianjin with the capacity of 218,000 m3/d. Only 5 plants were
constructed in the other coastal provinces with a negligible capacity of 3000 m3/d. Fig. 2 shows the geographic distribution of the ten
largest desalination plants along Chinese coastal line.
4.2. Industry sectors

Fig. 1. Capacity growth of seawater desalination in China.

70%. By September 2011, 16 desalination plants with over

100,000 m3/d capacity have been constructed and the total capacity is about 660,000 m3/d.
There are presently 9 desalination plants under construction in
China as listed in Table 5. The total capacity of these 9 plants is
408,000 m3/d. RO technology is employed in 8 of these plants.
Fig. 3 shows the locations of these plants.
4.1. Geographic distribution
Most of the completed desalination plants were located in ve
provinces, i.e. Liaoning, Shandong, Hebei, Tianjin, and Zhejiang
[44]. These ve provinces have total capacity of 580,000 m3/d
which accounts for 99.5% of the national total capacity. Fig. 4
shows the desalination capacity for each of the provinces.
Among the 75 completed desalination plants, 20 plants were in
Shandong with the total capacity of 68,000 m3/d; 23 plants were
in Zhejiang with the total capacity of 100,000 m3/d; 14 plants were
in Liaoning with the capacity of 66,000 m3/d; 7 plants were in

The distribution of desalination plants in industry sectors is

shown in Fig. 5. Seawater desalination primarily is used in public
water supply, power generation, steel manufacturing, and petrochemical sectors. Public water supply, electricity, steel manufacturing, and petrochemical industry account for 53.9%, 26.3%, 3.9%,
and 5.3% of the total number of desalination plants, respectively.
Desalination plants in the power generation industry produce the
most capacity, accounting for 51.6% of the total capacity. Petrochemical, public water supply, and steel manufacture provide
21.4%, 13.7% and 8.6% of the total desalination capacity. Desalination plants in these 4 sectors are summarized below.
In the power generation industry, desalination plants are commonly used to produce boiler makeup water. This is due to the
incentive policy that requires new power plants within coastal
areas to adopt seawater desalination technology to provide water.
New power plants with a total generation capacity of over
35,000 MW which are planned for construction in coastal areas,
will need high quality boiler makeup water of 180,000 m3/d. Due
to both the incentive policy and desalination technology advancement, seawater desalination would provide the majority of boiler
makeup water for power plants in the future.
Desalination plants can reuse the water steam and heat generated in petrochemical and steel manufacturing sectors. Thus desalination plants not only can provide reliable water but also can
reuse waste steam and heat, reducing costs. It is expected that
more petrochemical and steel manufacturing facilities will adopt
seawater desalination technology for a water source.
With the more restrictive requirements of drinking water and
the costs associated with public water distribution system updates
and maintenance, the water price in China will keep increase. With
advancement of seawater desalination technologies and construction of larger scale desalination plants, the unit cost of desalination

Table 4
Ten largest desalination plants in China.a


Capacity (m3/d)



Start-up year

Tianjin North Power Plant

Phase I of Tianjin Dagang Xinquan
Hebei Huanghua Power Plant
Hebei Caofeidian Shougang Jingtang Iron Works
Yuhuan Huaneng Power Plant in Zhejiang
Yueqing Power Plant in Zhejiang
Qingdao Soda Ash Industrial Company Limited
Dalian Chemical Industry Company
Huangdao Power Plant in Shandong
ZhuangHe Power Plant in Liaoning





Data from [60,61].


X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

Fig. 2. Geographic distribution of the 10 largest desalination plants in China.

Table 5
Desalination plants under construction in China.a


Capacity (m3/d)



Caofeidian Industrial Park

Lubei Enterprise Group
Qingdao Baifa
Huizhou Pinghai Power Plant
Ningde Nuclear Power Station in Fujian
Phase II of Tianjin Dagang Xinquan
Phases II, III, and IV of Zhoushan Liuheng
Dalian Beiliangchu
Zhejiang Sanmen Nuclear Power Station Project




Data from [60,61].

will decrease. It is possible in the future that desalination plants

will produce large amounts of water to feed public water supply
4.3. Technologies
Fig. 6 shows the plants and capacity of desalination with various technologies. It is evident that most desalination plants employ RO and/or MED technologies. For the number of
desalination plants, 80.3% desalination plants, i.e. 61 plants, adopt
RO technology to desalinize seawater. Only 11 desalination plants,
14.5% of total plants, employ MED technology. The capacity of
desalination plants with RO technology is 348,000 m3/d, accounting for 59.3% of the national total desalination capacity, while

MED technology is used in desalination plants with capacity of

232,000 m3/d which is about 39.6% of the national total capacity.
This is due to the fact that MED is generally used for larger scale
desalination plants than RO is [45]. On average, the capacity of a
desalination plant with MED is 21,000 m3/d and that with RO is
only 6000 m3/d. The capacity of desalination plants with other
technologies such as MSF and ED only accounts for 1.1% of the total

5. Techno-economic analysis
One of the key factors in the selection of seawater desalination
technologies is techno-economic analysis. In this section, we

X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413


Fig. 3. Geographic distribution of desalination plants under construction in China.

Fig. 4. Seawater desalination output capacities for coastal provinces.

conducted a thorough techno-economic analysis of the most commonly used seawater desalination technologies, i.e. RO and MED.
5.1. Techno-economic analysis of RO technology
The costs of 5 desalination plants with capacities of 500
35,000 m3/d were analyzed to compare the impact of capacity on
the cost of desalination plants. Tables 6 and 7 show the results of
the analysis. Due to the cost of heating in winter, the total unit cost
of Changhai County Seawater Desalination Plant is higher than that

of Shengshan Seawater Desalination Project. Generally, the unit total cost usually decreases as the capacity increases [51]. Electricity
consumption per cubic meter water decreases while the capacities
of desalination plants increase. Interestingly, unit capital cost is
relatively stable with varying desalination capacities. In addition
to the capital cost of desalination, the operation and maintenance
cost includes electricity, membrane, chemicals, maintenance, and
labor [49,50].
It is evident that electricity is the largest cost component. The
electricity cost account for 50.7%, 37.7%, 44.4%, 52.2%, 27.9% of
the total unit costs for the 5 desalination plants, respectively. The
percentage of electricity generally decreases with larger scale desalination plants. Reduction of electricity consumption in desalination process is the key to reduce the unit cost of desalination as
it is the major cost component.
Capital cost is the second largest cost component. For the 5
desalination plants in Table 7, the percentages of capital cost with
respect to total unit cost are 28.0%, 26.5%, 23.8%, 25.4%, and 27.9%,
respectively. The capital cost generally accounts for 25% of total
unit cost, either for small scale or large scale desalination plants.
The costs for periodic membrane replacement for the 5 desalination plants accounts for 6.5%, 16.1%, 10.7%, 7.8%, and 20.5%,
respectively. With the advancement of membrane technology, it
is expected that the cost for replacing membrane will decrease
The Huangneng Yuhuan Power Plant is analyzed in depth to
examine cost component of desalination [53]. The desalination
capacity of Huangneng Yuhuan Power Plant is 35,000 m3/d to provide water for the cooling system and boilers. RO coupled with
MSF technology is adopted in the plant. The cost analysis is based


X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

(b) Cap
pacity (m3 / daay)

(a) Number of plants

Fig. 5. Industry sectors with desalination plants in China.

(b) Capacity (m3 / daay)

(a) Number of plants

Fig. 6. Number and capacity of desalination plants with various technologies in China.

Table 6
The cost of RO desalination with various scale capacity.
Seawater desalination project

Shengshan [30]

Tianjin [46]

Changhai County [32,47]

Rongcheng [33]

Yuhuan Power Plant [48]

Capacity (m3/d)
Start-up year
Total capital cost (million yuan)
Electricity consumption (kwh/m3)
Cost of electricity (yuan/m3)
Capital cost (yuan/m3)
Total unit cost (yuan/m3)






Table 7
Components of cost of RO desalinization with various scale capacity.
Seawater desalination project

Shengshan [30]

Tianjin [46]

Changhai Country [32,47]

Rongcheng [33]

Yuhuan Power Plant [48]

Membrane (yuan/m3)
Chemicals (yuan/ m3)
Labor (yuan/m3)
Maintenance (yuan/m3)
Electricity (yuan/m3)
Investment (yuan/m3)
Total unit cost (yuan/m3)
Percentage of electricity and investment






on the loan period of 15 years with total loan of 144 million yuan.
The total capital cost is 192 million yuan and the period of depreciation is assumed 30 years which is commonly used in China. The
detailed cost of the plant is shown in Table 8.
5.2. Techno-economic analysis of MED technology
Table 9 shows the cost for different scale MED desalination
plants, ranging from 3000 to 25,000 m3/d. Generally, the unit

cost of MED technology is lower than that of RO for plants of

the same scale. Furthermore, Phase I for Huanghua Power Plant
is analyzed in depth to examine cost component of desalination.
Phase I for Huanghua Power Plant has the capacity of
2  10,000 m3/d, using TVC-MED technology. The detailed cost
components are shown in Table 10. After the application of seawater desalination, this plant does not need other fresh water,
and save 20.1 million yuan for using fresh water and pretreated


X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

The factor that limits MED applications is electricity consumption. Most of the MED desalination plants were constructed together with power plants. With many more nuclear power plants
expected to be constructed in China, MED desalination will receive
more attention and market share [39,54]. Chinas steel industry
consumes a lot of electricity, and the production process produces
a large amount of waste heat and gas. The waste heat and gas can
be used to drive MED seawater desalination devices, to increase
the thermal efciency from less than 40% to nearly 60% [55]. Using
the waste energy to produce fresh water, seawater desalination
applications in the iron and steel industry can achieve the
co-production of water and electricity for plant. If waste energy
can be used for seawater desalination, unit cost for desalination
would be decreased substantially and make the technology much
more economically competitive [40,56,57].
6. Prospect of seawater desalination applications
In February 2012, the Chinese government issued a memo that
outlined the most recently updated goals and prospects of seawater desalination for 2015. The Chinese government and provincial
governments also developed long-term goals of seawater desalina-

Table 8
Cost for desalination in Yuhuan Power Plant (3,5000 m3/d).a

Depreciation of xed assets
Total unit cost

Annual cost
(thousand yuan)

Unit cost



Data from [48].

Based on annual interest rate of 6.12%.

Table 9
Cost for different scale MED desalination plants.a

Seawater desalination

Power Plant

Power Plant


Capacity (m3/d)
Operational year
Total capital cost
(million yuan)
Unit capital cost
Total unit cost










Data from [19,14,38].

Table 10
Cost of desalination for Huanghua Power Plant (20,000 m3/d).a
Cost (yuan/m3)
Depreciation of xed assets
Total unit cost

Data from [38].


tion for 2020. Based on these goals and planning, the prospect for
seawater desalination application in China for the next decade is
summarized below.
By 2015, the total seawater desalination capacity is projected to
be 2.22.6 million m3/d. Considering the total seawater desalination at 2010 is only about 0.6 million m3/d, almost 2.0 million m3/d
capacity will be needed. By 2015, seawater desalination is projected to provide more than 50% of new water supply for Chinese
islands and more than 15% of new water supply for Chinese coastal
For 2020, each coastal province has its own planning and goals
which are shown in Table 11. By 2020, the total seawater desalination capacity will reach 2.5 to 3.1 million m3/d which is only
slightly higher than the goal of 2015. This is because the goals of
2020 were developed earlier than those of 2015. It is expected that
individual provinces will update their provincial planning and goal
for 2020 based on the revised national goal.
It can be expected that Chinese seawater desalination capacity
will substantially increase in the next decade. RO and MED will still
be the dominant technologies employed in most seawater desalination projects [12].
With the advancement of last six decades, the membrane industry China has been well developed. Comprehensive applications of
microltration (MF), Ultraltration (UF), and RO technologies in
seawater desalination have been increased a lot. Benchmark seawater desalination plants with RO technology have been constructed. As an emerging industry, membrane industry has
received unprecedented attention in China. In 2010, China central
government released Decision of the State Council on Accelerating
the Fostering and Development of Strategic Emerging Industries
and high performance membrane materials was listed as strategic
emerging industry in the decision. This unprecedentedly stimulates the development and advancement of membrane technology,
membrane industry, and membrane application market. In
National 12th Five-Year Science and Technique Development
Plan released in 2011, the specic requirement for membrane
materials have been outline which included primarily develop
of membranes for water treatment, gas separation, and specialty
separation. Promote applications of membrane technologies in
water treatment, iron and steel manufacturing, petrochemical
industry, and environment protections. It is foreseeable that
membrane technologies especially RO technology will play an
increasing role in seawater desalination in China [58].
There are the following challenges that China has to face to develop seawater desalination. (1) The membrane technologies for
seawater desalination (e.g. waste power recycle and RO membrane) and the manufacturing of key equipment for desalination
(e.g. seawater evaporators, condensers, and steam ejector etc.) in
China have yet to be improved remarkably. (2) There is signicant
lack of practices and experiences in seawater desalination engineering, large-scale desalination equipment design, manufacturing, operation, and maintenance. (3) The guidance on testing,
evaluating, and designing seawater desalination is not well developed and thus it does not provide complete industry standards and
technique guidance for seawater desalination. (4) The existing and
planned desalination plants could cause adverse environmental

Table 11
Goals of seawater desalination capacity for 2020 (in thousand m3/d).a

























Data from [62].


X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

impact. Seawater desalination consumes a large amount of thermoelectric energy and results in emission of air pollutants and
green-house gases [66]. It could also cause impingement and
entrainment of marine organisms [66,69,70]. The elevated salinity
of brines and the chemicals used in desalination process poses
environmental risks to marine ecosystem [66,69,70]. The other potential environmental impact of desalination is the increased seawater temperature cause by the process. Detailed analysis of
these potential environmental impacts should be required and
mitigation measures shall be identied for desalination plants.
Many large-scale desalination plants (100,000 m3/d plus) have
been proposed to be constructed in Chinese coastal areas recently.
The total capacity under construction and draft is 1.4 million m3/d
and China has become a most promising market for seawater desalination. The projected annual increase rate of total desalination
capacity is about 50%. International giant desalination companies
will still dominate Chinese desalination market in the foreseeable
future as domestic companies is not competitive in large-scale
whole sets of equipment, RO technology, MED technology and

7. Conclusions
Economic development and urbanization are the major causative factors in the disparity between water supply and demand
within coastal areas, especially the Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River
Delta, and Bohai Rim. Water shortage has become a limiting factor
of sustainable development in China. In the next two decades, the
water shortage problem in Chinese coastal areas will only be intensied [7]. Water resources development and utilization in most
streams and rivers in northern China have exceeded the corresponding water resources carrying capacity. Seawater desalination
is of extreme importance for increasing water supply in China. We
strongly recommend that seawater desalination be prioritized to
the Chinese national water resources key strategy to promote seawater desalination in the near future. Seawater desalination can increase total water supply and is the inevitable national strategy to
address water shortage issue in China. This is beyond the consideration of water price and cost or pros and cons of various technologies. It is of necessity due to sustainable social and economic
development in coastal areas in China.
Seawater desalination in China has been applied primarily in
the municipal public water supply, power generation, steel manufacturing, and petrochemical sectors. Seawater desalination applications in the power generation industry are primarily intended to
provide boiler makeup water. The metallurgical and chemical
industries have seen rapidly increasing applications of seawater
desalinations recently and are expected to apply numerous seawater desalination projects in the future. As the gap between water
price and seawater desalination cost shrinks steadily, though
slowly, it will become practical that water generated by seawater
desalination will become an important component in public water
supply systems.
The inappropriate cost accounting system has conned the
development and applications of seawater desalination in China
for the last two decades. Long distance water transfer projects
are usually funded and nanced by central or local governments
and water are underpriced. Applications of seawater desalination
have to be nanced through market and thus it is not as competitive as long distance water transfer. With the relocation of many
iron and steel manufacturing and petrochemical facilities to coastal areas, the applications of seawater desalination have been promoted as infrastructure.
The mainstream technologies for seawater desalination include
RO and MED. Though the amount of MED applications is less than

RO, the average generated water per application of MED is four

times as RO. Power consumption in MED is the major factor that
limits MED applications. As MED technology is very well coupled
with the nuclear power generation process and many nuclear
power plants will be built in the next two decades in China based
on the long-term national planning of nuclear power, it is expected
that more seawater desalination applications will employ MED
technology [59].
China now is one of the most promising market for seawater
desalination. The annual increase rate is projected to be about
50%. However, due to the fact that domestic companies are not
competitive in large-scale whole sets of equipment, RO technology,
MED technology and equipment, international desalination companies will still dominate Chinese seawater desalination market
in the foreseeable future.

The research was supported by Program for New Century
Excellent Talents in University (NCET-12-0531), Open Project of
State Key Laboratory of Urban Water Resource and Environment,
Harbin Institute of Technology (No. ES201005) and Beijing Science
& Technology Star Plans (2008A110). Any opinions, ndings, and
conclusions are those of the authors and no ofcial endorsement
should be inferred. The authors would like to thank Bob Pody
and Pierre MaCoy for proofreading and reviewing the revised
manuscript. The comments of anonymous reviewers and editor
of CEJ helped us to rene and improve this manuscript.

[1] C.J. Gao, Brief discussion of seawater desalination, Chem. Technol. Econom. 11
(2003) 2426.
[2] C. Charcosset, A review of membrane processes and renewable energies for
desalination, Desalination 245 (2009) 214231.
[3] I. El Saliby, Y. Okour, H.K. Shon, J. Kandasamy, I.S. Kim, Desalination plants in
Australia, review and facts, Desalination 247 (2009) 114.
[4] X. Zhao, Application of reverse Osmosis to Ashkelon seawater desalination
project in Israel, China Water Wastewater 26 (2010) 8184.
[5] Y.M. Kim, S.J. Kim, Y.S. Kim, S. Lee, I.S. Kim, J.H. Kim, Overview of systems
engineering approaches for a large-scale seawater desalination plant with a
reverse osmosis network, Desalination 238 (2009) 312332.
[6] A. El-Sadek, Water desalination: an imperative measure for water security in
Egypt, Desalination 250 (2010) 876884.
[7] S.Q. Lin, P.Z. Yu, Seawater desalination and long-distance water intake,
Technol. Water Treat. 4 (2010) 187189.
[8] G.L. Ruan, L.X. Xie, Y.J. Zhang, Develop the seawater desalination industry and
relieve the fresh water crisis, Coast. Eng. 1 (2001) 3947.
[9] S.C. Wang, Roles of desalination for economy sustainability, Chem. Ind. Eng. 27
(2010) 95102.
[10] X.Q. Shen, Feasibility study and countermeasure research of Dalian seawater
desalination, Dalian Maritime University, 2008.
[11] Y.R. Jiang, Research of the international competitiveness of China desalination
industry, ZhangJiang University, 2007.
[12] Y.X. Feng, The technology development direction and economy of sea water
desalination, Technol. Water Treat. 36 (2010) 15.
[13] J.A.G.C. Pais, L.M.G.A. Ferreira, Performance study of an industrial RO plant for
seawater desalination, Desalination 208 (2007) 269276.
[14] Y. Liu, L.K. Huang, Application prospects of seawater desalination in coastal
power plants, GuangDong Electr. Power 22 (2009) 2528.
[15] B.W. Liu, W.J. Liu, W.P. Hu, Techno-economic analysis and selection for the
desalination in power plant, Ind. Safety Environ. Prot. 36 (2010) 426.
[16] S.B. Yang, Several views on Chinas seawater desalination industry, Technol.
Water Treat. 36 (2010) 15.
[17] J.S. Choi, S. Lee, J.M. Kim, S. Choi, Small-scale desalination plants in Korea:
technical challenges, Desalination 247 (2009) 222232.
[18] R.X. Yu, Y. Wang, S.C. Wang, A review in brine disposal from desalination
plants, Technol. Water Treat. 6 (2005) 13.
[19] Y.L. Zhang, H.J. Ni, A.G. Chen, Z.H. Jiang, D. Yuan, H. Zhang, Progress in the
research on effect of desalinated seawater on environment and human health,
J. Environ Occup. Med. 27 (2010) 317318.
[20] Z.W. Gao, Z.Q. Lin, D. Wang, C.J. Gao, Seawater utilization and impact on
environment in China, Marine Environ. Sci. 6 (2008) 671676.
[21] H.T. Nie, J.H. Tao, Impact of coastal exploration on the eco-environment of
Bohai Bay, Ocean Eng. 26 (2008) 4450.

X. Zheng et al. / Chemical Engineering Journal 242 (2014) 404413

[22] J.H. Ma, Recommendation for Tianjin to formulate the desalination waste
discharge standard as soon as possible, Decision-making Cons. Commun. 3
(2008). 25, 71.
[23] H.J. Feng, C.G. Xie, Status and prospect of Chinese seawater desalination
technology, Chem. Ind. Eng. 27 (2010) 103109.
[24] G.L. Ruan, Make the complete industry chain of Chinese seawater desalination
market, Water Ind. Market 6 (2008) 1618.
[25] X.H. Ma, Z. Lan, S.F. Wang, L. Lu, Impact of discharge in seawater desalination
on marine environment and progress of zero liquid discharge, Chem. Ind. Eng.
Prog. 30 (2011) 233242.
[26] China Statistical Year Book 2010, China Statistical Press, Beijing, 2010.
[27] China Statistical Year Book 2011, China Statistical Press, Beijing, 2011.
[28] Y.W. Tan, B. Tan, Q. Wang, Progress in seawater desalination projects in China,
Technol. Water Treat. 1 (2007) 13.
[29] C.J. Gao, Urban water conservative and sea water desalination, in: 11th Annual
Meeting of China Association for Science and Technology, Independent
Innovation and Growth, Chongqing China, 2009, pp. 15.
[30] Y.W. Tan, Y.Z. Shen, G.R. Lu, Sea water desalination plot project with 500t/d in
Shengshan, Technol. Water Treat. 26 (2000) 4954.
[31] L.C. Ding, The rst seawater desalination project in Zhejiang Zhoushan
Shengshan island, Energy Eng. 2 (1999) 8.
[32] G.L. Ruan, L.X. Xie, Q.C. Lv, Seawater reverse osmosis desalination project in
Changhai County, Ocean Technol. 21 (2002) 1316.
[33] Y.W. Tan, X.J. Zhang, W.S. Chen, A pilot project for reverse osmosis sea water
desalination at 10,000 m3/d in Rongcheng, Technol. Water Treat. 30 (2004)
[34] H.Q. Duan, T. Tan, Current situation and tendency of Chinas seawater
desalination industry, Water Ind. Market 3 (2012) 2933.
[35] X.J. Sun, K.C. Liu, Y. Pang, Application research of homemade 125,000 m3/d
low-temperature multi-effect desalination progress, Technol. Water Treat. 1
(2010) 124127.
[36] W.X. Huang, L.F. Chang, Progress analysis for 10,000 t/d LT-MED seawater
desalination plant, Technol. Water Treat. 6 (2010) 13.
[37] E.X. Wei, D.Q. Chen, H.Y. Zhang, D.Y. Guan, X.Y. Shang, H.B. Zhang, S.Y. Liu, C.
Han, H. Chen, B.L. Zhang, Application of low-temperature multi-efcient
distillation technology to the seawater desalination, Ind. Water Treat. 4 (2011)
[38] R.L. Wang, K.C. Liu, X.J. Sun, A project for low-temperature multiple effect
distillation sea water desalination at 10,000 m3/d, Technol. Water Treat. 35
(2009) 111113.
[39] K.L. Yu, Q.C. Lv, G.L. Ruan, Progress in engineering and technology of lowtemperature multiple effect distillation for seawater desalination, China Water
Wastewater 22 (2008) 8285.
[40] J. Zhang, Application progress of seawater desalination technology in Chinas
steel enterprise, Metall. Power 5 (2011) 5557.
[41] Q.W. Chu, S.J. Li, Z.Y. Tao, Two year experience of Datang Wangtan power plant
seawater desalination system, in: Asian Conference Desalination & Water
Reuse, 2007.
[42] H.Y. Cheng, Mechanism research of Chinas seawater desalination
industrialization, Liaoning Normal University, 2008.
[43] Editor, China issued the seawater desalination special programming, China
Environmental Protection Industry, vol. 10, 2005, p. 44.
[44] L. Chen, H.Y. Huang, L.F. Yin, The present situation and development trend of
TianJin seawater desalination, in: 16th society conference of ve North Chinas
environmental science, 2009, pp. 292294.
[45] H.L. Yang, J.C. Lin, C. Huang, Application of nanosilver surface modication to
RO membrane and spacer for mitigating biofouling in seawater desalination,
Water Res. 43 (2009) 37773786.


[46] X.H. Pan, G.L. Ruan, H.L. Zhao, L.Y. Su, Y.H. Ge, Tianjin 1000 m3/d RO seawater
desalination demonstration project, China Water Wastewater 25 (2009) 73
[47] X. Fan, X.J. Zhang, Y.Z. Shen, Y.W. Tan, Seawater desalination project by RO
progress in Changdao County of Shandong province, Technol. Water Treat. 29
(2003) 4143.
[48] J.S. Liu, S.L. Pang, Design outline of sea water desalination project for Huaneng
Yuhuan Power Plant, Technol. Water Treat. 31 (2005) 7375.
[49] X.Q. Liu, Membrane application and development tendency in seawater
desalination, Water Ind. Market 6 (2008) 19.
[50] W. Guo, Discussion on seawater desalination technology, ShanXi Architec. 36
(2010) 210211.
[51] L. Zhang, L. Xie, H.L. Chen, C.J. Gao, Progress and prospects of seawater
desalination in China, Desalination 182 (2005) 1318.
[52] N. Kahraman, Y.A. Cengel, B. Wood, C. Yunus, Exergy analysis of a combined
RO, NF, and EDR desalination plant, Desalination 171 (2005) 217232.
[53] S.L. Pang, J.S. Liu, Study of seawater desalination system in Huaneng Zhejiang
Branch Company, Electr. Equip. 9 (2006) 1518.
[54] J.Y. Li, Low temperature multiple effect seawater desalination technology,
China Water Res. 14 (2003) 5556.
[55] C.C. Li, X.L. Ren, H. Li, Analysis on the design of low temperature multi-effect
seawater desalination device, Power Station Auxiliary Equip. 32 (2011) 1519.
[56] N.W. Liu, Application study on wastewater desalting treatment of iron and
steel by double membrane method, China Environ. Prot. Ind. 2 (2007) 4750.
[57] Y.B. Chen, J.L. Zhang, The exploration for combining low temperature multieffect desalination with power generators, Shenhua Sci. Technol. 1 (2009) 47
[58] Y. Li, Prospect for the development of seawater desalination industry, Power
Station Auxiliary Equip. 31 (2010) 1114.
[59] Y. Wu, W.H. Li, Brief study of nuclear energy seawater desalination to solve
inland citys water shortage, Water Wastewater S1 (2007) 224226.
[60] X. Zheng, Y. Wei, Report for Sustainable Development Strategy of China Water
Treatment Industry: Membrane Industry, China Renmin University Press,
Beijing, 2013. 141.
[61] Q. Wang, G. Zheng, Y. Tan, The operation status of desalination project of
China, Technol. Water Treat. 37 (10) (2011) 1214.
[62] The National Development department, Ocean department and The Ministry
of Finance, Special Planning of Seawater Using, 2005, 7.
[63] Global Water Intelligence (GWI/IDA Desal Data), Market prole and
desalination markets, 20092012 yearbooks and GWI website, <http://>.
[64] N. Ghaffour, T.M. Missimer, G.L. Amy, Technical review and evaluation of the
economics of water desalination: current and future challenges for better
water supply sustainability, Desalination 309 (2013) 97207.
[65] M.A. Shannon, P.W. Bohn, M. Elimelech, J.G. Georgiadis, B.J. Marinas, A.M.
Mayes, Science and technology for water purication in the coming decades,
Nature 452 (2008) 301310.
[66] M. Elimelech, W.A. Phillip, The future of seawater desalination: energy,
Technol. Environ. Sci. 333 (2011) 712717.
[67] R.F. Service, Desalination freshens up, Science 313 (2006) 10881090.
[68] Q. Schiermeie, Purication with a pinch of salt, Nature 452 (2008) 260261.
[69] National Research Council (U.S.), Committee on Advancing Desalination
Technology, Desalination: A National Perspective, National Academies Press,
Washington, DC, 2008.
[70] S. Lattemann, T. Hopner, Environmental impact and impact assessment of
seawater desalination, Desalination 220 (2008) 115.