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Can we turn sea water in to drinking water?

The problem of drinking water today is a very serious issue for those countries which do not have sufficient resources. The earth has 71% water and 29% consists of continents and islands. 97% of all water is ocean, which consists of salt water and about 3% water is potable and some part of it is in the form of frozen glaciers. Some countries do not even have rivers to supply water to them. They have ocean, but salt water cannot be drunk and cannot be used directly from the ocean for domestic purposes. So the matter of concern is that can we convert sea water into drinking water? If yes, then the problem of water scarcity can be reduced to some extent in future.  

Desalination plant (Image: Daily News Egypt)

How can we convert sea water into drinking water?  

The desalination process is used to convert sea water into drinking water. This is a very important technology that can solve the problem of scarcity of water and so far this technology has supplied fresh water a lot. The problem of water in Gulf countries was also solved by desalination and today some gulf countries producing fresh water from sea water in large scale. Desalination plants operate in additional than 120 countries within the world, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Cape Verde, Portugal, Greece, Italy, India, China, Japan, and Australia. More than the existing 20,000 desalination plants today almost 50% use seawater to produce fresh water and the rest uses brackish water.

Desalination Plants Graph (Source: WIRED)

Two desalination technologies are most used worldwide. First one is distillation desalination and other is reverse osmosis.

Distillation desalination: Distillation desalination is one of mankind’s earliest forms of water treatment, and today it is still a popular treatment solution throughout the world in purifying sea water. Distillation on a large scale involves boiling water and collecting water vapor during the process. Both require a lot of energy, infrastructure and this technology is costly. Distillation is perhaps the one water treatment technology that most completely reduces the widest range of drinking water contaminants.

Reverse Osmosis:

Desalination by reverse osmosis(International Filtration News)

Another way saline water turn in to drinking water by the “reverse osmosis” procedure. Reverse osmosis use a thin-film composite membrane, which comprises an ultra-thin, aromatic polyamide thin-film. This polyamide film gives the membrane its transport properties, whereas the remainder of the thin-film composite membrane provides mechanical support. The polyamide film is a dense, void-free polymer with a high surface area, allowing for its high water permeability. Reverse osmosis is an effective means to desalinate saline water, but it is more expensive than other methods. As prices come down in the future the use of reverse osmosis plants to desalinate large amounts of saline water should become more common.

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Is desalination expensive and how much profitable?

Yes desalination process is very expensive. And making sea water potable also requires a lot of energy. That’s why desalinated fresh water. Countries whose economy is very good, they are operating these desalination plants well. On the largest scale Saudi Arabia, America, Israel, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Spain, and Australia convert sea water into drinking water. There is no substitute in gulf countries other than desalination process.   These countries produce the most pure water because their economy is the best and they have enough energy resources.

Globally, more than 300 million people now get their water from desalination plants, according to the International Desalination Association.

How do desalination plants impact on marine life?

Desalination has the potential to increase fossil fuel dependence, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and exacerbate climate change if renewable energy sources are not used for freshwater production.

Desalination plants pump out 142 million cubic meters of salty brine every day, 50% more than previous estimates, to produce 95 million cubic meters of fresh water, the study said. Approximate 50% of brine produced by desalination plants processing sea water in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to the study by the U.N. University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health. The hyper-salty water is mostly pumped into the sea and, over a year. Due to this the marine life is getting worse and the quality of sea water is getting worse.

Ingestion of desalination surface water is a major threat to marine life. Mature fish, larvae, and other marine life are significantly injured or killed when they become trapped or sucked into open water surface intake pipes.

According to the State Water Resources Control Board, 70 billion fish larvae and other marine life die on a yearly basis from open ocean intakes used by coastal power plants in California.

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Apart from this desalination technology, the Gulf countries have no other substitute. Some countries use this technology because they have sufficient energy sources and economic power. It is true that many countries have got a chance to live a better life with this desalination technology. But still there is a water problem in African countries because they do not have enough resources and neither is the economy stable. And desalinate water is more expensive than normal water. Around 300 million people have benefited worldwide. And it has negative effects on marine lives and environment as read above. I hope this will help you to understand that can we convert sea water into drinking water and how?  You understand what I mean to say. And visit for more articles related to bio materials, electronic materials, advance materials, magnetic materials, metallurgical based and knowledge base.

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K Yashdeep

Hye there..! I am Yashdeep Kamal. I completed my Bachelor in Technology(Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering). Engineer by passion, writer by choice. I have been writing about Composites, Ceramics, polymers, nanotechnology, advance materials and metallurgy etc. You can read about these topics here. Hope it may help you.

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