Desalination has been used for thousands of years - Greek sailors boiled water to evaporate fresh water away from the salt and Romans used clay filters to trap salt.
Today’s sophisticated methods still generally use the concepts of distillation or filtration.
There are about 15,000 desalination plants around the world. The biggest plants are generally in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Expansion of the Ras Azzour thermal and membrane plant in Saudi Arabia will make it the largest in the world, delivering more than one billion litres per day.
Israel’s Soreq plant will be the largest seawater reverse osmosis membrane plant by producing 510 million litre per day when it is completed.
Australia’s experience with desalination includes wood-fired stills at the Coolgardie goldfields 100 years ago, solar ponds at Coober Pedy and electrodialysis for the first plant at Yulara.
There are about 240 desalination plants in Australia, most of them small scale plants to desalinate seawater or brackish water for a range of uses. These include drinking water supplies for communities or tourist destinations (e.g. Kangaroo and Rottnest islands), industrial processes, irrigation of sports grounds and agricultural uses.
Desalination plants have been constructed in major Australian coastal cities to produce large amounts of drinking water for urban populations.
Australia’s first major seawater desalination plant was commissioned in Perth in 2006 to produce 45 billion litres per year (130 million litres per day). A second plant has been built adding a further 100 billion litres per year (274 million litres per day) to Perth’s supplies. The same size plant has been developed in Adelaide.
Sydney’s plant can produce 91 billion litres per year (250 million litres per day), and the Gold Coast can produce 48 billion litres per year (133 million litres per day). The Victorian Desalination Plant is capable of producing 150 billion litres per year (444 million litres per day).
The Victorian plant is being built by AquaSure, a company which includes Degrémont, a world leader in reverse osmosis technology. Degrémont has built about 250 desalination plants, including the first Perth plant, delivering water to around 10 million people around the world.