Tyler Chalfant | October 22nd, 2019
As fresh water becomes increasingly scarce, countries are relying on desalinating seawater to prevent a crisis. Desalination plants remove salt to make seawater clean and drinkable through a process known as reverse osmosis.
Scientists predict that the effects of climate change, a growing population, and the depletion of groundwater resources place a quarter of the global population at risk of running out of water in the near future. This risk is especially high in the Middle East and North Africa, where many of the desalination plants are being built. Saudia Arabia, the global leader in desalination, accounts for about one-fifth of all production.
Other affluent countries, including Australia, China, Spain, and the United States, have begun producing desalinated water in water-stressed areas. However, the cost has been prohibitive to many countries. Researchers are studying how to improve the process to make it more affordable and accessible.
Desalinated seawater is an important resource, that currently accounts for about one percent of the world’s fresh water. But the process is not without environmental risks, including a brine byproduct that contains toxic treatment chemicals, as well as high amounts of salt. Desalination also requires large amounts of energy, and as a result adds to the burning of fossil fuels and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.