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DETAILED REPORT

Economic and Technical


Assessment of Desalination
Technologies in Australia: With
Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

Prepared for

Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry - Australia


C/-Land & Water Australia
Level 2, UNISYS Building
91 Northbourne Avenue
Turner ACT 2612

2 September 2002

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
i

CONTENTS
1 The study

1.1 Background ............................................................................................. 1


1.2 Salinity units and quality guidelines ......................................................... 2
1.3 Report structure....................................................................................... 3

2 Desalination today

2.1 Desalination as a source of fresh water .................................................. 4


2.1.1 Worldwide ....................................................................................... 4
2.1.2 Australia .......................................................................................... 5
2.2 Desalination as a tool to manage salinity ................................................ 6
2.2.1 Dryland salinity................................................................................ 6
2.2.2 Surface water salinity...................................................................... 7
2.3 Potential users of desalination................................................................. 8

3 Desalination technologies

3.1 Membrane processes .............................................................................. 9


3.1.1 Reverse Osmosis.......................................................................... 10
3.1.2 Electrodialysis ............................................................................... 13
3.2 Distillation processes ............................................................................. 15
3.2.1 Multistage Flash Distillation........................................................... 16
3.2.2 Multi Effect Distillation................................................................... 18
3.2.3 Vapour Compression Distillation ................................................... 20
3.3 Comparison of distillation and membrane processes ............................ 21
3.4 Alternative processes ............................................................................ 22
3.4.1 Renewable energy powered conventional desalination ................ 22
3.4.2 Solar humidification....................................................................... 24
3.4.3 Freeze desalination....................................................................... 25
3.4.4 Membrane distillation .................................................................... 25

4 Cost comparisons

26

4.1 Summary ............................................................................................... 26


4.1.1 Methodology ................................................................................. 27
4.2 RO systems comparative cost analysis ................................................. 28
4.2.1 Capital cost analysis ..................................................................... 28
4.2.2 Operating cost analysis................................................................. 30
4.3 MED systems comparative cost analysis .............................................. 33
4.3.1 Capital cost analysis ..................................................................... 33
4.3.2 Operating cost analysis................................................................. 34
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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
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4.4 EDR systems comparative cost analysis............................................... 35


4.4.1 Capital cost analysis ..................................................................... 35
4.4.2 Operating cost analysis................................................................. 36

5 Factors affecting technology selection

38

5.1 Main factors affecting the cost of desalination....................................... 39


5.1.1 Energy source ............................................................................... 39
5.1.2 Feedwater source ......................................................................... 40
5.1.3 Land availability ............................................................................ 43
5.1.4 Concentrate/brine disposal ........................................................... 43
5.1.5 Environmental management factors ............................................. 44
5.2 Opportunistic production and other offsetting benefits .......................... 44
5.2.1 Concentrate/brine disposal and value adding ............................... 44
5.2.2 Production on reclaimed land ....................................................... 48
5.2.3 Salt credits .................................................................................... 48
5.3 Cost competitiveness ............................................................................ 48
5.3.1 Improving the competitiveness of desalination ............................. 49
5.4 Cost sharing .......................................................................................... 50

6 Dryland salinity

52

6.1 Groundwater Flow Systems (GFS)........................................................ 52


6.1.1 Background and description ......................................................... 52
6.1.2 Management implications ............................................................. 54
6.1.3 Engineering options ...................................................................... 55

7 Desalination - Does it apply to you?

57

7.1 Decision tree.......................................................................................... 57


7.1.1 Does desalination stack up as a tool for treating salinity problems?
...................................................................................................... 57
7.1.2 Does desalination stack up as an alternative to conventional forms
of supplying fresh water? .............................................................. 58
7.1.3 Interpretation of the decision tree and examples .......................... 60
7.2 Further information ................................................................................ 60

8 Conclusions

61

8.1 Recommendations................................................................................. 61

TABLES
Table 1: Unit conversions for soil and water salinity............................................. 2
Table 2: Quality categories for water salinity........................................................ 3
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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
iii

Table 3: Quality categories for soil salinity ........................................................... 3


Table 4: Status of renewable energy-assisted desalination options................... 22
Table 5: Summary of application of desalination technologies........................... 27
Table 6: RO capital cost by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$) ......... 28
Table 7: RO operating costs by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$/kL)30
Table 8: MED capital cost by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$)....... 33
Table 9: MED operating costs by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$/kL)
...................................................................................................... 34
Table 10: EDR capital cost by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$) ..... 35
Table 11: EDR operating costs by feedwater salinity and product flow rate
(A$/kL) .......................................................................................... 36

FIGURES
Figure 1: National Action Plan priority regions...................................................... 1
Figure 2: Installed worldwide desalination capacity.............................................. 5
Figure 3: Installed Australian desalination capacity.............................................. 6
Figure 4: Basic illustration of membrane processes........................................... 10
Figure 5: Basic illustration of MSF process ........................................................ 16
Figure 6: Basic illustration of the MED process .................................................. 18
Figure 7: Basic illustration of the solar humidification process ........................... 24
Figure 8: Cost comparison of desalinated and piped fresh water ...................... 49
Figure 9: Basic Groundwater Flow Systems (GFS) of Australia ......................... 54
Figure 10: Desalination decision tree ................................................................. 59

ANNEXES
1

References

Glossary of terms

Consultancy terms of reference


S:\NRFD\PROJ\A10065 DESALINATION REVIEW\CLIENT REPORTS\FINAL\LONG REPORT\DETAILED REPORT (LONG) FINAL.DOC
2.09.02

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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
iv

Executive summary
Introduction
Studies undertaken as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Audit and the National
Land and Water Resources Audit have highlighted a likely decline in the quality of water
supplies over the next fifty years arising from the impacts of salinity on groundwater and
surface water resources. Some 2.5 million hectares of land in Australia have become
affected by dryland salinity processes over the past four decades and the trend is for this to
worsen before it improves.
The National Action Plan (NAP) for Salinity and Water Quality to address water quality
and salinity related problems has identified 21 priority regions within which salinity and
its management is a particular priority. This study assesses the technical and financial
aspects of desalination in the NAP regions as a source of fresh water for human use and as
a salinity management tool.
Status of desalination
Since WWII, desalination of saline water has become a reliable and cost effective means
of providing fresh water for human use, particularly in the arid and isolated regions of the
world. Middle East counties such as Saudi Arabia possess the greatest number and largest
capacity desalination plants in the world. Despite its seemingly suitable criteria of isolated
communities and aridity, Australia has comparatively limited operational expertise in
desalination. Isolated mining towns and small communities as well as industrial processes
such as power stations that require exceedingly high qualities of water are the main users
of desalination technologies in Australia.
Alternative desalination processes
The techniques for desalination may be classified into three categories according to the
process principle used:

process based on a physical change in state of the water i.e. distillation or freezing;

process using membranes i.e. reverse osmosis or electrodialysis; and

process acting on chemical bonds i.e. ion exchange.

Variations in the design of each approach, such as the use of different energy sources, and
a vast range of operational parameters, mean there are many ways in which saline water
can be desalinated. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages the choice of
which approach to use is highly dependent on the requirements at hand and the
restrictions faced at the site being considered. It is apparent that there is no one right
desalination technology.
However, throughout the world, more Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants are being constructed
that the previously popular distillation techniques. Small scale and capacity renewable
energy powered desalination plants are also receiving interest for particular applications
where mains electricity is not available and solar insulation is high.
Choice of technology, costs and cost influencing factors
In general, the costs for membrane plants tend to be lower than for distillation plants of a
similar capacity, but particularly for plants generating fresh water of less than 300 to 400
kL/day where distillation is not financially feasible. Distillation is typically only viable for
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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
v

plants of higher capacity than this, and particularly where a low cost, high quality waste
heat source (i.e. latent heat from an industrial process, such as an electricity or
manufacturing plant) is readily available.
If the feedwater TDS is greater than 10,000 mg/L and a low cost, high quality waste heat
source is available, distillation processes are generally selected. Other than this scenario,
distillation processes are only really considered where very high feedwater TDS values
greater than 50,000 mg/L occur, and for high capacity plants greater than 300 to 400
kL/day.
The technical operational boundaries and some cost comparisons for the three
desalination technologies that were considered in detail in this report are summarised
below.
Parameter
Feed Water Salinity
(mg/L TDS)
Product Water Salinity
(mg/L TDS)
Minimum Product
Water Volume
% Recovery
Energy Required

Capital Cost
[A$/(L/day of product
water)]
Operating Cost
(A$/kL)

Seawater RO

Brackish RO

Multi Effect
Distillation

Electrodialysis
Reversal

> 32,000

< 32,000

> 35,000

3,000 12,000

< 500

<200

<10

<10

500 L/day

500 L/day

120kL/day

90 kL/day

30

80

40 65

> 90

Electrical
Energy

Electrical
Energy

Electrical Energy
or Waste Heat
Energy

Electrical Energy
or Waste Heat
Energy

1,600 2,500

600 1,800

2,500 3,900

570 3,250

1.89 2.20

0.65 1.50

With Waste Heat:


0.55 0.95

1.00 2.80

Without Waste
Heat: 1.8 2.80

There are a great number of variables that influence the choice of technology and the
capital and operating costs for those technologies. This study was not able to incorporate
all of these into a fully specified economic analysis, however, decisions concerning:

the type and source of energy;

the quantity and quality of available feedwater, and in particular; and

the method of disposing of the saline waste water that is a product of all desalination
processes,

should be considered at an early stage of desalination plant design. If desalination is being


considered as part of a program of salinity management, then an additional set of criteria
must also be incorporated to determine the appropriateness of the technology.
These criteria have been transferred in to a decision tree schematic diagram to help
potential users decide which desalination technology best suits them.

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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
vi

Comparison with traditional forms of water supply


The cost of desalination, particularly for membrane technology, has fallen considerably
over the last few decades. However, for desalinated fresh water to be a cost effective
means of supply is dependent on the absence and/or high cost of traditional forms of
mains water supply. This would occur mainly in the more remote rural areas, some of
which are located in the NAP regions of Australia.
There are a number of ways to reduce the net cost of constructing and operating a
desalination plant which will increase its competitiveness against traditional forms of
water supply and its cost effectiveness as a salinity management tool. Chief among these
is value adding to the highly saline waste stream.
Likewise, as the scarcity and cost of high quality mains water increases, so to does the
attractiveness of desalination. Regulatory, market and policy changes that enable the price
of water to reflect its true value will accelerate this process.
Recommendations
Recommendations arising through the course of this study include developing:

A compilation of visual guides and maps which overlay existing geo-referenced


datasets of criteria that influence the choice of desalination. For example, demand,
supply and price of traditional forms of water supply, presence and type of energy
(including renewable), high yielding groundwater aquifers, etc. These will highlight
those areas that are most suitable for desalination and prompt decision makers in those
areas to consider using it.

Fully specified BCA of an existing desalination plant or a site specific desalination


plant proposal. This would enable a more accurate assessment of the cost
effectiveness of desalination.

Integrated biophysical and economic models which process user-entered data to


recommend appropriate desalination technologies for particular scenarios. These exist
for other countries but have not been developed for Australia.

Further technical development of renewable energy augmented desalination plants and


technologies that require little maintenance and technical know-how to operate. These
types of plants are likely to be suitable for many of the NAP regions in Australia.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

1 The study
1.1 Background
In an arid continent like Australia, supplies of potable water are a very limited resource.
Recent studies undertaken as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Audit and the
National Land and Water Resources Audit have highlighted the potential decline in the
quality of water supplies over the next fifty years arising from the impacts of salinity on
groundwater and surface water resources. Rising saline groundwater also threatens to
severely damage or destroy infrastructure, urban environments and key environmental
assets as well as reducing the productive potential of the land.
The National Action Plan (NAP) for Salinity and Water Quality to address salinity related
problems has identified 21 priority regions within which salinity and its management is a
particular priority. Figure 1 illustrates these areas.
Figure 1: National Action Plan priority regions

A range of solutions aimed at using rainfall more effectively and/or intercepting


groundwater thereby reducing likelihood of dryland salinity in the NAP regions have been
proposed. Where the problem is so great that it is neither technically nor financially
feasible to halt salinisation, adapting to and living with salinity may be the best option,
as demonstrated in the PMSEIC Report; Dryland Salinity and Its Impact on Rural
Industries and the Landscape.
URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

Engineering approaches to intercept saline surface and groundwater resources is another


option for managing the salinity problem. Groundwater pumping to provide feedwater for
desalination processes provides not only a source of fresh water for human use but also
has the potential to provide environmental benefits via drawdowns in salty groundwater
levels and the resultant protection this affords to infrastructure, urban environments and
key environmental assets. Advances in desalination technology are continuing to bring
down the cost of supplying water from such means.
Desalination in this study is therefore assessed in its capacity both as a source of fresh
water for a variety of uses and as a salinity management tool. Rather than examine each
NAP region for its desalination potential, the range of conditions faced in the NAP
regions are used as the basis for assessing the desalination technologies.

1.2 Salinity units and quality guidelines


Where possible, salinity units reporting in the following chapters are converted to mg/L
TDS. Several of the most common unit conversions for soil and groundwater salinity are
described in Table 1.
Table 1: Unit conversions for soil and water salinity
Convert

to

by multiplying with

uS/cm

mS/cm

0.001

mS/cm

dS/m

0.01

ppm (mg/L)

mS/cm

1.4*

ML

0.001

kL

1000

ppm (mg/L)

g/L

0.001

Bar

kPa

100

Atm

kPa

101

m
m

* Rule of thumb only

For the purposes of this study, quality categories of water salinity are provided in Table 2.
The Australian drinking water guidelines (ARMCANZ, 1996) state that water of less than
100 mg/L TDS (total dissolved solids, ie, not just sodium) is considered an excellent
quality source of everyday drinking water. For limited periods of time, water of up to
1,200 mg/L TDS may also be acceptable depending on taste. Maximum advisable
irrigation water salinities for healthy growth range from 0 to greater than 3,500 mg/L TDS
depending on the type of plant being irrigated, the soil type, and irrigation frequency.
Water for consumption by stock also varies depending on the animal, ranging up to
approximately 7,000mg/L TDS in the case of sheep.
Most desalination techniques are able to reduce sea water level salinity down to 500 mg/L
TDS levels and less.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

Table 2: Quality categories for water salinity


Use

Rating

Approximate Salinity Range


(mg/L TDS)

Human consumption

Excellent

< 100

Human consumption

Good to fair

100 1,000

Human consumption

Poor

1,000 1,200

Human consumption

Unacceptable

> 1,200

Irrigation

Maximum for healthy growth

0 3,500 depending on plant

Stock watering dairy cattle

Maximum for healthy growth

3,500

Stock watering beef cattle

Maximum for healthy growth

4,800

Stock watering sheep

Maximum for healthy growth

7,150

Source: ARMCANZ (1996)

Soil salinity categories used by the Victoria Department of Natural Resources and
Environment were developed through plant productivity studies and are listed in Table 3.
Table 3: Quality categories for soil salinity
Soil class

Soil salinity
range (dS/m)

Comments

0 - 3.8

Supports growth of all pasture species


including salt-sensitive clovers

3.8 - 6.5

6.5 - 8.6

> 8.6

Supports growth of salt-tolerant plant species


only

1.3 Report structure


Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this report introduce desalination technologies and their use
throughout Australia and the world, provide a description of each type of technology and
some indicative cost estimates for particular sized plants desalinating water over a range
of salinity.
Chapters 6 and 7 apply the concepts introduced in the preceding four chapters to the issue
of dryland salinity. A decision tree schematic is presented to assist potential users decide
whether desalination is suited to their particular circumstance.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

2 Desalination today
2.1 Desalination as a source of fresh water
Of all the Earths water, 94 percent is salt water from the oceans and 6 percent is fresh. Of
the latter, 27 percent is in glaciers and 72 percent is underground (Buros, 2000). While the
Earths salt water resources support commercially important activities such as fishing and
transport, it is typically beyond the limits to support human life or farming. Desalting
techniques have therefore captured attention as an option to increase the range of water
resources available for use by a community.
2.1.1 Worldwide
The application of desalting technologies over the last half of the 19th century has changed
the way people live their lives and where they choose to live. Villages, cities and
industries have now developed in many of the arid and water short areas of the world
where sea or brackish waters (a salt level between fresh and sea water) are available and
have been treated with desalting techniques.
The change is most apparent in parts of the arid Middle East, North Africa, and some of
the islands of the Caribbean, where the lack of fresh water previously limited
development (Buros, 2000).
The requirement to provide fresh water to people in areas with little or no infrastructure
was highlighted during WWII. The potential of desalination was realised during this time
and the technology underwent its first intensive period of development following the war.
The American government, through the creation and funding of the Office of Saline
Water in the early 1960s, and its successor organisations, led the worldwide research
effort. The work of these organisations underpins much of the knowledge and
understanding that exists today.
By the late 1960s, commercial thermal approaches to desalting water were common
place, with capacities up to 8,000 kL/day (Buros, 2000) being achievable. In the 1970s,
commercial scale membrane processes such as Reverse Osmosis (RO) and Electrodialysis
(ED) were introduced and used more extensively. As the technology progressed and
operational experience increased through the 80s and 90s, the cost of construction and
operation reduced significantly. This was particularly the case for the membrane
technologies which are a considerably cheaper prospect now for certain applications than
the tried and trusted thermal/distillation approach (Buros, 2000).
The International Desalination Associations (IDA, 1998) most recent audit of worldwide
desalting capacity states a total installed figure of approximately 22,700 ML/day of which
about 85 percent is still in operation. Water Corporation (2000) provides a more up to
date, but unreferenced, figure of 25,600 ML/day from 13,885 desalting units as of 31st
December 1999.
Almost half of the worlds capacity is used to desalt seawater in the Middle East and
North Africa for municipal water supplies. Saudi Arabia ranks first in total capacity
installed (approximately 24 percent of total world capacity), with the United States second
(16 percent). The IDA inventory (IDA, 1998) indicates that the worlds installed capacity
consists mainly of multi-stage flash distillation and RO processes as indicated in Figure 2.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

Figure 2: Installed worldwide desalination capacity


6%

4%

4%

Multi-Stage Flash

44%

Reverse Osmosis
Electrodialysis
Multi-Effect Distillation

42%

Vapour Compression

2.1.2 Australia
As of September 2000, the total installed capacity in Australia of desalination plants
greater than 100kL/day was 90ML/day (Water Corporation, 2000). The largest of these is
a 35ML/day RO plant at Bayswater, NSW supplying process water for a zero-discharge
power station (the largest of its kind in the world). A substantial number of mines and
power stations in Australia use desalination for production of process and boiler
feedwater, or to process effluent to comply with zero discharge commitments. The
average capacity of desalination plants in Australia is 2.6ML/day (Water Corporation,
2000).
A limited number (less than 10) of small desalination plants are used for public water
supplies in Australia. The low number is primarily due to the cost of providing water via
desalination being higher than the costs of conventional water supplies. Some examples
include:

an A$3.5 million RO unit on Kangaroo Island, SA to supplement the township of


Penneshaws domestic water supply;

since 1995, Rottnest Island in WA has operated an RO plant for a variety of fresh
water uses;

a desalination facility to supplement municipal water supplies for Port Lincoln and
lower Eyre Peninsula, SA is currently being investigated (pers. comm., Glenn
Walker); and

the Western Australian Water Corporation is investigating the feasibility of


developing several desalination facilities for industrial and urban applications (Water
Corporation, 2000).

Most desalination plants in Australia were installed in the 1980s and 1990s. The
majority of these use the RO process as indicated by Figure 3.
As the scarcity and price of conventional sources of fresh water rise over time, and as full
cost recovery as a principle for water charging becomes more widespread, desalination as
an option for supplying fresh water for human consumption and irrigation is expected to
become more popular in Australia.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

Figure 3: Installed Australian desalination capacity


6%

12%

Multi-Stage Flash

18%
Reverse Osmosis
Vapour Compression
Other
64%

2.2 Desalination as a tool to manage salinity


The benefits of desalination plants that treat pumped groundwater, include not only the
fresh water product, but also the benefits that may occur via the lowering of saline
watertables and the prevention of dryland salinity. Desalination of brackish surface water
resources has also been undertaken to manage salinity threats.
2.2.1 Dryland salinity
To understand how desalination can help manage dryland salinity, the hydrogeological
factors which underpin the process of dryland salinity must also be understood. The
technical understanding of how dryland salinity occurs in Australia has improved
significantly in recent years. The concept of Groundwater Flow Systems (GFS) was
developed out of the National Land and Water Resources Audit and recognises that
dryland salinity is highly correlated to a landscapes underlying geological characteristics
and landform (Refer to Section 6 for more discussion of this topic). Coram et al (1999)
identified in which GFSs particular types of dryland salinity mitigation techniques are
appropriate as a management tool. More recently, LWRRDC (2001) has focused on the
efficacy of engineering options (including groundwater pumping for desalination) as a
salinity management tool.
The efficacy of desalination as a dryland salinity management tool should be evaluated
against its technical ability to draw-down and manage the watertable (LWRRDC, 2001).
This in turn is dependent on the conceptual mechanism of how the relevant groundwater
flow system underlying the salinised landscape contributes to dryland salinity.
Generally, it is accepted that groundwater pumping for desalination can be an effective
measure against raising saline groundwaters, particularly in those regions where aquifers
are highly permeable and significant enough in size to generate suitably large yields
(LWRRDC, 2001; Coram et al, 1999; NDSP, 2001). However, engineering options will
be ineffectual against the highest permeability and largest regional GFSs because any
groundwater pumped will be immediately replaced and no draw-down will occur (pers.
comm., Glenn Walker).
Good examples of where desalination is being considered as part of a larger plan to
manage dryland salinity are Wellington Reservoir Catchment in southern WA and a
number of small towns in the Goldfields and Agricultural region of WA, such as Merredin
(Water Corporation, 2000).
Chapter 6 discusses in more detail those conditions where desalination can be an effective
tool for managing dryland salinity.
URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

2.2.2 Surface water salinity


Desalination of inland surface water resources such as rivers, lakes and streams is rarely
undertaken (pers. comm., N. Wende). This is mainly due to the requirement of
desalination plants to receive a steady flow of feedwater, in terms of both quantity and
chemical and physical composition, which surface water bodies generally cannot provide.
The daily, monthly, seasonal and diurnal variation in the properties of rivers, lakes and
streams such as temperature, salinity, flow rate, bacteria, and chemicals makes the cost of
designing a desalination plant that can cope with such variations very high and
consequently unviable. The cost to reconfigure a low salinity RO plant to a medium or
high salinity capable plant is also quite significant, and having to modify an emissions
permit for discharge of brine with a higher dissolved solids concentration may be
impossible in some locations and at short notice. Some desalination technologies can have
their operating capacity varied or even switched off, but the financial implications of this
means it is generally avoided wherever possible.
Desalination of drainage water from irrigation schemes or effluent water from industrial
processes such as electricity stations, although technically a surface water resource, is able
to occur due to the stable properties of such water resources. The largest example of this
is the Yuma desalination plant in Arizona, USA (see case study below) where brackish
irrigation drainage water is treated and desalinated prior to release.
Yuma Desalting Plant (YDP)
The world's largest reverse osmosis desalting plant was built in 1992 to desalinate
brackish salinity drainage water discharged from irrigated farmlands east of Yuma in
Arizona, USA. The Yuma plant enables the United States government to meet the
conditions of its 1944 treaty with Mexico to deliver 1,850 GL of suitably high quality
water down the Colorado River and across the border. The YDP is therefore mainly
designed to meet environmental goals, although desalinated water in excess of what is
needed to satisfy salinity requirements can be sold to interested entities.
The plant has the capacity to treat 390,000 kL per day with a recovery of 70.5% (275,000
kL) and a salt rejection rate of 97%. The plant can produce about 3.2 kL of desalted water
per second. The cost of production is approximately A$0.45/kL.
The YDP uses reverse osmosis technology and conventional pretreatment (partial lime
softening clarification and gravity filtration) which are designs based on the most reliable
water treatment and desalting technologies available at the time of construction.
The plant cost US$211 million to construct. Annual operation, maintenance and
replacement costs, including energy are estimated to be in excess of US$21 million.
Currently, the plant is in ready reserve status pending further declines in the quality of
the Colorado river. Annual maintenance costs for keeping the YDP at ready reserve
amount to US$1.52.5 million.
The YDP disposes of its it hyper-saline waste water via large scale evaporation ponds.
Each acre-sized evaporation pond is filled with sludge over a period of time and left to
dry, at which time it is covered with soil in order to blend into the desert landscape. The
buried sludge eventually becomes a limestone deposit. The sludge could alternatively be
used in scrubbers on air pollution control systems or can be recycled and used for soil
treatment on farmlands.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions

2.3 Potential users of desalination


The users of desalination are many and varied. For fresh water, desalination plants have
the potential to supply drinking quality water and water for non-consumptive uses (eg,
washing, cleaning) for populations ranging in size from individual households right up to
small cities. In Australia, desalination plants designed for such uses are very small in
capacity and in number (Water Corporation, 2000). Most owners/operators of this type of
desalination plant are individuals, households or private companies providing water for
remote mine sites and base camps, however water supply, treatment and distribution
corporations are also potential users for the larger capacity units. Indeed, most research in
to desalination plants for drinking water purposes in Australia appears to be undertaken by
such bodies (Water Corporation, 2000; Dames and Moore, 1993).
Irrigation schemes, power stations, industrial plants and other bodies overseeing the
discharge of effluent water may choose to invest in desalination plants to meet their
discharge regulations criteria. This is especially the case where their effluent water can
potentially flow in to drinking water supplies either directly via surface water systems or
indirectly via groundwater. These groups would also be interested in desalination at the
other end of their operations, where particularly clean feedwater is required (eg, power
stations, highly salt-sensitive and high value horticultural products).
There are a great number of organisations in Australia whose role it is to manage and
protect the environment. These represent another type of user whose main interest lies in
desalinations ability to generate environmental benefits. Governments of all levels make
up the majority of this user group, as well as quasi-government bodies and government
funded organisations such as catchment management authorities, research and
development organisations, park managers. Private firms looking to generate kudos for
their environmental stewardship may also see merit in owning/operating a desalination
plant designed primarily for environmental outcomes.
Currently the financial costs of desalination may be hard to justify but as the technology
develops further it is likely to become more attractive.

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3 Desalination technologies
Desalination is a process that removes dissolved minerals (including but not limited to
salt) from feedwater sources such as seawater, brackish water or treated wastewater.
The techniques for desalination may be classified into three categories according to the
process principle used:

Process based on a physical change in state of the water i.e. distillation or freezing;

process using membranes i.e. reverse osmosis or electrodialysis; and

process acting on chemical bonds i.e. ion exchange.

Of the above processes, those based on chemical bonds such as ion exchange are mainly
used to produce extremely high quality water for industrial purposes and are not suited to
treating seawater or brackish water. Consequently, this process is not discussed further in
this study.
The other two processes, based on physical change of the water and filtering via
membranes, are regularly used to treat seawater and brackish water and have been
developed over many years in large scale commercial applications. There are also some
variations on the design and application of these processes that have not yet reached
commercial or widespread acceptance but which in certain circumstances are considered
potentially useful. The desalination processes investigated in this study are as detailed
below.
Major Processes:
Membrane

Reverse Osmosis

Electrodialysis

Distillation

Multi-Stage Flash Distillation

Multiple Effect Distillation

Vapour Compression Distillation

Alternative Processes:

Renewable Energy Powered Conventional Desalination

Solar Humidification

Freezing

Membrane Distillation

3.1 Membrane processes


Membranes are used in two commercially important desalination processes:

Reverse Osmosis (RO); and

Electrodialysis (ED).

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Each process uses the ability of the membranes to differentiate and selectively separate
salts and water. However, the membranes are used differently for each of these two
processes.
Reverse Osmosis is a pressure driven process, with the pressure applied used for
separation, allowing the water to pass through the membrane while the salts remain.
Electrodialysis is a voltage driven process, and uses the electrical potential to selectively
move salts through the membrane, leaving the product water behind. Figure 4 provides a
basic illustration of the process and is discussed in more detail in the following sections.
Figure 4: Basic illustration of membrane processes

3.1.1 Reverse Osmosis


3.1.1.1 Technical description
The principle of osmosis is the transfer of a solvent, in this instance water, through a
semi-permeable membrane under the influence of a concentration gradient. In a system of
two compartments, one containing pure water and the other saline water, osmosis occurs
when the flow of water moves toward the saline solution through the semi-permeable
membrane wall.
By applying a pressure on the saline solution, the quantity of water transferred by osmosis
will decrease. A point is reached at which the applied pressure is such that there is no flow
of water across the membrane. This equilibrium is called the osmotic pressure of the
saline solution. An increase in the pressure applied to the saline solution beyond the
osmotic pressure will drive a flow of water in the opposite direction to the normal osmotic
flow this is the process of Reverse Osmosis (RO).
The quantity of pure water that passes through the membrane during reverse osmosis is a
function of the difference between the applied pressure and the osmotic pressure of the
saline solution.
In practice, the saline feedwater is pumped into a closed vessel where it is pressurised
against the membrane. As water passes through the membrane, the remaining feedwater
increases in salt concentration. This water is discharged from the vessel in a controlled
manner in order to ensure problems such as precipitation of supersaturated salts and
increased osmotic pressure across the membranes does not occur in the system.

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The amount of water discharged to waste in the brine stream varies from approximately
20% to 70% of the feed flow, depending on the salt content of the feedwater, the pressure,
and type of membrane.
Product water with a salinity of less than 500 mg/L TDS can usually be obtained using a
single stage RO operation.
Pretreatment of the feedwater is an essential component of the RO plant in order to
prevent scaling of the membranes by scale-forming foulants such as salt precipitation and
microbial growth. Usually the pretreatment consists of fine filtration and the addition of
antiscalants and/or dispersants to inhibit precipitation and the growth of micro-organisms.
The use of micro, ultra and nanofiltration is becoming increasingly important as a
potential pretreatment alternative to the conventional pretreatment processes. This aids in
effectively softening the feedwater, aiding in the removal of the calcium and magnesium
within the feed prior to RO.
The high pressure pump within the RO system supplies the pressure needed to enable the
water to pass through the membrane, while rejecting the salts. This pressure ranges from
approx 17 to 27 bar for brackish water RO systems, and from 54 to 80 bar for seawater
RO systems.
The processes of brackish water and seawater reverse osmosis are essentially identical.
There are however, substantial differences in the two processes pressure requirements, as
stated above, with brackish water systems requiring substantially lower operating
pressures, and the rate of conversion of feedwater to desalinated product water, with
brackish water systems able to achieve higher system recoveries. In addition to the
differing energy requirements of the two processes, the types of pretreatment required can
also vary considerably.
3.1.1.2 Application of technology
Most operational problems occur in RO plants because materials have deposited on the
membrane surfaces or in the membrane elements, preventing the membranes from
functioning efficiently. Other problems occur due to mechanical failures, and poor
operation.
Hence the main problems associated with reverse osmosis plants are associated with
membrane fouling issues and the working life of the semi-permeable membranes. Correct
pretreatment of the raw feedwater is essential to avoid fouling and maintain desalted
water output over the membrane lifetime, significant fouling can reduce the product water
flux considerably. Furthermore, membranes are also subject to a degree of compaction
under the applied pressure such that their performance characteristics deteriorate with
time.
Mechanical failures can occur due to the high pressures needed for the transport of water
across the membranes, the piping, supports, machinery etc., which can therefore be
subjected to water mechanical stresses such as high pressures and vibration.
The rate of recovery of drinking water quality water from an RO plant is largely limited
by the concentration in the feedwater of membrane scale producing compounds, mainly
CaCO3, CaSO4, BaSO4, SrSO4 and SiO2. If any of these components are present in
concentrations of less than 20% of their solubility limit, then they do not usually present
limitations, and for a brackish water RO system, at least 80% recovery of the feedwater as
drinking quality product water is achievable. A seawater RO system is able to achieve at
most 30% recovery of the feedwater. However, there are many instances in Australia
where scale producing compounds are present in groundwater aquifers and for
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desalination plants processing this water, their efficiencies are normally lower (pers.
comm., N. Wende).
As the feedwater TDS level decreases higher recoveries and higher salt rejections can be
achieved with RO membrane plants, provided scaling constituents are in acceptably low
concentrations. For example, for brackish feedwater TDS levels in the range of 2500 to
3000 mg/L TDS, typical brackish water RO plants can achieve up to 98% salt separation
from the feedwater, at typical operating pressures in the range of 1400 to 1700 Kpa.
The salinity of the product water is therefore dependent on the salinity and chemical
characteristics of the feedwater, and would usually be of the order of 2 to 10 percent of the
feed salinity (as mentioned above for low feedwater TDS systems). Hence less than 500
mg/L product water TDS for seawater feed systems is typically achievable, and less than
200mg/L product water TDS is achievable for brackish water feed systems.
RO systems are found to be most suitable for use in regions where seawater or brackish
groundwater is readily available, such as throughout the NAP regions of Australia. RO is
by far the most widely used process for desalination in Australia. An example of a
desalination plant using RO technology is at Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, South
Australia (see case study below). Other examples include Ravensthorpe in southern WA,
Denham north of Perth, Rottnest Island off the coast of Fremantle WA, and some of the
remote roadhouses along the highway between Adelaide and Perth in the Great Australian
Bight. The RO plant at Bayswater, NSW, is the largest zero-emissions plant in the world
(35ML/day) and provides highly pure water for boiler processes in an adjacent power
station.
Penneshaw Case Study
The reverse osmosis desalination plant at Penneshaw is run by the South Australian water
authority, SA Water. It provides potable water to the township of Penneshaw (population
395) on Kangaroo Island a few hours south of Adelaide. Historically, farm dams were
used for water supply in the area. Today these would be too unreliable to sustain present
day populations as well as too polluted (due to agricultural activities in the surrounding
areas).
The desalination plant is of South African design and uses RO technology to supplement
the towns existing dam water supplies. Given that most tourism in the region is based
around the local environment, the plant was designed to minimise environmental impacts
and avoid the use of chemical cleaners.
As the plant is located along the coastline, brine concentrate is disposed of into the ocean
via pipes. It is believed that alternative uses and value-adding to the brine water would be
too expensive to establish.
Seawater is used as the feedwater source for the plant with a salinity level of
approximately 38,000-39,000 mg/L TDS. Between 35% and 40% of the 250KL of sea
water treated daily is recovered (ie, converted to potable water) and desalinated to a level
of no more than 1,000 mg/L.
The plant operates continuously and is powered from mains electricity which is available
to all residents of the island via an underwater power cable from the mainland.
The plant cost AUS$3.5 million to construct (including associated civil works) this is
significantly less than the cost of building infrastructure to link the township of
Penneshaw to the mains water supply 60km away. However, the operating costs of the
plant are such that it is more expensive than the unit costs of water provided via mains.

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3.1.1.3 Advantages and disadvantages


The advantages of using the RO system for desalination are:

They are quick and cheap to build and simple to operate. There are few components,
durable plastics and non-metal materials are mainly used - pre-treatment of the
feedwater to prevent fouling of the membrane is the only potential problem.

It can handle a large range of flow rates, from a few litres per day to 750,000 L/day for
brackish water and 400,000 L/day for seawater. The capacity of the system can be
increased at a later date if required by adding on extra modules.

It has a high space/production capacity ratio, ranging from 25,000 to 60,000 L/day/m2.

Energy consumption is low.

It can remove other contaminants in the water as well as the salt.

The use of chemicals for cleaning purposes is low.

There is no need to shut down the entire plant for scheduled maintenance due to the
modular design of the plant. The startup and shutdown of the plant does not take long.

The disadvantages of using the RO system for desalinisation are:

RO membranes are expensive and have a life expectancy of 2-5 years.

If the plant uses seawater there can be interruptions to the service during stormy
weather. This can cause resuspension of particles, which increases the amount of
suspended solids in the water.

There is a requirement for a high quality standard of materials and equipment for the
operation of the plant.

It is necessary to maintain an extensive spare parts inventory.

There is a possibility of bacterial contamination. This would be retained in the brine


stream, but bacterial growth on the membrane itself can cause the introduction of
tastes and odours into the product water.

Most failures in RO systems are caused by the feedwater not being pre-treated
satisfactorily. Pre-treatment of the feedwater is required in order to remove
particulates so that the membranes last longer. Careful pre-treatment of feedwater is
necessary, especially if feedwater quality changes.

The plant operates at high pressures and sometimes there are problems with
mechanical failure of equipment due to the high pressures used.

3.1.2 Electrodialysis
3.1.2.1 Technical description
Using a similar approach to that of RO, Electrodialysis (ED) involves the movement of
water through a filtering membrane. However, instead of using pressure to overcome the
membranes resistance, pretreated water is pumped between electrodialysis cells under the
influence of a low voltage direct current (DC) electrical field.
An electrodialysis cell consists of a large number of narrow compartments through which
the feedwater for desalination is pumped. These compartments are separated by
membranes that are permeable to either positive ions (cations) or negative ions (anions).
Under the influence of the DC electrical field, cations and anions migrate through the
appropriate membranes, forming compartments of electrolyte-enriched wastewater and
electrolyte depleted product water.
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The partially deionised water is removed from the ED cell with the electrolyte
concentrations reduced by a factor of at least two. If further desalination is required then
treatment via one or more additional stages of cells may be necessary. Non-ionic
particulates, bacteria and residual turbidity may also pass through the cells with the
product water, and therefore this may require further treatment to achieve the desired
product water standards.
The basic electrodialysis unit consists of several hundred cell-pairs bound together with
electrodes on the outside and is referred to as a membrane stack. Feedwater passes
simultaneously in parallel paths through all of the cells to provide a continuous flow of
desalinated water and brine to emerge from the stack. Depending on the design of the
system, chemicals may be added to the streams in the stack to reduce the potential for
scaling.
The raw feedwater must be pre-treated to prevent materials that could harm the
membranes or clog the narrow channels in the cells from entering the stack. The
feedwater is circulated through the stack with a low pressure pump with enough power to
overcome the resistance of the water as it passes through the narrow passages.
Recently, advancements to the ED technology in the form of Electrodialysis Reversal
(EDR) have occurred. The EDR process involves a reversal of the water flow in order to
break up and flush out scales, slimes and other foulants deposited in the cells before they
can build up and create major fouling problems. This flushing also allows the
electrodialysis unit to operate with fewer pretreatment chemicals, hence minimising costs.
An EDR unit operates on the same general principle as a standard electrodialysis unit,
except that both the product and the brine channels are identical in construction. Several
times per hour, the polarities of the electrodes are reversed and the flows simultaneously
switched so that the brine channel becomes the product water channel, and vice versa. The
result of this is that the ions are attracted in the opposite direction across the membrane
stack. During this interval the product water is dumped until the stack and lines are
flushed out and the desired water quality is restored. This flush normally takes 1 to 2
minutes, with the unit returning to normal operation on completion of the flushing
process.
3.1.2.2 Application of technology
The ED process is usually only suitable for brackish feedwaters with a salinity of up to
12,000 mg/L TDS. With higher salinities the process rapidly becomes more costly than
other desalination processes. This is because the consumption of power is directly
proportional to the salinity of the water to be treated. As a rule of thumb, approximately 1
kWh is required to extract 1kg additional salt using ED. The major energy requirement of
the process is the direct current used to separate the ionic substances in the membrane
stack.
A variety of operational problems can be experienced with electrodialysis facilities. The
major ones being scaling and leaks.
Scaling scale formation will foul the membrane surfaces and block the passages in the
stack. The result of this is that the slowly moving water then becomes highly desalted due
to the longer period of exposure to the electromotive force. This highly desalted water has
a low conductivity and offers a high resistance to current flow, thus decreasing the
efficiency of the process. Some scale can be removed by introducing chemicals into the
stacks in an attempt to dissolve or loosen the scaling so that it can be washed out,
however in more severe cases the stack will need to be disassembled.
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Leaks operating and/or maintenance problems can result from leaks in two parts of the
electrodialysis stacks, either between the stacked membranes and spacers, or through the
membranes.
3.1.2.3 Advantages and disadvantages
The advantages of using electrodialysis plants for desalination are:

They can produce a high recovery ratio (85-94% for one stage).

Can treat feedwater with a higher level of suspended solids.

Pre-treatment has a low chemical usage and does not need to be as precise.

The energy usage is proportional to the salts removed, instead of the volume of water
being treated.

The membranes for EDR have a life expectancy of 7-10 years, which is longer than
for RO.

EDR membranes are not susceptible to bacterial attack or silica scaling.

Scaling can be controlled whilst the process is on-line, the membranes can also be
manually cleaned.

Can be operated at low to moderate pressure.

The disadvantages of using electrodialysis for desalination are:

Periodic cleaning of the membranes with chemicals is required.

Leaks sometimes occur in the membrane stacks.

Bacteria, non-ionic substances and residual turbidity are not affected by the system
and can therefore remain in the product water and require further treatment before
certain water quality standards are met.

3.2 Distillation processes


The distillation processes are primarily:

Flash-type distillation;

Multi-effect distillation; and

Vapour compression distillation.

Distillation processes mimic the natural water cycle in that saline water is heated,
producing water vapour, which is in turn condensed to form fresh water. Approximately
half of the worlds desalination capacity is based on the Multistage Flash distillation
principle (MSF) (Buros, 2000). However, this is reflecting a continuing decline in the
market, with other water distillation technologies such as Multi-Effect (MED) and Vapour
Compression (VC) distillation, rapidly expanding and anticipated to have a more
important role in the future as they become more accepted and understood.
MSF and MED are generally used in most of the larger scale seawater desalination plants.
These processes generally require high amounts of energy to desalinate water regardless
of the level of salt concentration, hence brackish water desalination (which requires less
energy) is usually not a viable option for this technology.
The evaporative processes require thermal or mechanical energy to cause evaporation
from a brackish or saline feedwater, and as a result tend to have operating cost advantages
when low cost thermal energy is available.
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3.2.1 Multistage Flash Distillation


3.2.1.1 Technical description
Multistage Flash distillation (MSF) accounts for the major portion of desalinated fresh
water currently produced and is used primarily for desalting seawater. This process has
been in large scale commercial use for over thirty years and is illustrated in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Basic illustration of MSF process

The principles of MSF involve seawater feed being pressurised and heated to the plants
maximum allowable temperature. When the heated liquid is discharged into a chamber
maintained slightly below the saturation vapour pressure of the water, a fraction of its
water content flashes into steam. The flashed steam is stripped of suspended brine
droplets as it passes through a mist eliminator and condenses on the exterior surface of the
heat transfer tubing. The condensed liquid drips into trays as hot product (fresh) water.
The recirculating stream, flowing through the interior of the tubes that condense the
vapour in each stage, serves to remove the latent heat of condensation. In doing so, the
circulating brine is preheated to almost the maximum operating temperature of the
process, simultaneously recovering the energy of the condensing vapour. This portion of
the MSF plant is called the heat recovery section. The preheated brine is finally brought
up to maximum operating temperature in a brine heater supplied with steam from an
external source.
A once through MSF plant will generally recover no more than 10% of the feed as product
water, however higher recoveries of between 25 to 50% of the feed flow can be achieved
as product water in a modern well-designed and high temperature recyclable MSF plant.
The salinity of water desalinated by the MSF process is typically less than 50 mg/L TDS,
and as a result may require blending with a small amount of brine to increase the salinity
and buffering salts to acceptable levels. Blending is often used with product waters of less
than 50 mg/L TDS for the following reasons:

Water with TDS <50 mg/L, tends to be slightly acidic in nature due to the absence of
calcium carbonate in the water. This will result in the water being corrosive in nature,
causing potential problems with pipework and end use equipment.

Typically water with TDS levels up to 500 mg/L TDS is acceptable, thus as the
product quality from the MSF process is considerably lower, by blending a portion of
the feedwater this can result in the possibility of a smaller MSF plant, hence potential
plant capital cost savings.

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There is a general consensus that water for drinking purposes should contain certain
quantities of minerals. Blending will ensure the addition of these minerals back into
the water. It should be noted however that this point is of debatable merit.

3.2.1.2 Application of technology


The MSF process is energy intensive due to the requirement to boil the feedwater,
although energy efficiency is substantially enhanced via the heat recovery process.
The advantages of MSF plants lie in their ability to be constructed in large capacities,
their reliability over a potentially long operating life, and the design and operational
experience in operating these units that has been accumulated over many years. A further
advantage lies in the fact that boiling does not occur on a hot tube surface, as it flashes
instead, thereby reducing the incidence of scaling.
Their disadvantages come in the form of large capital investment due to the extensive use
of high quality stainless steel and alloys required to prevent corrosion. Following on from
this, due to the high temperatures required for the flash process, severe corrosion
problems can occur, particularly if the feedwater requires acid dosing or if carbon dioxide
concentrations are high within the cells due to inadequate degassing of the feedwater.
Further disadvantages include substantial logistical difficulties involved with plant
construction and start-up, the inflexibility to operate the plant below 70-80% of design
capacity, the need for and difficulty in designing and constructing a highly efficient plant,
and the necessity for pumping, treating and heating large quantities of feedwater relative
to product due to low process recoveries. In areas where brine disposal is a potential
problem, processes such as MSF that create large quantities of brine, are often considered
inappropriate.
3.2.1.3 Advantages and disadvantages
In summary, the advantages of using multi-stage flash distillation for desalination are:

MSF plants can be constructed to handle large capacities.

The salinity of the feedwater does not have much impact on the process or costs.

It produces very high quality product water (less than 10 mg/L TDS).

There is only a minimal requirement for pre-treatment of the feedwater.

The strict operational and maintenance procedures for other processes are not as
rigorous for MSF.

There is a long history of commercial use and reliability.

It can be combined with other processes, eg using the heat energy from an electricity
generation plant.

The disadvantages of using multi-stage flash distillation for desalination are:

They are expensive to build and operate and require a high level of technical
knowledge.

Highly energy intensive due to the requirement to boil the feedwater, although energy
efficiency is substantially enhanced via the heat recovery process.

The recovery ratio is low, therefore more feed water is required to produce the same
amount of product water.
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The plant can not be operated below 70-80% of the design capacity.

Blending is often required when there is less than 50mg/l TDS in the product water.

3.2.2 Multi Effect Distillation


3.2.2.1 Technical description
Multi Effect Distillation (MED) is stated as being the most important large-scale
evaporative process, and offers significant potential for water cost reduction over other
large-scale desalination processes (pers. comm., N. Wende). It is predicted that the use of
this distillation technology will expand in the future, over and above the usage of the
Multistage-Flash distillation process (ibid.). MED plants are typically no smaller than
300kL/day capacity, as anything less than this is not financially viable given the
significant advantages of economies of scale that are available to this technology.
Multiple effect distillation units operate on the principle of reducing the ambient pressure
at each successive stage, allowing the feedwater to undergo multiple boilings without
having to supply additional heat after the first stage. This process is illustrated in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Basic illustration of the MED process

In MED units, steam and/or vapour from a boiler or some other available heat source is
fed in to a series of tubes where it condenses and heats the surface of the tube and acts as
a heat transfer surface to evaporate saline water on the other side. The energy used for
evaporation of the saline water is the heat of condensation of the steam in the tube.
The evaporated saline water, now free of a percentage its salinity and slightly cooler, is
fed in to the next, lower-pressure stage where it condenses to fresh water product, while
giving up its heat to evaporate a portion of the remaining seawater feed.
There is typically a series of these condensation-evaporation stages taking place, each one
being termed an effect. The process of evaporation-plus-condensation is repeated from
effect to effect, each at successively lower pressures and temperatures. The combined
condensed vapour constitutes the final product water.
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A well designed multi-effect distillation plant will recover approximately 40 to 65% of


the feed as product water. Product water quality is highly pure with TDS values typically
less than 10 mg/L TDS.
MED plants typically derive their energy from low pressure steam generators or industrial
process steam. MED units are also unique in their ability to recycle waste heat from
thermal power plants, diesel generators, incinerators or industrial processes and as a
consequence, are often sited adjacent to such plants or incorporated with them at the
design stage.
3.2.2.2 Application of technology
The essential difference between MED and MSF is that flashing of the steam plays only a
minor role in the process, and that the condensing steam evaporates seawater via the heat
transfer surface in each cell, or effect. Therefore, in a MED system, steam produced then
passes to the next, lower temperature, effect where it condenses, evaporating more
seawater and the process is repeated in each subsequent effect. Thus, due to the lower
temperature operation of these units and the pressure reduction technique, the MED
specific power consumption is approximately half that required for the MSF process.
Another benefit of the MED process is in the event of a leaky tube wall occurring, the
vapour would tend to leak into the brine chamber, thereby avoiding contamination of the
product water.
Also, the number of effects required for an MED plant is generally not more than 10,
compared to the larger MSF plants where typically 20 to 40 stages are required before it is
considered a cost-effective option (Buros, 2000). As a result, MED plants are
considerably smaller in physical size than MSF. Following on from this, the major
advantage of the MED process is its ability to produce significantly higher performance
ratios than the MSF process. This is a significant factor to consider in environmentally
sensitive areas and/or where brine disposal is an issue.
3.2.2.3 Advantages and disadvantages
The advantages of using multi-effect distillation for desalination are:

The pre-treatment requirements of the feedwater are minimal.

Product water is of a high quality.

MED plants are very reliable even without a strict adherence to maintenance.

The plant can be combined with other processes, eg, using the heat energy from a
power plant.

The plant can handle normal levels of biological or suspended matter.

The requirements for operating staff are minimal.

The disadvantages of using multi-effect distillation for desalination are:

They are expensive to build and operate - energy consumption is particularly high.

The plant can be susceptible to corrosion. This can usually be controlled by the choice
of material.

The product water is at an elevated temperature and can require cooling before it can
be used as potable water.

The recovery ratio is low, although not as low as for MSF.


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3.2.3 Vapour Compression Distillation


3.2.3.1 Technical description
The low temperature Vapour Compression Distillation (VCD) method is a simple, reliable
and highly efficient process. Its efficiency comes largely from a low energy requirement
and its design that is based on the heat pump principle of continuously recycling the
latent heat exchanged in the evaporation-condensation process.
VCD is similar in process operation to multi-effect distillation. The main difference is that
the vapour produced by the evaporation of the brine is not condensed in a separate
condenser. Instead a compressor returns it to the steam side of the same evaporator, in
which it originated, where it condenses on the heat transfer surfaces, giving up its latent
heat to evaporate an additional portion of the brine.
The energy for the evaporation is not derived from a prime steam source as in the
preceding two distillation processes, but from the vapour compressor. In addition, the
latter raises the temperature of the vapour by its compressive action, thereby furthering the
driving force for the transfer of heat from vapour to brine.
Typically these units are no smaller than 300 to 400 kL/day, and are most economic with
feedwater of high TDS levels, typically greater than 50,000 mg/L TDS (higher than
seawater). High quality product water can also be achieved with VC units, generally less
than 10 mg/L TDS, and in some cases even as low as 2 mg/L TDS. Recoveries of
approximately 50% can be achieved with these units.
3.2.3.2 Application of technology
VCD units are usually built in the 20 to 8,000 kL/day range, and are often used for resorts,
industries, and drilling sites, where fresh water is not readily available. The VC process
benefits from low energy demands mainly in the form of mechanical energy to drive a
compressor rather than the large amounts of high grade thermal energy required with the
MSF and MED processes.
Furthermore, with the low temperature VC distillation process, using a high capacity
compressor, operating temperatures of below 70C are possible, thus reducing the
potential of scale and corrosion. In comparison with thermal desalination plants, no
cooling water is required, resulting in smaller intake and pumping systems, and lower
energy requirements, with no need for a heat rejection section.
The main disadvantage with these units is that starting the plants can be a problem usually an auxiliary heater must be fitted to raise the feed temperature so that some vapour
is available before the compressor can take over.
3.2.3.3 Advantages and disadvantages
In summary, the advantages of using vapour compression distillation for desalination are:

The plants are very compact and can be designed to be portable.

Minimal pre-treatment is required.

The capital cost of the plant is reasonable and operation is simple and reliable.

The recovery ratio is good.

The product water is of a high quality.

The energy requirements are relatively low, although not as low as RO.

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The disadvantages of using vapour compression distillation for desalination are:

Starting up the plant is difficult. An auxiliary heater is normally required to get the
temperature of the feed water up to a point where some vapour is formed. After this
the compressor can take over.

It requires large, expensive steam compressors, which are not readily available.

3.3 Comparison of distillation and membrane processes


To summarise the above descriptions of the major desalination processes, a comparison of
each approach is provided below.
The advantages of using membrane processes over distillation processes are:

Membrane plants normally have lower energy requirements.

The capital cost for membrane plants is lower than distillation plants.

Membrane plants have a high space/production capacity ratio.

Membrane plants generally have higher recovery ratios than distillation plants.

Membrane plants operate at ambient temperature. This minimises the scaling and
corrosion potential, which increases with higher temperatures.

Membrane plants can easily be downgraded simply by taking sections out of the plant.

The disadvantages of membrane processes when compared to distillation process are:

Membrane processes do not destroy biological substances, unlike distillation


processes. Therefore they must be removed in either pre-treatment or post-treatment if
the water is to be used for potable water or process water.

Membranes that are of the polyamide type can not be used if there is chlorine in the
water. The chlorine must be chemically removed.

The performance of membrane plants tends to decline progressively with time due to
fouling of the membrane.

Membrane plants need to be cleaned more regularly than distillation plants.

Membrane plants need more rigid monitoring than distillation plants.

The advantages of distillation plants over membrane plants are:

Distillation plants have been established for a long time and have proven to be a
reliable means of desalination.

Distillation plants produce higher quality product water than membrane plants.

Distillation plants do not need to be cleaned as often as membrane plants.

Distillation plants do not need to be monitored as strictly as membrane plants.

Distillation plants only require a minimal amount of operating staff.

The disadvantages of distillation plants when compared to membrane plants are:

Distillation plants require more feedwater for the same amount of product water due
to their lower recovery ratio.

Distillation plants are more vulnerable to corrosion than membrane plants. This is
controlled by the selection of materials.

Distillation plants require more room for a given capacity than membrane plants.
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Distillation plants have a higher capital cost than membrane plants.

Distillation plants consume more energy than membrane plants.

The temperature of the product water is higher for distillation plants, than for
membrane plants. This means that the product water needs to be cooled to be used as
potable water.

3.4 Alternative processes


Variations in the application of the two major desalination processes have led to the
development of a number of alternative ways to desalinate saline water. These processes
have not as yet achieved the level of commercial success and viability that the above
mentioned conventional processes have, however, under certain circumstances they have
proved to be viable. The conditions in which these processes are viable are likely to
become more common place in the future.
3.4.1 Renewable energy powered conventional desalination
Many remote towns and communities rely on costly and often limited supplies of diesel
fuel for their energy needs. These and other forms of fossil fuels are sometimes heavily
subsidised by government to meet community service obligations (Water Corporation,
2000). Most desalination techniques consume a large amount of energy, therefore finding
methods of using renewable energy to power the desalination process is desirable.
Solar collectors or wind energy devices can be used to provide the heat or electrical
energy requirements to operate a standard desalination plant using membrane or
distillation. The National Renewable Energy Laboratories in the USA conducted a survey
to identify actual examples and potential ways in which renewable energy could be used
with desalination (NREL, 1998). Table 4 illustrates pairings of renewable energy and
desalination processes. In many cases actual working case studies or pilot projects exist,
but for some pairings where the process seems quite viable, the concept remains untested
(represented by a blank cell).
Table 4: Status of renewable energy-assisted desalination options
Renewable
energy source

Multiple
Effect
Distillation
Pilot plants
(Spain, 1988;
UAE, 1984)

Solar thermal
electric or
mechanical
PV-battery
inverter
PV, no
inverter

N/a

Multistage
Flash
Distillation
Pilot plants
(Kuwait, 1984;
Mexico, 1978)
Pilot plant
(thermal)
(USA, 1987)
N/a

N/a

N/a

Wind-battery

N/a

N/a

Solar thermal

Wind-diesel

Desalination technology
Vapour
Reverse Osmosis
Compression
N/a

N/a

Pilot plants
(mechanical direct
drive, France, 1978)
Commercial

Pilot Plant
(Spain, 2001)

Commercial (direct
drive, Australia,
1996)
Pilot plants (France,
1990; Spain, 2001)
Pilot plants (Spain,
Greece, 2001)

Electrodialysis

N/a

Pilot plant (Japan,


1988)
Commercial
(battery/all DC)
(NewMexico, 1995)
Pilot plant (Spain,
2001)

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Renewable
energy source

Windmechanical
Wind-electric
direct drive

Multiple
Effect
Distillation
N/a

Multistage
Flash
Distillation
N/a

N/a

N/a

Desalination technology
Vapour
Reverse Osmosis
Compression
Pressurised water
storage pilot plant
(Australia, 1990)
Cut in/cut out
control pilot plants
(Germany, 1979;
France, 1987)

Electrodialysis

N/a

Source: National Renewable Energies Laboratory (1998)

Today, in remote locations and/or where energy costs are high, desalination plants exist
that either fully or partly rely on renewable sources for their energy. Most have capacities
of less than 20 kL/d (Buros, 2000). The economic viability of operating these plants is
highly correlated to the cost of producing the solar or wind energy, hence they are best
located where average yearly solar insolation is high or where prevailing winds are strong.
A large example of solar power desalination is the Abhu Dhabi solar distillation plant in
the United Arab Emirates. This plant was commissioned in 1984 and has an output of 85
kL/day of fresh water. The solar collectors take up an area of 1,862 m2. The recovery ratio
of such plants range from 43%-55% (unknown, 2001).
Solar powered RO desalination units have been developed and are in operation in rural
areas of Australia. An example of this is the solar powered reverse osmosis unit
Solarflow developed by The Remote Area Developments Group at Murdoch University.
This unit has a capacity to desalinate 400L/day from brackish salinity water of up to 5,000
mg/L TDS using a 120 watt photovoltaic array. This is enough to provide 2 people with
their complete water requirements (washing, cooking, bathing, and drinking) for a day.
Alternatively, it can be used to augment existing water supplies or used for one or two
purposes only in which case it can service many more people.
Costs for a fully operational 400L/day unit amount to approximately $22,000 for purchase
and installation (Mathews, 2001). Annual operating costs are comprised mainly of capital
depreciation and also minor costs for repairs and maintenance as needed.
Solarflow has recently been commercialised by the manufacturer in regions where mains
electricity is not available and currently more than 20 are in operation throughout
Australia and south-east Asia. A 1,500 L/day model is also currently undergoing testing.
Another Australian example is Solar-Sustain which uses solar power as part of a solar
humidification process and is described below in section 3.4.2.
Currently, the use of conventional energy such as mains electricity, to drive desalination
devices is still generally more cost effective than using wind and solar power (Buros,
2000). However, as technology improves and the cost of traditional sources of fresh water
and energy rise, then renewable energy powered desalination units are likely to become
more widespread. This is particularly the case in remote areas without access to reliable
and affordable sources of energy where solar powered desalination plants such as
Solarflow have already been shown to be the optimal choice (Winter, 2001).

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3.4.2 Solar humidification


Solar humidification has been a legitimate option for desalinating saline water since the
19th century (Kunze, 2001; Buros, 2000). In WWII the use of small solar stills on life rafts
to provide fresh water was investigated in detail. Solar humidification involves the direct
use of solar energy for heating saline water to increase the production of water vapour.
The water vapour is then condensed on a cool surface, and the condensate collected as
fresh product water.
A green house solar still is a good example of this process. Here the saline water is heated
in a basin on the floor and the water vapour condenses on the sloping glass roof that
covers the basin, and is collected as illustrated in Figure 7.
Figure 7: Basic illustration of the solar humidification process

As a general rule of thumb, well-managed and maintained solar stills require a solar
collection area of about one square metre to produce up to six litres of fresh water per day,
but on average usually return nearer 3L/m2/day (Kunze, 2001). Thus, for an 800L/d
facility (representing total daily water requirements for four people), a land area ranging
from 130-260m2 would be required depending on efficiency. New breakthroughs in solar
still technology such as heat recovery and air mass circulation can reputedly improve the
production ratio up to 20L/m2/day and thus reduce the area required to provide a given
amount of water (ibid.).
In Australia, a new adaptation of the humidification process has been developed by
Solar-Sustain. Instead of large basins and overhead collectors, the Solar-Sustain
technique uses pipes. Solar power is used to heat saline water which is pumped through
pipes at 1/3 of its capacity. The trapped air in the pipes rises to 100% relative humidity, is
ducted out of the pipes where it is cooled and condenses in to fresh water. The technology
is effective and reliable but in its current form is prohibitively expensive and is
undergoing further development (pers. comm., A. Huffer). In its current (and now
outdated) level of development, unit costs for provision of water range from $3.50$4.50/kL (this is mainly depreciation of capital costs of at least $50,000 over 5 years).

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The advantages of the solar humidification process is its relative simplicity to operate and
service and obviously its ability to use solar or other renewable power as its source of
energy, hence operating costs are very low. However there are restrictions in the use of
this technique for large scale production such as:

large solar collection area requirements;

high capital cost; and

vulnerability to weather related damage.

3.4.3 Freeze desalination


The process of freeze desalination is based on the fact that dissolved salts are naturally
excluded during the formation of ice crystals. In order to desalinate saline water using this
method, the non-frozen saline component is removed at the appropriate time in the
freezing process, and the frozen (fresh) water washed and rinsed to remove any remaining
salts adhering to the ice crystals. The ice is then melted to produce fresh product water.
There have been a small number of plants developed and constructed over the past 40
years (Water Corporation, 2000), however the process has not been commercially
developed in the production of potable water for municipal purposes. At this stage,
freezing desalination technology still has a better application in the treatment of industrial
wastes rather than in the production of municipal water (pers. comm., N. Wende).
Freeze desalination theoretically has some advantages over distillation methods, which
include a lower theoretical energy requirement, minimal potential for corrosion, and little
scaling or precipitation.
The main limitation of this process is that it involves handling ice and water mixtures that
are mechanically complex to move and process. The freeze desalination process also has
high energy requirements and therefore cost, however it is capable of removing all
harmful constituents that may be present, thus making it more suitable for the industrial
wastes industry rather than purely for the production of municipal water.
3.4.4 Membrane distillation
This process combines the use of both distillation and membrane technology. Saline water
is warmed to enhance vapour production, and this vapour is exposed to a membrane that
can pass vapour but not water. After the vapour is passed through the membrane, it is
condensed on a cooler surface to produce fresh water. In liquid form, fresh water cannot
pass back through the membrane, thus trapping it to be collected as the product water.
To date, this process has only been used in a few instances across the world (Water
Corporation, 2000), and has not as of yet demonstrated any commercial success as the
source energy costs involved to produce the water are still too high to make the process
commercially viable.
Being a combined process using both distillation and membranes, this process is subject
to the same performance limitations that are experienced with those technologies.
Namely, the larger space requirements, and considerable pumping energy requirements
per unit of production.
The main advantages of membrane distillation are in its simplicity, and the requirement
for only small temperature differentials to operate the process.
Membrane distillation could be used most cost effectively in the desalination of saline
water where inexpensive low grade thermal energy is available from industry or from
solar collectors.
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4 Cost comparisons
4.1 Summary
Conventional desalination processes have been developed to commercial capacity for
approximately thirty years. MSF is commercially the oldest and our knowledge of it is
such that its best applications are well understood. The other distillation techniques such
as MED and VC are also well understood. The commercial development of membrane
processes such as RO and ED is relatively recent and their best applications are not as
well understood, but are nowadays also considered to be mainstream desalination
processes.
Three desalination technologies were selected for cost comparison purposes in this report,
as these technologies are most likely to be financially viable for the low-capacity
production regimes outlined for this study. These technologies are:

Reverse Osmosis membrane systems (RO);

Electrodialysis Reversal membrane systems (EDR); and

Multi-Effect Distillation systems (MED).

In general, the costs for RO plants tend to be lower than for distillation plants of a similar
capacity, but particularly for plants smaller than 300 to 400 kL/day where distillation is
not financially feasible. Distillation is typically only viable for plants of higher capacity
than this, and particularly where a low cost, high quality waste heat source is readily
available.
If the feedwater TDS is greater than 10,000 mg/L TDS and a low cost, high quality waste
heat source is available, than the MED process is generally selected. Other than for the
waste heat scenario, distillation processes such as MED are only really considered where
very high feedwater TDS values greater than 50,000 mg/L TDS occur, and for high
capacity plants greater than 300 to 400 kL/day.
EDR systems tend to always be more costly than RO systems, however this becomes less
of an issue as the plant capacity increases - EDR systems are typically only 10% higher in
costs than RO systems for plants greater than 100 kL/day. EDR systems have a feedwater
TDS limit of 12,000 mg/L TDS, and are generally only considered when high scaling
feedwaters are present. EDR systems are therefore only economically viable over an RO
system when the feedwater TDS is between 3,000 mg/L to 12,000 mg/L, and the plant
capacity required is greater than 100 kL/d, and the feedwater is high scaling.
The technical operational boundaries of the three chosen desalination technologies are
summarised in Table 5 along with a summary of their capital and operating costs. The
cost information presented in Table 5 is investigated in detail in the following sections.

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Table 5: Summary of application of desalination technologies


Parameter
Feed Water Salinity
(mg/L TDS)
Product Water Salinity
(mg/L TDS)
Minimum Product
Water Volume
% Recovery
Energy Required

Seawater RO
> 32,000

Brackish RO
< 32,000

MED
> 35,000

EDR
3,000 - 12,000

< 500

<200

<10

<10

500 L/day

500 L/day

120kL/day

90 kL/day

30
Electrical
Energy

80
Electrical
Energy

Capital Cost
[A$/(kL/day of product
water)]
Operating Cost
[A$/(kL/day of product
water)]

1,600 2,500

600 1,800

40 - 65
Electrical Energy
or Waste Heat
Energy
2,500 3,900

> 90
Electrical Energy
or Waste Heat
Energy
570 3,250

1.89 2.20

0.65 1.50

With Waste Heat:


0.55 0.95
Without Waste
Heat: 1.8 2.80

1.00 2.80

For guidance on the product water flow rate and salinity levels that correspond to the stated range of capital and operating costs for
each desalination technology, please refer to Tables 6 & 7 for RO, Table 8 & 9 for MED, and Tables 10 & 11 for EDR

Water Corporation (2000) has converted an International Desalination Association (IDA,


1999) set of generic cost curves for the major desalination processes in to Australian
dollar terms. These costs include values for depreciated capital and operation costs and
include a limited allowance for those costs not associated with the desalination plant itself
(eg, water supply, disposal, ancillary works). These curves enable a rough estimate of the
cost per kilolitre of product water over plants of differing capacity, although it should be
noted that costs for smaller sized desalination plants most suitable to the NAP regions are
not considered. Despite this, the same conclusions as those summarised above can be
interpreted from the curves, such as RO plants tend to cost less than distillation plants,
and desalination using lower salinity feedwaters in higher capacity plants is cheaper.
4.1.1 Methodology
A thorough economic evaluation of desalination plants would normally use a discounted
cash flow approach (maybe incorporating non-market values) for a range of fully-defined
with and without desalination plant scenarios starting from the point of water sourcing
through to brine disposal and water delivery to users. All costs associated with
desalinating water would be included such as:
feedwater extraction costs;
energy sourcing and costs;
plant location costs (i.e. remoteness, availability of labour, etc);
costs for environmental protection (i.e. brine disposal costs, emissions licensing);
distribution and losses in the storage and distribution system;
post treatment requirements;
product and waste water delivery to users;
civil infrastructure requirements (roads, buildings, etc);
ancillary works requirements, including storage tanks, associated piping and power
supply;
labour availability; and
plant reliability.
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Since all desalination processes can use any type and combination of energy sources and
the design varied in any number of ways for the specific conditions faced on site, non-case
specific comparisons are difficult to make and are generally not undertaken (Buros, 2000,
Water Corporation, 2000; Winter, T. 2002). The users of the desalinated water and any
potential environmental benefits are also highly site specific, hence quantitative estimates
of benefits cannot be generalised nor extrapolated to other studies such as this one. For
these reasons, the cost analysis in this report more accurately resembles a financial cost
comparison between three of the most applicable technologies rather than a fully specified
economic analysis of all desalination options. A fully specified economic analysis based
on the operational experience of an actual desalination plant is one of the
recommendations of this report (see section 8.1).
The following sections utilise construction and operation costs as the basis of the
comparison and calculates the impact on these for changes in only two of the most
important variables - salinity of feedwater and product water flow rate. All other factors
are assumed to be equal and are ignored, although a detailed qualitative discussion on
how these factors could influence actual costs is provided throughout this chapter and in
Chapter 5.
For comparing construction costs between the three main desalination technologies, only
direct capital costs associated with process works, including pre-treatment and process
treatment equipment, pumps, pipes and control systems, are incorporated.
For comparing operating costs, only the costs associated with desalinating the water are
incorporated, and not the costs for delivery of the water to and from the plant, or
associated post treatment costs. The operating costs that are considered in this analysis
therefore include those associated with power, annual equipment replacement, chemicals,
maintenance and all labour. Uncertainties surrounding the timing of certain operating
costs meant that the average annual operating cost for each technology is obtained by
averaging the total expected operating costs over the typical expected life of the plant.
In general, it is clear that without highly defined site-specific desalination scenarios,
definitive economic analysis using the preferred methodology is not possible.
Compounding this is the lack of hard data for some of the newer desalination processes
that are yet to underdgo the process of trial, error and development that comes from
commercial scale use. The technical and financial aspects of these processes still have a
high degree of commercial confidentiality.

4.2 RO systems comparative cost analysis


4.2.1 Capital cost analysis
Table 6: RO capital cost by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$)
Product water flow rate

5 kL/day

15 kL/day

50 kL/day

Feed salinity = 2000 mg/L TDS

$5,000

$13,000

$35,000

Feed salinity = 10000 mg/L TDS

$7,000

$17,500

$44,000

Feed salinity = 35000 mg/L TDS

$12,000

$27,000

$85,000

Assumptions:
Electrical power supply available
Basic Pre-filtration included
Costs quoted are for plant only i.e. no civil works, external tanks, pipe work

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4.2.1.1 Influencing capital cost factors


Feedwater source
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) is the term used to describe the levels of dissolved material
in water and is usually only used to provide an at a glance indicator of the water
characteristics. When evaluating suitability for an application, a detailed analysis of the
feedwater is required.
TDS is used in Table 6 to provide a basis for comparison of RO systems operating with
feedwaters at different concentrations. Table 6 shows the dramatic effect that increasing
TDS has on the plant capital expenditure required.
The rule here is: All other things being equal, decreasing feedwater TDS equals
decreasing capital cost
Feedwater chemistry & recovery ratio Recovery ratio is the ratio of product water
(permeate) produced to RO plant feedwater. For a given permeate flow, a system with a
high recovery ratio has a lower feedwater flow than a system with a low recovery ratio.
Theoretically, this means that high recovery systems cost less to produce than low
recovery systems due to smaller pumps, smaller/less pipe work, and (perhaps) less
membrane elements. In practice however, issues relating to feedwater characteristics tend
to skew this relationship.
The RO process progressively concentrates the feedwater as product water is extracted.
The higher the RO recovery ratio, the higher this concentration. If this concentration
exceeds the saturation level of a feedwater constituent, it will precipitate within the
membranes. For this reason, it is important to understand the constituents of the feedwater
and concentration at which they become saturated. Sensible design dictates a recovery
ratio that either avoids saturation of feedwater constituents or allows some saturation to
occur but manages precipitation through use of anti-scalant chemicals.
Additionally, higher feedwater salinity dictates higher RO system operating pressure. In
this case, the benefit of a high recovery ratio must be carefully balanced against the cost to
produce it as the RO system operating pressure required may be prohibitively high.
The rule here is: Maximise recovery ratio within the bounds of the feedwater
characteristics to reduce capital costs
Total Suspended Solids (TSS) & turbidity in the RO feed TSS is the term used to
describe the levels of suspended material in water and is measured in milligrams per litre.
Usually, TSS is considered simultaneously with turbidity, which indicates the size and the
quantity of the suspended particles, when designing pretreatment to RO systems.
Feedwater to an RO system must be virtually free from suspended solids. The quantity
and characteristics of the feedwater suspended solids will dictate the removal mechanism.
Where feedwaters can demonstrate very low levels of suspended solids, minimal filtration
such as disposable cartridges can be used successfully.
As the level of suspended solids increases, more significant pre filtration is required. This
is typically a back-washing multimedia pressure filter or self-cleaning strainer followed by
the disposable cartridge filters described above. This adds approximately 10-15% to the
capital cost of the RO system with cartridge filters only, described above.
Further increase in the level of suspended solids may require the installation of a settling
tank, with perhaps a flocculant addition step, prior to the other pre filtration steps. This

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adds approximately 20-35% to the capital cost of the RO system with cartridge filters
only, described above.
Finally, if the suspended material is of a fine nature and varying in quantity so that it
cannot be chemically settled and will pass through conventional filters, a membrane
microfiltration (MF) or ultrafiltration (UF) plant may be required. This adds
approximately 60-80% to the capital cost of the RO system with cartridge filters only,
described above.
The rule here is: All other things being equal, decreasing feedwater TSS equals
decreasing capital cost
Product water specification
Reverse Osmosis plants remove a proportion (usually 97-99%) of the feedwater dissolved
solids and so some dissolved solids remain in the product water. The actual removal rate
(rejection) is a function of the feedwater composition, the RO membrane element type, the
RO membrane configuration and the system operating conditions. Very high rejections
(99.5%+) can only be achieved by using more costly high rejection membrane elements or
by re-treating the product water in a further desalination step which also adds to the cost.
Conversely, if lower rejections (say 65%-75%) are acceptable, some of the feedwater can
be diverted around the RO system and mixed with the RO permeate. This effectively
reduces the size of the RO system and reduces cost.
The rule here is: The ability to accept lower quality permeate will reduce capital cost
4.2.2 Operating cost analysis
Table 7: RO operating costs by feedwater salinity and product flow rate
(A$/kL)
Product water flow rate

5 kL/day

15 kL/day

50 kL/day

Feed salinity = 2000 mg/L TDS

$1.0

$0.9

$0.65

Feed salinity = 10000 mg/L TDS

$1.5

$1.3

$0.93

Feed salinity = 35000 mg/L TDS

$2.2

$2.00

$1.89

Assumptions:
Electrical power cost = A$0.14/kW.hr
Cost to desalinate water only does not include cost to deliver water to and from desalination plant
Operating cost assumes basic pre-filtration sufficient for purpose
Operating costs were calculated and averaged over the typical RO expected plant life

4.2.2.1 Influencing operating cost factors


Power
Electrical power consumption is usually the most significant of RO operating costs. Issues
affecting power consumption are:
Salinity of the feedwater Higher salinities requires higher pumping pressures and higher
feedwater flows. Power consumption increases accordingly (see Table 7).
Lower salinity = Lower power consumption
Pretreatment The higher the number of pretreatment stages, the more power is consumed.
This results from head loss that usually occurs during each pretreatment stage and the
associated pumping requirements.
Less pre-treatment = Lower power consumption
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Membrane selection Some membrane elements, particularly those designed for low
salinity applications, operate at lower pressures and therefore require less pumping
energy.
Optimise membrane type = Lower power consumption
Elevation Strategic location of pre-treatment components and/or the RO system itself, at
various points on a gradient, making use of a naturally available head, can reduce
pumping requirements and therefore power consumption.
In the design, take advantage of naturally available pressure, eg, gravity, elevation
Energy recovery systems could be used to reduce the overall power consumption of RO
systems. This is achieved by using the RO let-down energy to supplement the RO system
pump drive. Typically this is most effective on plants that operate at higher pressure and
lower recovery ratios as these conditions make the most energy available for recovery.
Reverse Osmosis systems require pressure to operate. The pressure is developed by
pumping the water that is to be desalinated through a pressure control valve which
constricts the flow. The RO membrane system is hydraulically located between the RO
system pump and the pressure control valve and is therefore subjected to the developed
pressure.
An energy recovery system substitutes a nozzle for the pressure control valve. The nozzle
is designed to provide the same pressure drop as the pressure control valve. The high
velocity stream at the discharge of the nozzle is directed to a turbine which is located on a
common shaft with the RO system pump. The turbine, which is driven by high velocity
water, thus inputs energy to the pump which in turn reduces the pumps electrical energy
demand. The Nozzle-Turbine package is referred to as an Energy Recovery System.
Typically, installation of an energy recovery system on a seawater desalination plant can
add 30% to the capital cost but can reduce power consumption by up to 50%.
Membrane element replacement
Although RO membrane elements generally should not be considered a consumable item,
they do have a finite life span. This life span has a significant impact on operating cost.
The expected operating life of RO membrane elements is 2-5 years, hence the annual
operating cost, associated with membrane element replacement could be in the thousands
to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on plant capacity. Clearly, maximising
membrane element life is essential to the overall management of operating cost.
Furthermore, a feedwater with a high fouling or scaling potential, and where inappropriate
pre-treatment is employed will result in reduced membrane element life. Most commonly
found scalants and foulants are, to some degree removable by cleaning, however there is
always a proportion that remains on the element and accumulates over time.
Accumulation of foulants/scalants reduces the permeability of the membrane elements
and reduces the overall system product water flow rate.
Low fouling/scaling feedwater = Low membrane replacement cost

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Chemical usage
Most reverse osmosis systems make use of chemicals in order to:
- Pre-treat the feedwater;
- Clean the membrane elements; and
- Sanitise the membrane elements.
Antiscalants/dispersants are dosed in the RO system to pretreat the feedwater in order to:
- inhibit the formation of scale on the RO membrane elements; and
- inhibit the build up of NOM (natural organic matter) on the RO membrane elements.
These chemicals have significant impact on operating cost.
Optimise chemical usage for a specific application, in order to reduce operating costs
Cartridge pre-filters
Cartridge filter replacement influences not only its own cost but membrane element life
and therefore membrane replacement cost. Their primary purpose is to polish the
feedwater prior to the RO membranes. Usually, the optimal cartridge type is one that
provides the lowest particle size cut-off whilst maintaining good dirt holding capacity.
Here again, it is essential to try different types of filters as each has advantages in different
applications. The most appropriate selection method is to take TSS measurements before
and after the filters and to measure the rate of pressure differential increase. Weighing
filters when new and when at maximum differential pressure can indicate maximum dirt
holding capacity.
Maintenance
Correct and timely maintenance of RO systems is essential. A good maintenance regime
assists the management of the cost associated with insufficient water production.
Maintenance involves the chemical cleaning of membrane elements mentioned above,
recalibration of dosing pumps, recalibrating of instruments, checking vibration or wear in
rotating equipment and making adjustments to compensate for feedwater variability.
This ultimately reduces membrane replacement cost, optimises chemical usage and
ensures consistent water production.
Cost of feedwater
Due consideration must also be given to the cost to deliver the feedwater to the RO plant.
Costs may include:
- Establishment of bores;
- Installation, operation and control of transfer pumps;
- Civil works such as pipelines, transfer stations; and
- Maintenance of equipment.

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4.3 MED systems comparative cost analysis


4.3.1 Capital cost analysis
Table 8: MED capital cost by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$)
Product water flow rate

300 kL/day

1000 kL/day

Feed salinity = 10,000 mg/L TDS

$960,000

$2,500,000

Feed salinity = 35,000 mg/L TDS

$1,080,000

$2,800,000

Feed salinity = 60,000 mg/L TDS

$1,155,000

$3,000,000

Assumptions:
Electrical power supply available
Basic Pre-filtration included
Costs quoted are for plant only ie no civil works, external tanks, pipe work

4.3.1.1 Influencing capital cost factors


Feedwater source
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) The salinity of the feedwater does have an increasing
impact on the capital cost for MED plants, however this impact is not as significant as for
RO systems. For RO plants, this impact is due to increased pumping requirements with
increasing feedwater TDS, hence larger equipment sizing. For MED plants, higher
feedwater TDS requires more exotic corrosion resistant materials to be used in the plant.
It is this materials infrastructure costing which inevitably has the most significant impact.
Feedwater TDS is used as a basis in Table 8 to provide a capital costing comparison of
MED systems operating with feedwaters at different concentrations. Table 8 demonstrates
the impact that increasing feed TDS has on the plant capital expenditure required,
however when compared to Table 6 (RO capital expenditure analysis), the incremental
increase with feed TDS is not as significant. This is primarily due to the nature of the two
methods, as described above. The capital costs of thermal processes are generally
insensitive to increases in feed TDS.
The rule here is: All other things being equal, decreasing feedwater TDS equals
decreasing capital cost, however the impact of this is not as significant for MED as it is
for RO
Feedwater chemistry and recovery ratio In general, similar recovery ratios can be achieved
for MED plants at varying feedwater salinities. Hence for a given product water flowrate,
the feedwater flowrates required to achieve a specified plant recovery are effectively
independent of the feedwater salinity. Overall product water recoveries can be increased
by adding additional effects to the MED plant, however this results in increasing capital
costs.
The rule here is: Increasing plant product water recoveries equals increasing capital
cost
Total Suspended Solids (TSS) & turbidity in the feed Whilst it is important to remove
suspended solids from the feedwater prior to an MED system, it is not as critical for MED
as it is for an RO system. Low flow rate filters followed by cartridge filters are sufficient.
High levels of suspended solids or turbidity may require multiple pretreatment steps
increasing capital cost.
The rule here is: All other things being equal, decreasing feedwater TSS equals
decreasing capital cost
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Product water specification


As MED is a distillation process, the product water is very pure regardless of the feed
salinity. This does provide scope to blend some feed with the product water to reduce the
overall size of the plant. This practice is only effective when the feed salinity is less than
10,000 mg/L.
The rule here is: The ability to accept lower quality permeate will reduce capital cost
4.3.2 Operating cost analysis
Table 9: MED operating costs by feedwater salinity and product flow rate
(A$/kL)
Product water flow rate

300 kL/day

1000 kL/day

With waste
heat

No waste
heat

With waste
heat

No waste
heat

Feed salinity = 10,000 mg/L TDS

$0.85

$2.60

$0.55

$1.80

Feed salinity = 35,000 mg/L TDS

$0.90

$2.70

$0.60

$2.00

Feed salinity = 60,000 mg/L TDS

$0.95

$2.80

$0.65

$2.20

Assumptions:
Electrical power cost = A$0.14/kW.hr
Cost to desalinate water only does not include cost to deliver water to and from desalination plant
Operating cost assumes basic pre-filtration sufficient for purpose
Operating costs were calculated and averaged over the typical RO expected plant life

4.3.2.1 Influencing operating cost factors


Electrical energy and waste heat
Table 9 demonstrates the significance of the availability of waste heat to MED operating
costs. Although MED will always utilise electrical energy (low pressure pumping,
instrumentation, etc), the main energy requirement is that which heats the water and
facilitates the distillation. If this can be obtained from a waste heat source, the operating
costs are reduced dramatically.
The rule here is: The availability of waste heat dramatically reduces operating costs
Chemical usage
MED systems make use of chemicals in order to pre-treat the feedwater. These are
typically Antiscalants/Dispersants which are dosed into the feedwater stream in order to
inhibit the formation of scale within the MED. These chemicals have significant impact
on operating cost and their use needs to be optimised, for a specific application, in order
to reduce operating costs.
Filters
Cartridge filter replacement, influences not only its own cost but the ongoing
maintenance cost of the MED system. Ultimately, the build-up of suspended solids inside
the MED will affect the plant performance requiring extensive maintenance. Usually, the
optimal cartridge type is one that provides the lowest particle size cut-off whilst
maintaining good dirt holding capacity.

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Here again, it is essential to try different types of filters as each has advantages in different
applications. The most appropriate selection method is to take TSS measurements before
and after the filters and to measure the rate of pressure differential increase.
Maintenance
Correct and timely maintenance of MED is essential. A good maintenance regime assists
the management of the cost associated with insufficient water production. Maintenance
recalibration of dosing pumps, recalibrating of instruments, checking vibration or wear in
rotating equipment and making adjustments to compensate for any feedwater variability
or scaling of the heat exchanger surfaces. This ultimately optimises chemical usage and
ensures consistent water production.
Cost of feedwater
Due consideration must also be given to the cost to deliver the feedwater to the MED
plant. Costs may include:
- Establishment of bores or seawater inlet;
- Installation, operation and control of transfer pumps;
- Civil works such as pipelines, transfer stations; and
- Maintenance of equipment.

4.4 EDR systems comparative cost analysis


4.4.1 Capital cost analysis
Table 10: EDR capital cost by feedwater salinity and product flow rate (A$)
Product water flow rate

250 kL/day

1750 kL/day

Feed salinity = 1000 mg/L TDS

$210,000

$1,000,000

Feed salinity = 3000 mg/L TDS

$450,000

$2,000,000

Feed salinity = 12000 mg/L TDS

$800,000

$3,500,000

Assumptions:
Electrical power supply available
Basic Pre-filtration included
Costs quoted are for plant only i.e. no civil works, external tanks, pipe work

4.4.1.1 Influencing cost factors


Feedwater source
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Similar to RO, the feedwater salinity has a significant effect
on capital cost. For a given product water salinity, increased feed salinity requires
additional EDR cells.
The rule here is: All other things being equal, decreasing feedwater TDS equals
decreasing capital cost
Feedwater chemistry & recovery ratio Under normal circumstances EDR units operate at
recovery ratios of between 40-50%. Higher recoveries are possible but require detailed

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feedwater specific engineering. The ability of the feedwater to form scale has an affect on
the recovery ratio but due to the EDR mode of operation, it is less significant than for RO.
The rule here is: Ability to accept 40-50% recovery will minimise capital cost
Total Suspended Solids (TSS) & turbidity in the EDR feed In a similar fashion to RO, the
feedwater to EDR must be filtered to a high degree in order to inhibit fouling of the EDR
membrane. The higher the TSS or turbidity in the feed, the more pre treatment equipment
is required. Each additional pre treatment stage increases capital cost.
The rule here is: All other things being equal, decreasing feedwater TSS equals
decreasing capital cost
Product water specification
EDR capital cost is extremely sensitive to product water salinity specification, as the
higher the permeate water quality required, the greater the number of membrane stacks
required in order to ensure the quality requirements are met.
The rule here is: The ability to accept lower quality permeate will reduce capital cost
4.4.2 Operating cost analysis
Table 11: EDR operating costs by feedwater salinity and product flow rate
(A$/kL)
Product water flow rate

250 kL/day

1750 kL/day

Feed salinity = 1000 mg/L TDS

$1.30

$1.00

Feed salinity = 3000 mg/L TDS

$1.50

$1.10

Feed salinity = 12000 mg/L TDS

$2.80

$2.15

4.4.2.1 Influencing operating cost factors


Power
The electrical power requirements are related to the salinity of the feedwater. When the
salinity of the feedwater increases the voltage required increases to maintain the product
quality.
Membrane element replacement
Similar to RO systems, EDR requires the replacement of Membranes. Foulants and
scalants in the feedwater, the salinity of the feedwater and the frequency of cleaning all
affect the membrane life.
Chemical usage
EDR systems make use of chemicals in order to:
- Pre-treat the feedwater; and
- Clean the membrane elements.

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Antiscalants/dispersants are dosed in the EDR system to pretreat the feedwater in order to:
- inhibit the formation of scale in the membrane elements; and
- inhibit the build up of NOM (natural organic matter) in membrane elements.
These chemicals have significant impact on operating cost and their use needs to be
optimised, for a specific application, in order to reduce operating costs.
Cartridge pre-filters
Cartridge filter replacement influences not only its own cost but membrane element life
and therefore membrane replacement cost. Their primary purpose is to polish the
feedwater prior to the EDR. Usually, the optimal cartridge type is one that provides the
lowest particle size cut-off whilst maintaining good dirt holding capacity.
Here again, it is essential to try different types of filters as each has advantages in different
applications. The most appropriate selection method is to take TSS measurements before
and after the filters and to measure the rate of pressure differential increase. Weighing
filters when new and when at maximum differential pressure can indicate maximum dirt
holding capacity.
Maintenance
Correct and timely maintenance of EDR systems is essential. A good maintenance regime
assists the management of the cost associated with insufficient water production.
Maintenance involves the chemical cleaning of membrane elements mentioned above,
recalibration of dosing pumps, recalibrating of instruments, checking vibration or wear in
rotating equipment and making adjustments to compensate for feedwater variability.
This ultimately reduces membrane replacement cost, optimises chemical usage and
ensures consistent water production.
Cost of feedwater
Due consideration must also be given to the cost to deliver the feedwater to the EDR
plant. Costs may include:
- establishment of bores;
- installation, operation and control of transfer pumps;
- civil works such as pipelines, transfer stations; and
- maintenance of equipment.

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5 Factors affecting technology selection


Apart from the issues discussed throughout Chapter 4, there are many other factors to
consider that could influence the cost and selection of a desalination technology. Winter
(2001) lists the following:

Performance ratio - this is the ratio of freshwater to the amount of energy consumed,
either steam or heat. In countries with low fuel costs, a low performance ratio is
relatively acceptable, whereas in countries with higher fuel costs, a high performance
ratio is required.

Plant life - the amortisation period, determined by the plant life, affects the capital
costs and also the selection of the performance ratio.

Plant costs - the actual cost of desalting equipment may vary significantly between
different processes and manufacturers. The technical specifications of the plant and
capacity of equipment supply can increase the costs of freshwater production.

Interest rates - this affects the capital costs, performance ratio, total investment and
the selection of the preferred plant.

Site costs - land costs are a major determinant of the location preference. The cost of
transporting water to its demand point is essential to consider. If the produced water
must be transported over long distances to its consumption point this effectively
increases the unit cost of desalted water.

Seawater intake and outflow - larger distances between the feedwater source and
plant, or brine disposal point and plant can increase capital costs.

Feedwater quality - the composition and salinity of the feedwater can affect the type
of distillation process, extent of pretreatment required, and ultimately the final
freshwater cost.

Freshwater quality required - this has a small effect, but it can alter the number of
stages in desalination processes. The required quality will vary from location to
location, due to customer preferences and industry uses.

Energy sources - this is a major component of operating and maintenance costs.


Desalted water costs are sensitive to changing energy prices, therefore cheaper energy
sources are very important.

Pretreatment - this differs between processes and can influence the relative
economics. Pretreatment increases the cost of desalted water, particularly with RO.

Chemical costs - the availability and price of locally manufactured chemicals can
affect the maintenance costs, for example pretreatment or post-treatment.

Plant load factor - this is the total production for the year as a percentage of the rated
capacity. It provides a measure of the overall utilisation of the plant. Increasing the
load factor decreases the cost of water per unit output.

Availability of skilled labour - the availability of local labour affects the cost of the
plant. If local labour is unavailable it may need to be imported and thus, the cost of
plant operations and freshwater will increase.

Disposal of reject brine - brine disposal adds to the freshwater cost, as it must be
treated in many cases. For coastal plants, the brine is commonly discharged into the
sea and for inland brine, disposal may be in the form of a stream, salt ponds or
impounding underground.
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Storage and distribution of final freshwater - these add to the capital costs, as
pumping is required for delivering the freshwater to storage or consumers.

Plant capacity - for all types of processes the cost of desalting water generally
decreases with increasing plant capacity, due to capital, labour and maintenance
charges being distributed over a larger capacity. This is referred to as economies of
size.

Also worth special consideration is:

Location - if the plant is to be remotely located, the technology should be robust and
as maintenance free as possible. In this case, the lowest energy requirement may not
necessarily be the most significant factor.

Some of the more important factors are discussed in the following section. When several
alternative desalination technologies are appropriate for a specific case, the following
criteria should be considered:

Commercial maturity of the technology. This is validated by examining the


performance of similar existing installations.

Availability and cost of local support. These include Service Technicians, Operators,
etc.

Simplicity of operation and maintenance of the system.

5.1 Main factors affecting the cost of desalination


5.1.1 Energy source
All desalination technologies require some energy input to facilitate the separation of low
salinity product water from saline feedwater. The form of energy available, the associated
cost and the environmental constraints related to the energy source, will all play a major
role in the desalination technology selection.
5.1.1.1 Electrical energy
All desalination processes use electrical energy. Processes such as RO, EDR and VC, use
electrical power as the primary source of energy, for both the desalination process and to
drive ancillary equipment such as transfer pumps. Whilst distillation processes such as
MED and MSF use electricity as the secondary source of energy, to drive recirculation
and transfer pumps only.
In Australia the cost of electricity varies from state to state. Listed below is the indicative
average range throughout Australia.
Electricity:

(variable per State) A$ 0.12 0.17/kWh

5.1.1.2 Thermal energy


Most distillation desalination processes, apart from VC and solar stills, use thermal energy
exclusively in the form of steam as the primary source of energy. Thermal energy may
originate from a number of different sources, and is typically associated with waste heat
streams at existing plant sites, such as gas turbines, heated industrial processes, solid
waste incinerators, and other industrial waste heat sources.

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In Australia the cost of steam and gas varies from state to state. Listed below is the
indicative average range throughout Australia which should be corrected according to the
state in which the plant will be installed.
Gas:
Steam:

(variable per State) A$ 0.04 0.06 /kWh


(variable per State) A$ 0.08 0.11 /kWh

5.1.1.3 Renewable energy


Renewable energy sources to provide heat or electrical energy can be used to power
desalination plants (both RO and distillation) or to augment the use of traditional sources
of energy. Section 3.4.1 provides details on solar and wind power.
5.1.1.4 Geothermal brines
Drilling of artesian bores to locate warm water (approximately 80C), can provide an
energy source for a thermal desalination scheme. In addition, using naturally warm
feedwater can reduce the costs associated with thermal desalination techniques.
5.1.1.5 Bio-energy
Bio-energy (energy produced from the break down of organic matter, eg, green waste,
municipal solid waste, etc.) is a potential source of energy that may be utilised to power
desalination plants.
In order to maintain a high level of energy supply throughout the year, a substantial
volume and reliable supply of biomass is required. This requirement, and the cost of
implementing the energy recovery technology, could be prohibitive to the undertaking of
bio-energy production in areas outside of large metropolitan centres or where there are no
commercial or industrial activities producing significant quantities of organic waste
byproducts. Smaller scale facilities are feasible but often at a higher unit cost. Bio-energy
technology has been in use for some time in Europe and in North America, primarily due
to the high cost of waste disposal, population density and regulatory requirements.
Currently this form of energy production is limited but increasing within Australia.
5.1.2 Feedwater source
The feedwater source is significant in the choice of the desalination technology selected.
The most common feedwater sources are:

seawater;

brackish water;

saline bores; or

effluent.

In almost all instances where a distillation desalination process is chosen, seawater is the
feed source. Whilst RO can also be used for seawater applications, and is often the
application of choice for seawater feeds when waste heat sources are not available, it
generally is more commonly used for desalinating brackish feed sources, and also for
effluent reuse.

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Effluent (or waste) water reuse plants, with RO as part of the treatment process, have been
used worldwide for more than 20 years. For effluent water to be a suitable source for
desalination, there must be little variation in its chemical and physical composition, flow
rate, temperature, etc. However, with the advent of improved filtration methods such as
Microfiltration and Nanofiltration technologies, the range of variation within with
desalination is possible has increased and desalination has now become a financially
viable means to treat and reuse wastewater.
For the purposes of this study, given the focus on the NAP regions of Australia,
groundwater aquifers will be the likely source of feedwater for desalination.
5.1.2.1 Location
The location of the feed water source dictates the viability of a desalination plant with
reference to the following:

Remoteness the cost of transporting water to and from, the cost of power
transmission and infrastructure may detract from viability; and

Environmental constraints the location of the source may dictate that certain
environmental constraints would be imposed, for example: noise, brine disposal,
groundwater flow system and aquifer yield, disturbance to marine life, seafloor
ecology etc which could detract from viability of the project.

The further away the feedwater is from the desalination plant, the higher the construction
and operating costs associated with the plant.
5.1.2.2 Feedwater quantity
The quantity yield of the source, total delivery capacity of the source, and the capability to
extract an economically justified quantity of feedwater are all important factors in
assessing the viability of a desalination plant and the particular technology to be applied.
This issue is especially relevant given the NAP context of this report and the underlying
groundwater flow systems. Those regions with intermediate or regional groundwater flow
systems are most likely to contain aquifers with suitably large flow rates to support
desalination plant requirements (NDSP, 2001; pers. comm., G. Walker).
5.1.2.3 Feedwater quality
The quality of the feedwater will heavily dictate the desalination technology selected. In
general, distillation technologies tend to be more flexible than membrane based
technologies with feedwaters that have high quality fluctuations. Furthermore, feedwater
quality which requires extensive pretreatment will have a significant impact on the
viability of a desalination plant. Generally speaking distillation processes require less
rigorous pretreatment requirements than membrane based processes.
The key water quality parameters in the design of the pretreatment and main process
systems of a desalination plant are:

salinity (TDS);

turbidity;

organic content;

pH; and

concentrations of scale forming salts and non-ionic fouling species.


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The salinity of the feedwater is a major factor in the selection of the appropriate
desalination technology. There is generally a direct relationship between salinity and
capital/operating costs for membrane based processes, as discussed in detail in Section 4.2
& 4.4. However for distillation processes this relationship isnt as evident.
The turbidity and organic content are generally a key concern with surface water and
seawater feed sources, and can cause significant problems in membrane processes with
membrane clogging without adequate pretreatment being put in place.
The pH of the feedwater is important in distillation processes in terms of potential
pipework and pump corrosion, and is of concern with membrane based processes when
sub-optimum pH feed conditions exist as this may potentially reduce membrane life.
The main scale-forming species of concern in desalination plants are calcium (Ca2+),
manganese (Mn2+), bicarbonate (HCO3-), sulphate (SO42-), ferrous ion (Fe2=), and silica
(SiO2). The concentrations of barium (Ba2+) and strontium (Sr2+) are also potentially of
concern, however they are typically not present in sufficiently high concentrations in
Australian feed sources to cause significant problems with the precipitation of Ba or Sr
sulphate salts.
Only minor variations in the feedwater chemical constituents mentioned above are
necessary to create significant fouling and operational problems that can increase
pretreatment costs and potentially cause major problems in concentrate disposal
requirements. It is therefore important to ensure that feedwater sources are carefully
assessed.
The issues of fouling and scaling of RO membranes are dependant on the complex
interrelationships between feedwater pH, level and type of organic present, level and type
of inorganics present, RO system recovery ratio and RO membrane element configuration.
As all of these parameters are variable and interrelated, there can be no one rule for
constituting what is a "high" or "low" or "acceptable" limit for each parameter. When
predicting the potential for RO systems to foul or scale all of these parameters must be
considered both individually and in combination with the other parameters.
5.1.2.4 Pre-treatment & post-treatment needs
Pretreatment design is crucial to the successful operation of desalination systems.
Pretreatment requirements for large seawater desalination plants, be it either distillation or
RO, will typically comprise of trash-racks, band-screens and filtration units.
For RO systems, the filtration requirements tend to be media type filters with a filtration
down to 10-50 micron, followed by cartridge filters with a filtration typically down to 1-5
microns. Filtration systems for distillation plants tend not to be as rigorous, with filtration
systems down to 80 micron being normally acceptable.
Chemical conditioning of the feedwater for scale prevention is also required for both RO
and distillation processes, but the requirements tend to be much more extensive for RO
systems.
The two important considerations therefore for pretreatment of desalination plants are
filtration requirements and ensuring scale prevention.
Post treatment chlorination, UV disinfection and pH adjustment processes may also need
to be considered, depending on the final product water end use requirements.

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5.1.3 Land availability


Generally desalination plants do not require large areas of land for plant installation.
Ideally land should be located as close as possible to the feedwater source and the
necessary services in order to minimise costs. Large RO plants typically require a similar
footprint area as that required for distillation plants with the same production capacity. In
general, 0.5ha is needed for each 50 ML/day of production capacity. Naturally through
economies of scale, this figure reduces by a factor of approximately 0.9 for each 50
ML/day plant capacity.
The footprint area required for lower capacity distillation plants would generally be larger
than for the equivalent capacity RO plant for capacities less than 10 ML/day. Furthermore,
the plot may also need to be adjusted depending on the requirement for site storage
facilities, office and laboratory facilities etc.
5.1.4 Concentrate/brine disposal
The byproduct of all desalination processes is water highly concentrated in those elements
removed during the desalination process, called brine. This includes dissolved salts, but
also any chemical treatments that are used in desalination processes to control the
formation of mineral scale and biological growth.
Depending on its physical and chemical content, brine can sometimes be returned,
untreated or diluted, to its source of origin or a nearby water body (ie, outfall to sea or
surface water system, or injecting into a saline aquifer). These options are generally the
cheapest and easiest to implement, particularly if the desalination plant is located near the
sea. Pumping, construction of pipelines and/or bores, together with the operation and
maintenance costs of this infrastructure, are the only significant cost items.
For the purposes of this study, the majority of NAP regions are too distant from the coast
for ocean disposal to be a feasible option. In this case, the options for disposal are mainly
limited to evaporation, aquifer injection or surface water body release. Most RO
desalination plants in Australia use either deep aquifer injection or surface water
discharge of the brine (Water Corporation, 2000).
All the above mentioned methods can significantly add to the cost of the process, and thus
the method of disposal of the brine stream should be one of the first items investigated in
determining the feasibility of a proposed desalination plant (Mickley, n.d.; Squire et al,
1996). The cost of disposal of the brine stream for an inland desalination plant could be
significant, so much so as to adversely affect the economics of desalination making the
process unviable.
Environmental permits are usually required for brine disposal, particularly for discharge
into inland surface water bodies, and these permits are issued with very stringent
conditions. However, in some cases such as particularly environmentally sensitive areas,
State and Federal government environmental regulations and social expectations prevent
any disposal method, thereby significantly limiting the options and the overall feasibility
of the plant.
Alternate innovative methods of disposal of the brine stream have been developed in
recent times in order to manage our saline resources into a more effective economic
opportunity. These are discussed in Section 5.2.1.

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5.1.5 Environmental management factors


Primarily, the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of a desalination
plant would consist of:

clearing of land for the construction of the desalination plant;

creation of cleared easements for construction of waste water, ie brine concentrate,


pipeline and outfall facilities;

the environmental effects of any seawater intake; and

the environmental effects of the wastewater on its outfall location.

The first three of these impacts could result in some of the following more specific
environmental disturbances occurring:

disturbance of local vegetation and associated faunal habitat;

erosion;

noise & air emissions;

disturbance to dune, surf zone and seafloor ecology; and

disturbance to marine life and to other land species.

Significant construction impacts may also occur if power transmission lines or


distribution facilities such as seawater intakes, product water distribution, or waste water
disposal facilities are required to be built. Adverse impacts on natural marine and
terrestrial habitats are possible in which case special consideration and early planning will
be required to ensure minimal impact occurs.
There are a number of potential mitigation measures which can be utilised to ensure
minimal environmental impact of the desalination plant. These include:

ensure the minimisation of the numbers and lengths of pipelines and power
transmission lines;

ensure site pipeline routes are such that minimum impact to sensitive areas occurs;

ensure plants are located where existing intake or outfall structures may be used, or
ensure the size of any new seawater intake and outfall structures are minimised; and

ensure commonly required mitigation measures for construction activities are


incorporated during construction, eg construction schedules that minimise impact on
any public access and recreation, noise buffers, limited construction zones etc.

5.2 Opportunistic production and other offsetting benefits


5.2.1 Concentrate/brine disposal and value adding
Following on from the description of concentrate/brine disposal in Section 5.1.4, this
section examines the potential to add value to this resource as a means of offsetting the
cost of operating a desalination plant.
Given the high cost of building and operating desalination plants, brine water is often
viewed as an asset, that when exploited, is able to reduce the net cost of providing fresh
water. Brine water value adding enterprises are now accepted as an effective means to
reduce the overall cost of providing fresh water while meeting environmental performance
standards. The following dot points provide some examples. Individual case studies can
be sourced from the Options for the Productive Use of Salinity (OPUS) database at
http://www.ndsp.gov.au/opus/menu.htm
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Salt harvesting
The salts and other minerals that can be extracted via mechanical means or via
crystalisation in evaporation basins are increasingly being harvested as a high value
product for agricultural, industrial and domestic uses. Australia is the sixth largest
producer of salt from solar evaporation (Dept. of Resource Development, 1999). For
example, the Pyramid Salt Company in northern Victoria harvests salt evaporated from
saline ground water. The product is sold for purposes including stock feed, medical, and
chemical uses. Ultra pure salt, a product currently imported into Australia, is also
produced on site.
SAL-PROCTM is an integrated solar and mechanical example of value adding to waste
streams via the sequential extraction of dissolved elements from inorganic saline waters.
The process involves multiple evaporation and/or cooling, supplemented by mineral and
chemical processing.
Valuable minerals such as magnesium hydroxide, gypsum, and calcium chloride can be
extracted from ground water reserves as well as traditional salt (sodium chloride). These
substances can be used in products including wallboard, soil conditioners, waste water
treatments and chemical applications. Epsomite (epsom salts) a product used medicinally
as a purgative, in leather tanning, and as a filler in cotton goods.
There are significant capital costs associated with setting up salt harvesting schemes
including the cost of constructing appropriately lined evaporation ponds. At the Pyramid
Salt operation in Victoria, each one hectare pond cost in the order of $20,000 to construct
(pers. comm., G. Privett). Ongoing operational and maintenance costs including labour
and equipment used for salt harvesting, cleaning and packaging etc are also required.
It is also generally necessary for the salt harvesting operation to be medium to large scale
to be profitable (ibid.). However, smaller-scale ventures may successfully cater to smaller,
niche markets. As ground water varies in composition from site to site, the salts that can
be extracted from it will also vary. The demand for each of these will also differ. In some
cases it may be necessary to adjust the chemical composition of water in evaporation
ponds or mechanical processes to produce the desired mineral extract.
Currently, good quality salt can be sold for between $25 and $250/tonne depending on
purity and composition (pers. comm., C. Fisher).
Irrigation
With some modifications to irrigation practices and/or with dilution, saline water has been
shown to be effective for irrigating particular horticultural crops. Near Quorn in South
Australia, crops such as olives, almonds, and pistachios have been produced for over
twenty years whilst under irrigation with saline (4,500 mg/L TDS) bore water (ABC
Landline, n.d.).
Aquaculture
Prior to evaporation or other means of disposal, adding value to the waste stream via
saline aquaculture is possible. By doing this, the proceeds from aquaculture can
potentially off-set the cost of running a desalination plant. Markets exist for a variety of
aquaculture products that can be grown in saline water.
For example, in addition to harvesting salt, the Pyramid Salt company produces brine
shrimp. The shrimp are grown in saline water within the evaporation ponds. Whilst there,
they act as a biological filter, thus enhancing the quality of salt retrieved from the site
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(pers. comm., G. Privett). Markets for brine shrimp exist in the fish food industry and can
also be fed to fish that may be grown simultaneously in other ponds on site. Currently the
potential Australian and overseas demand for this product is 260 tonne/year (pers. comm.,
C. Fisher).
At an experimental project site in Tailem Bend South Australia, different species of
marine fish are being trialed for their suitability to the production techniques using saline
ground water. Initial results have proved successful (pers. comm., G. Gates).
In conjunction with a private company, the Tailem Bend experimental project is also
growing algae from which natural beta carotene can be obtained. Beta carotene is
becoming increasingly popular as a dietary supplement. It also has other uses such as
giving colour to food products. Until this method of using algae to extract beta carotene
was developed, commercial quantities of beta carotene were made using synthetic
chemicals. Australia is one of few countries in the world where these algae can be
successfully cultivated.
Markets for many other varieties of fish grown via inland saline aquaculture exist such as
Snapper, Trout, Salmon, and Barramundi, and research is taking place to develop these.
At the Tailem Bend experimental project, oysters and seaweed will soon be trialed. With
further research, it may also be possible to use saline water algae as an energy source.
Associated costs with these types of schemes vary according to the size of the enterprise.
At the Tailem Bend site, tanks harbouring fish and brine shrimp are kept inside
polytunnels measuring 20m x 10m x 3.6m. Six tanks are stored within each tunnel, and
the initial cost of setting up the tanks is $6000 each. Some costs such as power use may
vary according to season. Power usage at the Tailem Bend experimental site is three times
more in winter than during summer, due to the requirement for heating water in ponds
where fish are growing.
Solar ponds
A solar pond is a body of saline water that collects and stores solar energy via a salinity
gradient in the depth of the water. Typically, a solar pond consists of three layers an
upper less saline, low density layer, a middle layer of increasing salinity, and a lower layer
of uniform high salinity and high density.
The high salt content of the lowest level makes it denser than the others, trapping the
water and preventing the heat it has gained from the suns solar radiation from rising and
dissipating via convection to the atmosphere. Although all layers store some heat from the
sun, the bottom layer stores the most, warming to temperatures of up to 100oC (NDSP,
2001). The hot saline water can then be used to provide consumers with heat (ie, hot
water, steam) or electricity for a wide variety of uses.
Israel is the leading country in the field of solar pond technology having reportedly
invested nearly US$20 million in the industry between 1975 and 1985 alone (NDSP,
2001). In Australia there are a number of small-scale experimental solar ponds, but none
that are operating on a commercial basis. The most recent example is at the Pyramid Hill
commercial salt harvesting facility in Victoria where it forms part of the salt
harvesting/desalination plant brine disposal strategy and aquaculture value-adding
enterprise (pers. comm., G. Privett).
Solar ponds are constructed using large earth moving equipment, are clay lined to prevent
groundwater accessions, and/or lined with specialised plastic membrane and the bottom
insulated to prevent heat loss. Federal government funding of up to $550,000 underpins
the Pyramid Hill pilot project.
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A 100 hectare solar pond is reported to be able to produce electricity at a rate of


approximately $0.30/kWh (NDSP, 2001; PIRSA, 2000). This is more than double the
average cost of electricity from mains sources across Australia (see Section 5.1.1), but
approximately equal to the cost of diesel generated power or photovoltaic technology
(NDSP, 2001). The Pyramid Hill project reports that it can produce project heat for a wide
range of applications at an average cost of about $10/GJ (or $0.04/kWh) or two thirds the
cost of LPG or fuel oil in rural areas (OPUS database). This suggests that further research
into solar ponds, at least as a source of electricity in remote areas, is warranted and
commercial development is a possibility.
Integrated value-adding and disposal
The greater the number of waste stream value adding enterprises that can be performed,
the greater the chance of at least partially offsetting the costs associated with groundwater
pumping for desalination.
CSIRO Scientists claim that rising salinity can be turned to profit with a system for
controlling drainage so that salt is never allowed to concentrate in the root zone. The
scheme, trialed with sewage from the Griffith region NSW, over 4 years, is based on
using and reusing drainage wastewater. Each step concentrates the salt by a factor of three
in a separate "cell". The first cell contains the least saline water and grows vines and
lucerne fodder crops, the second barley and other fodder crops, the third salt tolerant crops
like dates or saltbush, and the final cell will farm saltwater fish and crustaceans. The most
saline water is then passed through a solar pond to produce electricity. The final products
are evaporated solar salts.
A further example is under way near Tailem Bend in South Australia where the Coorong
Districts Council and local landcare groups have jointly initiated the Bedford Ground
Water Interception Project. The project has been funded by the Rural Industries Research
and Development Corporation to develop a multitude of ways of using saline water which
is being removed to lower the water table. Aside from salt harvesting, the project is
investigating the potential for the culture of seaweed (Artemia, Dunaliella salina (for bcarotene production)) and finfish production.
In northern Victoria, a system known as Serial Biological Control (SBC) uses a number of
options to manage a saline water resource. SBC is being trialed at Undera in the Goulburn
Irrigation District near Shepparton in Northern Victoria by the Institute of Sustainable
Irrigated Agriculture (now NRE Tatura).
In this system, ground water is pumped and used to irrigate a salt tolerant woodlot. The
trees use some of the water and whats left passes through the soil into a tile drain several
metres beneath the surface. As the salty water passes through the soil it takes with it more
salt. The salty water in the tile drain is piped to an evaporation basin housing caged
marine fish. As water evaporates salt concentration increases. The salty water is moved to
a second evaporation basin where salt levels increase even more. Eventually the salt water
will evaporate allowing harvesting of the crystallised salt. The system:

reduces ground water levels;

renovates salt affected land;

provides income from the woodlot (timber, fodder, oil species);

provides income from marine fish; and

provides income from the salt left behind in the second evaporation basin.

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Economic analysis performed as part of an award dissertation suggests that the SBC
system as a whole is profitable over a thirty year analysis period (De Vincentiis, 1999).
5.2.2 Production on reclaimed land
The production that occurs on land that was previously saline and non-productive can
offset the costs associated with pumping groundwater to reclaim that land. Indications are
that the integrated Pyramid Salt complex in Victoria (groundwater pumping, desalination,
salt harvesting, solar ponds, aquaculture) is at least breaking even financially and has
managed to drop the water table by six metres in a 5 km radius around the bore field (pers.
comm., G. Privett). This has led to the reclamation of previously saline land where now
salt sensitive vegetables can and have been grown successfully.
5.2.3 Salt credits
Reduced emissions in effluent water due to desalination prior to discharge could
conceivably generate benefits in the form of salt credits for those bodies responsible for
salt release. The market for salt credits and their value is currently undeveloped in
Australia but is likely to grow in the future, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin states.

5.3 Cost competitiveness


The cost competitiveness of desalination as a source of fresh water is based on a
comparison of its costs of operation with the tariffs charged for existing traditional forms
of supply. A fully specified economic analysis would consider the net cost of both forms
of supply that is, for desalination, the entire process including water sourcing and
delivery, brine disposal, offsetting benefits and costs, or external costs, and for traditional
mains supplies of water, the true non-subsidised cost of provision and allowance for
infrastructure depreciation. However, the scope of this study prevents such an approach as
discussed in Section 4.1.1.
Figure 8 illustrates the cost of piped water for residential purposes in South Australia and
Western Australia and compares this to the operational costs of the desalination options
described in Section 4 and summarised in Table 5.
The minimum costs shown for the desalination technologies relate to the larger capacity
plants desalinating lower-salinity feedwater, while the upper range of costs relate to the
opposite scenario. It should be noted that MED desalination with waste heat is likely to be
a realistic option in very few instances, given the small number of industrial centres in
NAP regions that contain the industrial processes needed to provide waste heat.
The equivalent operating costs for alternative desalination processes (such as renewable
energy powered desalination plants) are certainly greater than those for traditional forms
but could not be accurately quantified due to the limited number of commercialised
operational examples where this technology has been applied in Australia.
The range of prices illustrated for mains water reflect the differing tariffs charged by
water utilities for particular quantities of water used by consumers. For example, in SA
rural and urban areas there is a two part tariff charged either side of 125kL of water used
per year - $0.38/kL for the first 125kL and $0.98 for all usage thereafter. It should be
noted that the average yearly usage of water by the vast majority of residential users is
such that they would be paying at or only slightly above the lower-usage tariff.

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Figure 8: Cost comparison of desalinated and piped fresh water

MED (w ithout heat)


EDR
RO
MED (w ith heat)

WA all users
SA railw ay tow n users
SA rural & urban users
0

0.5

1.5

2.5

Price ($/kL)

SA railway towns include Terowie, Yunta, Mana Hill, Olary, Oodlawirra, Cockburn. Users must pay for connection pipe to system

Figure 8 illustrates that the least expensive forms of RO desalination are the most cost
competitive with traditional mains water supplies, but only in those instances where users
are already paying a yearly average of approximately $0.60/kL for their mains water. The
least expensive RO plants are those that are desalinating low salinity feedwaters at
reasonably large quantities (50kL/day or enough for all daily uses of 250 people). In a
more realistic NAP setting, groups of approximately 25 or more people (communities or a
collection of houses in a small town) would typically require a quantity of water (5kL and
up) able to be supplied by RO or EDR at a minimum of $1.00 making it an unattractive
option in comparison to mains water for all but the most remote rural water users.
Note that the comparison in Figure 8 contains elements of bias. Firstly, The costs for
desalination are potentially significantly undervalued as they purely relate to desalination
plant operation and do not include allowance for the costs of water delivery, brine
disposal, capital amortisation and all other non-operational costs. Even with this bias,
Figure 8 shows that traditional mains sources of fresh water are more affordable for the
great majority of water users.
However, the prices listed for mains water do not include supply charges and it is highly
likely that the true cost of providing mains water, particularly for remote and rural users,
is not being charged. The true unsubsidised cost of providing water via mains would vary
between regions, however, in some instances it has been shown that existing prices would
have to double to cover the costs of provision and a return on capital (AATSE, 1999).
5.3.1 Improving the competitiveness of desalination
Closing the cost gap that exists between desalinated water and traditional forms of water
supply can be achieved via:

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1. Reductions in the cost of desalination:

Improvements in desalination technology; and

Reductions in the cost of energy or increased use of renewable energy.

2. Increases in the cost of water from traditional sources and the use of full cost
recovery pricing systems:
The cost of desalination technology, particularly for membrane technology has fallen
considerably over the last few decades (Buros, 2000). In particular, the energy
requirements of seawater RO plants have dropped over the last 40 years from 26.5
kWh/kL to 4.5 kWh/kL (Winter, 2001). This is a prime reason for the recent popularity of
RO compared to other processes.
As traditional forms of water supply become scarce and water markets develop, the price
charged for water is likely to rise. Until such a time that the price of water reflects its true
value, desalination as a source of drinking water will remain cost effective for only a
limited number of scenarios. The empirical evidence suggests that these limited scenarios
are more likely to occur in regions where traditional supplies of water via mains is not
available or highly expensive.
In the United States, the cost of desalinating brackish water is below that of delivering
fresh water by long distance pipeline (Buros, 2000). In Australia too, desalination has
been used to supply fresh drinking water where remote communitys water needs surpass
that which is locally available or where the cost of providing it via long pipelines would
be too costly.
In Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island SA, a recently commissioned RO plant supplements local
surface water supplies The plant cost AUS$3.5 million to construct (including associated
civil works). The cost of construction of the plant was less than the cost of building
infrastructure to link the township of Penneshaw to the mains water supply 60km away.
Historically farm dams were used for water supply in the area. Today these would be too
unreliable to sustain present day populations as well as too polluted (due to agricultural
activities in the surrounding areas).

5.4 Cost sharing


Pumping groundwater or intercepting salty surface water to specifically supply
desalination plants can benefit multiple stakeholders. Landholders can benefit from land
that has been remediated for productive use, or downstream water users from water with
lower salt loads. The environment and environmental custodians can benefit from
improvements to an unnaturally salty landscape. Residents, local and state governments
can benefit from the protection of high value capital assets (ie, buildings, infrastructure,
towns) by pumping saline groundwater.
The presence of multiple beneficiaries presents a possible case for sharing the costs of
constructing and/or operating a desalination plant. The most common principles
underpinning cost sharing agreements are (MDBC, 1996):
Users Pay those users of the resource (in this case, fresh water or desalinated land)
contribute to the cost of building and/or operating the desalination plant pay in proportion
to the extent of their usage.

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Beneficiaries Pay those parties who benefit from the desalination plant (including all
benefiting users, plus those who do not use the resource but benefit anyway, eg, future
generations, those who benefit from simply knowing the environment is being well
managed, etc) pay for the plant in proportion to the extent that they benefit.
Polluters Pay those individuals or organisation responsible for the salty land or water
that needs desalinating pay for the desalination plant in proportion to the extent that they
contributed to the damage.
The final cost sharing agreement is arrived at via negotiation after taking in to account
issues such as practicality, historical and moral obligations, and ability to pay. Some
examples already exist where cost sharing has occurred to finance desalination plants, the
best example being the giant Yuma Desalination plant in Arizona, USA. Here the
American government paid for the construction and ongoing operation of the plant which
desalinates water flowing down the Colorado and in to Mexico, the quality and quantity
levels of which previously did not meet the two countrys treaty signed in 1944. In this
case, the Polluters Pay principle has effectively been used as the basis for financing the
desalination plant.

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6 Dryland salinity
Salt is a natural occurrence in the Australian landscape. Over millions of years, sea level
movements have combined with the salt contained in rainfall to store considerable
quantities of salt in sub-soil horizons.
The extensive landuse changes brought about by European settlement in the last century
resulted in increased groundwater recharge due to the replacement of deep-rooted
perennial native vegetation with shallow-rooted cropping systems which use much less
water. Salts once stored deep in the landscape are now being mobilised via rising
groundwater to the land surface (dryland salinity) and in to rivers and streams (stream
salinity).
Some 2.5 million hectares of land have succumbed to dryland salinity of the past four
decades, and the water resources of regions as large as the Murray-Darling Basin show
evidence of an accelerating decline in quality as a result of salinity. Refer to NLWRA
(2001) for a detailed description of the status and trends of dryland salinity in Australia.
Groundwater pumping (possibly to supply water for desalination facilities) has the
potential to help manage the dryland salinity problem in Australia. Appropriate
management responses to the salinity threat require an understanding of the driving forces
that govern the passage of water from the point where it first enters the land (as
infiltrating rainfall) to the point where it discharges. The following sections add to the
introduction of groundwater processes in Section 2.2 and identifies the implications this
knowledge has for salinity management, in particular engineering options such as
groundwater pumping for desalination.

6.1 Groundwater Flow Systems (GFS)


6.1.1 Background and description
Despite the variation of geology and geomorphology across Australia, there are a number
of landscape types that have similar hydrogeological characteristics contributing to
dryland salinity. These characteristics include geology, landform and relief. Recognising
the importance of these factors and the way they combine with other variables to produce
dryland salinity, represents the current state of the art of understanding in dryland salinity
in Australia.
The National Classification of Catchments for Land and River Salinity Control (NCC),
initiated by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and
Land and Water Australia (LWA), sought to identify and classify specific regions of
Australia according to factors that influence the development of dryland salinity. Further
development of the NCC was carried out within the dryland salinity theme (Theme 2) of
the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA). This resulted in a new
Groundwater Flow Systems (GFS) framework for understanding salinity in Australia. The
national GFS approach recognises that dryland salinity is caused by saline groundwater
discharge the nature of which is heavily influenced by geological and geomorphic
characteristics of Australian landscapes. For a detailed explanation of the technical issues
behind GFS approach refer to Coram et al (1999) or alternatively the final report for
Theme 2 (dryland salinity) of the NLWRA (NLWRA, 2001).
At the most basic level, there are three major GFS types, defined according to scale. If a
salinity problem occurs through discharge from a groundwater system functioning entirely
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within a small catchment local to the affected area (say, three to five kilometres), then this
area is referred to as a local groundwater flow system. Local GFSs are characterised by:

low groundwater storage capacity and permeability; and

a potentially rapid response (i.e. 10 years) to increased intake of groundwater (changes


in the hydrologic balance).

These systems have the ability to respond quickly to salinity management and action can
be taken at a similarly localised scale, although every situation can exhibit different
characteristics and appropriate management responses.
In other systems, dryland salinity occurs through groundwater flow within aquifers that
transcend local catchment boundaries, and local land management activities within a
single catchment will be relatively ineffective at addressing the problem. Several subcatchments may share a groundwater system operating over 10-20 kilometres. Since these
systems do not comprise the entire region of a river basin, but operate at a scale larger
than subcatchments, they are referred to as intermediate groundwater flow systems.
Intermediate GFSs are characterised by:

moderate groundwater storage capacity and permeability; and

a slower response to changes in the hydrologic balance.

Dryland salinity (and its management) in intermediate GFSs typically occur within 50 to
100 years of hydrologic imbalance occurring.
Where salinity issues are associated with large groundwater aquifers operating on a
regional scale comparable with that of large sectors of river basins, or indeed major
groundwater basins, then the processes are said to be regional groundwater flow systems.
Regional GFSs typically range from 50 to several hundred kilometres in scale and are
characterised by:

high groundwater storage capacities and permeability; and

very slow response to changes in the hydrologic cycle (100 to 1000 years).

Figure 9 presents a map of Australia highlighting the three basic GFSs. When the
additional criteria of geological and geomorphological characteristics are included in the
classification process, a total of 12 GFSs can be identified. Appropriate salinity
management options for each GFS are best considered at this more detailed level of
definition.

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Figure 9: Basic Groundwater Flow Systems (GFS) of Australia

from Dryland Salinity in Australia, a summary of the National Land and Water Resources Audits Australian Dryland Salinity
Assessment 2000

6.1.2 Management implications


Effective salinity management options will differ for different parts of the landscape. The
type of groundwater flow system is one of the main determinants of the choice of salinity
management strategy whether it be reduced recharge from planting trees (biological
recharge reduction), engineering options for managing shallow water tables, or living
with salinity options such as saline agriculture.
The effectiveness of biological recharge reduction methods for salinity control is
dependent on both the level of recharge reduction required for sustainable groundwater
balance and the time lag that occurs before this balance is reached. As discussed in the
preceding section, the time lag for recharge reduction to impact upon a given area of
saline land is generally longer the larger the size and type of GFS underlying the
landscape. Where immediate results are required in larger GFSs, biological recharge
reduction may not be the best option.
In developing appropriate management strategies for dryland salinity, variations in the
responsiveness of landscapes are but one important consideration. There are other forms
of variation that also need to be considered, in particular the severity of the salinisation
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threat which can vary in magnitude from bare salt scalds to undetectable reductions in
vegetation growth rates.
Another important form of variation to be considered is whether or not valuable assets
such as water resources, built infrastructure, and ecologically important areas, are at risk
from salinisation processes. Where high values are at risk, strategies that are quicker to act
than biological control, such as groundwater pumping for desalination, may be
appropriate. The cost of financing any control strategy is another important factor to
consider.
With the knowledge gained from GFS about landscape responsiveness to change,
combined with information on the severity of the salinisation threat, the assets at risk and
the cost of potential management strategies, natural resource management decision
makers are able to prioritise the areas requiring most attention and the management
strategies most likely to succeed.
6.1.3 Engineering options
For the purposes of this study, a case for groundwater pumping (with or without
desalination) as a tool for dryland salinity management can be made in almost all 12 of
the detailed GFS classifications, particularly where the delay experienced in recharge
reduction methods is considered too great for the assets at risk of damage from salinity
(LWRRDC, 2001). The township of Merredin in the wheatbelt of Western Australia is
often quoted as an example of where groundwater pumping (partly used for desalination)
has been implemented as part of an overall strategy to lower groundwaters beneath the
town and prevent dryland salinity related problems.
Merredin Case Study
Merredin is a regional centre in Western Australia's eastern wheat belt. Rising watertables
and salinity have concerned the local community and authorities for at least 15 years.
Through the State's Rural Towns Program, the Merredin town site has become the subject
of detailed groundwater investigations. Recent test pumping results and computer
groundwater modelling suggest that lowering the watertable by pumping would be an
effective salinity control measure.
The rising saline watertable threatening the town site could be turned into a resource by
desalination for drinking water. This could then be used to supplement the town water
supplied from Mundaring Weir via the Kalgoorlie pipeline.
Modelling has shown that to protect the whole town, nine bores each producing 50kL/day
would be required to keep groundwater levels at a safe depth.
Watertables now 2.5 to 3.0m below ground would be lowered, effectively controlling
groundwater levels and salinity under about 15ha of the Merredin central business area.
Two recently installed production bores are being used to draw 100 kL/day of moderately
saline (20,000 mg/L TDS, or approximately half seawater quality) groundwater from
under the town. These have combined to reduce watertables levels to 7m up to 50m away
from the bores.
A twelve-month joint pilot project involving Agriculture Western Australia, the Water
Corporation and the Merredin Shire, and funded by the State Salinity Council's
Community Support Scheme 2000 has begun.

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Two hectares of evaporation ponds are to be located about 4 km west of the town centre
and will dispose of the water produced by the two bores. A desalination plant adjacent to
the evaporation ponds will produce potable water from 10% of the supply. This
desalinated water will supplement the town supply via a Water Corporation reservoir.
Discharge water from desalination will be returned to the evaporation basin. It should be
notes that the desalination plant is a trial and produces a quantity of water representing
only 0.4% of Merredins daily summer water demand.
Using some of the groundwater as it is pumped to the ponds reduces the volume for
disposal by evaporation. This provides considerable economic advantages in both
production of potable water and the reduction in size of the evaporation basin required.
The project is potentially a double winner - pumping groundwater will alleviate the
salinity risk, and will provide a source from which drinking quality water can be
produced. Supplementing the town water supply will enable residents to reduce their
dependency on water from the pipeline.
If successful, an expanded and longer-term scheme will be installed in Merredin to prove
its viability. Similar schemes may then be employed in other salt-affected towns in
Western Australia.
Most desalination technologies require a steady quantity of water supplied over a
reasonably long period of time for it to be technically and financially feasible. It is
generally the intermediate and regional GFS that have the high permeability and storage
characteristics necessary to generate this type of water supply. Surface water systems are
generally unsuitable as a water supply option for desalination plants given the seasonal
and yearly variability in flow rates and chemical and physical composition.
Even in cases where high value assets are at high risk of damage from salinity in a
regional or intermediate GFS, the high cost of constructing and operating engineering
options such as groundwater pumping for desalination often makes it a marginally
feasible strategy to implement. Options to reduce to net cost of desalination plants are
required and are discussed in Chapters 4 and 5.

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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
57

7 Desalination - Does it apply to you?


7.1 Decision tree
Using the information contained in the preceding chapters, a decision tree guide for
readers contemplating desalination plants has been prepared below (see Figure 10). The
desalination decision tree provides users with an indication as to whether desalination is
an appropriate salinity management tool and if so, the type of desalination technology/ies
that would best fit their circumstances.
7.1.1 Does desalination stack up as a tool for treating salinity problems?
With the recent improvements in our knowledge of salinity processes, in particular the
implications of groundwater flow systems (refer to Section 6), it is clear that a reliance on
recharge reduction methods of management will not be technically nor financially
feasible. Living with salt options are also inappropriate in particular circumstances
where high value natural and human built capital assets are at immediate risk. Engineering
management options are expensive but can provide an effective solution in certain
circumstances.
The efficacy of desalination as a dryland salinity management tool should be evaluated
against its technical ability to draw down and manage the watertable (LWRRDC, 2001).
This in turn is dependent on the conceptual mechanism of how the relevant groundwater
flow system underlying the salinised landscape contributes to dryland salinity. Readers are
directed to LWRRDC (2001) for a listing of circumstances where engineering options are
considered appropriate as a salinity management tool.
However, even where engineering options are considered technically feasible, the limited
availability of financial resources to manage salinity means not all engineering solutions
can be financed. The GFS approach has highlighted the great variability in the salinity
problem in Australia. Pannel (2002) summarises the range of variability in to four
categories:

the degree of the threat (i.e. imperceivable crop yield reductions to bare salt scalds);

the value of the assets under threat from salinity processes;

responsiveness to particular forms of management; and

cost of management.

In instances where the degree of the salinity threat is high, the values at risk are high, the
salinity problem is responsive to the type of management proposed, and the relative cost
of the chosen management is low, then these are the highest priority salinity problems for
funding.
This way of prioritising the management of salinity is incorporated in to the decision tree
and adapted for the management tool of desalination (groundwater pumping). Note that
the cost of management can only be known once the type of desalination technology has
been decided. This decision forms the second part of the decision tree and is discussed in
the following section.

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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
58

7.1.2 Does desalination stack up as an alternative to conventional forms of


supplying fresh water?
The discussion on the finances of desalination technologies and the comparison with
conventional forms of water supplies make it clear that desalinated water is currently only
cost effective in certain limited circumstances. These include:

Absence, and/or high cost of traditional forms of water supply;

Where the technology chosen for a particular circumstance can be designed and
operated at its optimum level (eg, availability of waste heat for distillation processes,
energy recovery systems, energy availability, suitable feedwater quality, straight
forward brine disposal, etc); and

Presence, and/or low cost of energy supplies.

These and other factors are incorporated in to the decision tree to determine the type of
desalination technology that best suits a particular scenario.
However, for desalination to be a realistic option for the supply of fresh water, we must
consider more than just the technology. There must obviously also be a demand for water
in the particular location being considered for a desalination plant that is greater than the
amount of water available or a demand for cheaper water than what is available. Adequate
labour supplies for plant operation and maintenance is another pre-requisite. Crucially, the
totals costs of supplying water must be at least roughly equivalent to alternative forms (if
there are any) of supplying water. This last factor can only be contemplated on a case by
case basis after the technology has been decided and all information is available and is
usually the last consideration.

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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National Action Plan Priority Regions

59

Desalination Technology Decision Tree

Figure 10: Desalination decision tree


START HERE FOR SALINITY MANAGEMENT & WATER SUPPLY
Magnitude of values
at risk?

Degree of salinity
threat?
HIGH
LOW

HIGH
LOW

Responsiveness to
desalination as a
management tool?

HIGH

START HERE FOR JUST WATER SUPPLY

Cost effectiveness of
desalination as a
management tool? HIGH

LOW

Is a higher quality/quantity
of fresh water required
than is currently
available?

LOW

NO

Rely on existing
supplies

YES
Not a priority
dryland salinity
issue

Is Synthetic Energy
Available?

Desalination not
the best mng.
tool

NO

Investigate
Renewable
Energy Sources

YES

Is Mains Energy
Available?

NO

Is Waste Heat
Available?

YES

Is Feed Water
TDS>10,000ppm?
NO

YES

NO

Is Feed Water
TDS<12,000ppm?

NO

Is Feed Water
TDS>44,000ppm?

BWRO
NO

Is there high
scalants in water?

YES

Is capacity
>300kL/d?

YES

BWRO + Gen Set


or Renewable
Energy

Is Waste Heat
Available?
Is Feed Water
TDS>44,000ppm?

MED/VC

YES

No economic
option

YES

Product Water
Quality < 10 ppm
Recovery 40-65%

V HIGH COST

YES

NO

NO
Is capacity
>20kL/d?

YES

RO + Gen Set
or Renewable
Energy

VC
V HIGH COST

NO
MED/VC

BWRO
Product Water Quality
< 500 ppm
Recovery > 80%
Renewable Energy can
be used

NO

Is Feed Water
TDS>3,000ppm?

No economic
option

YES

Is capacity
>300kL/d?
NO

NO
YES

BWRO
Product Water Quality <
500 ppm
Recovery > 80%
Renewable Energy Can
Be Used

Is Feed Water
TDS>44,000ppm?

Is capacity
>20kL/d?
NO

NO

Is capacity
>100kL/d?

YES

EDR
Product Water Quality <
500 ppm
Recovery ??

Note: Asume that there is sufficient feedwater available to produce the required product water flow rate

YES

MED/VC
Product Water
Quality < 10 ppm
Recovery 40-65%

NO
Is Feed Water
TDS>44,000ppm?
NO

YES
YES

Product Water Quality


< 200 ppm
Recovery > 80%
Renewable energy can
be used

NO

Is capacity
>300kL/d?

NO

SWRO
Product Water Quality
< 500 ppm
Recovery < 30%
Renewable Energy can
be used

YES

No economic
option

YES

VC
Product Water
Quality < 10 ppm
Recovery 40-65%

SWRO + Gen
Set or
Renewable
Energy

YES

Is capacity
>20kL/d?
NO
No economic
option

YES

VC
Product Water
Quality < 10 ppm
Recovery 40-65%

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
60

7.1.3 Interpretation of the decision tree and examples


The decision tree is intended as an indicative guide as to the type of desalination
technology that might be suitable for a given set of circumstances. Once you have reached
the end of a branch in the decision tree, there will be many additional considerations that
need to be incorporated before a final decision can be made. Some major examples
include the feasibility of brine disposal, and the relative cost of the chosen desalination
technology in comparison to alternative forms of water supply. These and other factors are
discussed in Sections 4 and 5 of this report.
Some worked examples of the decision tree for particular circumstances follow:
What desalination technology can be used for the situation where:

Mains energy is not available

Waste heat is available

Feed water properties are approximately 20,000 mg/L TDS and 200kL/d supply

Procedure: Choose one of the two starting points and continue down through the
decision tree to the Is mains energy available? question, then follow the no path.
Solution: SWRO with a generating set or renewable energy.
What desalination technology can be used for the situation where:

Mains energy is available

Waste heat is not available

Feed water properties are approximately 6,000 mg/L TDS and 300kL/d supply and it
is high scaling

Procedure: Choose one of the two starting points and continue down through the
decision tree to the Is mains energy available? question, then follow the yes path.
Solution: EDR with product quality less than 500 mg/L TDS.

7.2 Further information


For further information on the technical and financial aspects of this consultancy, please
contact the authors of this report via the Program Manager of the National Dryland
Salinity Program, or refer to the references and individuals that were consulted as part of
this study listed in Annex 1.

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Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
61

8 Conclusions
This study has examined the technical and financial aspects of desalination in Australia
and the world as a source of fresh water for a variety of uses and as a salinity management
tool. Being a non-case specific study, this report cannot present a detailed consideration of
all the economic aspects of desalination. But on the basis of a limited quantification and
comparison of costs for the major desalination technologies, it is apparent that there are
only limited scenarios in which desalination represents a cost effective option.
The instances where desalination is considered a cost effective option for water supply are
dependent on the absence and/or high cost of traditional forms of water supply. These are
mainly in the more remote rural areas, some of which are located in the NAP regions of
Australia. Desalination does not appear to stack up as purely a salinity management tool.
However, there are a number of ways to reduce the net cost of constructing and operating
a desalination plant which will increase its competitiveness against traditional forms of
water supply and its cost effectiveness as a salinity management tool. Likewise, as the
scarcity and cost of high quality mains water increases, so to does the attractiveness of
desalination. Regulatory, market and policy changes that enable the price of water to
reflect its true value will accelerate this process.

8.1 Recommendations
A number of recommendations have arisen through the course of assessing desalination
technologies in Australia. These include producing:

A compilation of visual guides and maps which overlay existing geo-referenced


datasets of criteria that influence the choice of desalination. For example, demand,
supply and price of traditional forms of water supply, presence and type of energy
(including renewable), high yielding GFSs, etc. These will highlight those areas that
are most suitable for desalination and prompt decision makers in those areas to
consider using it.

Fully specified BCA of an existing desalination plant or site specific desalination plant
proposal. This would enable a more accurate assessment of the cost effectiveness of
desalination.

Integrated biophysical and economic models which process user-entered data to


recommend appropriate desalination technologies for particular scenarios. These exist
for other countries but have not been developed for Australia.

Further technical development of renewable energy augmented desalination plants and


technologies that require little maintenance and technical know-how to operate. These
types of plants are likely to be suitable for many of the NAP regions in Australia.

URS Australia

Annex 1
References

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 1-1

Annex 1: References
References used in this study include:
AATSE (1999), Water and the Australian Economy. Australian Academy of
Technological Sciences and Engineering, April.
ABC Landline (n.d.), [Online]
http://www.altgreen.com.au/Water/Acid_Sulphate/salinity.html
Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (1996),
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines Summary. Federal Department of Primary
Industries and Energy.
Australian Development Assistance Bureau (1985), Appropriate Desalination Technology
for Countries of the Pacific. Bulletin One, Feb.
Awerbuch, L. (2002), Vision for Desalination Challenges and Opportunities, IDA
World Congress Paper, Bahrain.
Binnie & Partners Pty Ltd (1998), Water for the South-West in the 21st Century,
Desalination Sub Study. May.
Bouchekima, B. (2002), Brackish Water Desalination with Heat Recovery, IDA World
Congress Paper, Bahrain.
Buros, O.K. (1990), The ABCs of Desalting. First Edition. Produced by the Saline Water
Conversion Council for The International Desalination Association, Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia.
Buros, O.K. (2000), The ABCs of Desalting. Second Edition. Produced by the Saline
Water Conversion Council for The International Desalination Association, Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia.
Dames & Moore (1993), Desalination Costing Study, for Water Authority of Western
Australia. June.
De Vincentiis, B. (1999), Serial Biological Control. Award Dissertation, La Trobe
University.
Department of Resource Development (1999), Western Australian Industrial Minerals
Review. Government of Western Australia, Perth.
Ho, G. (2001), Solar-powered Reverse Osmosis Desalination. [Online]
http://www.murdoch.edu.au/radg/projects/desalini.html, Murdoch University.
IDA (1998), IDA Worldwide Desalting Plants Inventory Report No. 15. International
Desalination Association.
Khawaji, A.D. Wie J. Al-Mutairi, A.A. (n.d.), Technical and Economic Evaluation of
Seawater MSF and RO Desalination Processes for Madinat Yanbu Al-Sinaiyah Saudi
Arabia.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 1-2

Kronenberg, G. Inzelberg, H. Lebowitz, H. (n.d.), Recent Developments in Reliable Low


Cost MED, MVC and RO Sea Water Desalination Processes. Pex Industries Pty Ltd.
Kunze, H. (2001), A new approach to solar desalination for small and medium size use
in remote areas, Desalination, vol.139, pp. 35-41.
Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation (2001), Assessment of
the Efficacy of Engineering Options for the Management of Dryland Salinity. Research
Report.
MDBC (1996), Cost-Sharing for On-ground Works. Murray-Darling Basin Commission,
Canberra. ACT.
Mickley, M., (n.d.), Environmental Considerations for the Disposal of Distillation
Concentrates. [Online] http://www.mickleyassoc.com/disposal.html
National Dryland Salinity Program (2001), Options for the Productive Use of Salinity
(OPUS). Prepared by SKM E&I Pty Ltd. for NDSP.
National Land and Water Resources Audit (2001a), Australian Dryland Salinity
Assessment 2000, Land and Water Australia.
National Land and Water Resources Audit (2001b), Australian Water Resources
Assessment 2000, Land and Water Australia.
National Renewable Energies Laboratory (1998), Desalination for Villages. [Online]
http://www.rsvp.nrel.gov/program/briefs_1998/desalination.pdf
Pannel, D.J. (2002), Transcript of presentation to Select Committee on Salinity Seminar:
Investing on Solutions to Salinity. Sydney, 8th April.
Perry, R.H. Green, D.W. (1997), Perrys Chemical Engineering Handbook, 7th Edition,
McGraw-Hill.
pers. comm., Andrew Huffer, Managing Director, Solar Sustain WA.
pers. comm., Glen Walker, CSIRO Land & Water, Adelaide.
pers. comm., Graham Gates, Project Coordinator for Coorong Districts Local Action Plan,
SA.
pers. comm., Gavin Privett, Pyramid Salt.
pers. comm., Neil Wende, Operations Manager, Occtech Engineering Pty Ltd.
Schonfeldt, C. (2000), Future Water Resources for South Australia. Focus. No. 11,
Mar/Apr. The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
Squire, D., Murner, J., Holden, P., Fitzpatrick, C. (1996), Disposal of reverse osmosis
membrane concentrate. Desalination, 71, 165-175.
Thompson, K. (2000), Occtech Engineering Technical Training Manual: Waste Water
Treatment Technologies.
URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 1-3

Unknown (2001), Sun-powered Desalination Plant. [Online]


http://www.apctt.org/publication/pdf/nce_aug01_sun.pdf
Unknown (n.d.), Applications MVC MED. [Online] http://www.idetech.com/code/appl_mvc_med.html
Unknown (n.d.), Desalination by Distillation. [Online]
http://www.oas.org/usde/publications/Unit/oea59e/ch21.htm
Unknown (n.d.), Desalination by Reverse Osmosis. [Online]
http://www.oas.org/usde/publicatiions/Unit/oea59e/ch20.htm
Uvarov, E.B. Chapman, D.R. Isaacs, A. (1943), The English Language Book Society A
Dictionary of Science, 4th Edition.
Water Corporation (2000), Desalination: A Viable Resource. A Strategic Review of
Desalination Possibilities for Western Australia. September.
Wende, N. (2002), Lowering the Cost of Ownership of RO plants for Nickel recovery
Operations, May.
Winter, T., Pannell, D.J. and McCann, L. (2001), The economics of desalination and its
potential application in Australia, in SEA Working Paper 00/12, Agricultural and
Resource Economics, University of Western Australia. [Online]
http://www.general.uwa.edu.au/u/dpannell/dpap0102.htm

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Annex 2
Glossary of terms

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 2-1

Annex 2: Glossary of terms


A glossary of terms used in this study follow:
Abstraction the removal of a substance from its source to the process plant.
Antiscalants chemicals that are used to prevent scale formation.
Artesian Bores these are devices that pump the ground water to the surface for
collection or use.
Back-washing Multimedia Pressure Filter this is a filter that that has several different
mediums to filter the solids and will automatically self-backwash to wash away the
accumulating solids.
Brackish Water water that has a salinity of 1000-3000 mg/L TDS.
Brine waste water that usually has a high concentration of dissolved salts (see also
Concentrate).
Buffering Salts these are salts that increase the saturation point of the solution,
therefore preventing other salts from coming out of the solution.
Cartridge Filters this is a filter with a fine pore size (1-150mm).
Concentrate the concentrated salt solution that is produced as a by-product of the
desalination process (see also Brine).
Desalination the process of removing salts from saline water.
Dispersants a chemical that is used to inhibit the growth of natural organic matter.
Distillation a process of water purification whereby the feed water is heated to produce
steam which is then condensed to produce water of a high purity.
EDR a membrane process of desalination, similar to electrodialysis except that several
times every hour the flow through the cells is switched and the polarity of the electrodes is
reversed. Then the product channel becomes the brine channel and the brine channel
becomes the product channel.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 2-2

Electrodialysis a membrane process of desalination. An electric current is applied to


feed water that is passing adjacent membranes. One membrane allows anions through and
the other membrane allows cations through. The ions from the solution pass through the
membranes allowing fresh water to be discharged as product water.
Electrolytes compounds that when in solution conduct an electric current and are also
decomposed by that current.
Electromotive Force the force that moves electrons through a membrane in the ED and
EDR process.
Energy Recovery System a system incorporated in the plant to recover energy from the
process to be used in other parts of the process.
Feed Water the water that is fed to the desalination equipment. This water can be
already pre-treated or source water.
Flocculant this is a chemical that enables suspended particles to clump together, so that
they can be settled out of the solution more easily.
Freeze Desalination a desalination process whereby salt water is frozen to the point
where salt water remains in liquid form but the fresh water has frozen. The frozen water is
washed to remove salts and is melted to produce product water.
Fresh Water water that has a dissolved solids count of less than 500 mg/L TDS.
Ion Exchange a desalination process where an electric current is used to remove ions
from solution.
Latent Heat of Condensation the amount of heat energy released when vapour is
turned into water.
Membrane Distillation this is a form of distillation desalination that also uses
membranes.
Microfiltration a membrane filtration process which only allows small soluble particles
through the membrane.
Multiple Effect Distillation (MED) a form of distillation desalination. Evaporators are
arranged in series containing hot vapour that is used to condense and produce product
water. The vapour from one chamber (effect) is used to heat the next effect thereby
reducing overall energy requirements.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 2-3

Multistage Flash (MSF) a form of distillation desalination. Feed water is heated and
sent to a vessel that is slightly below saturation vapour pressure so that some of the water
flashes and forms vapour. This vapour condenses and becomes product water. The salt
water is sent to another vessel at a lower pressure where the flashing process is repeated.
Nanofiltration a membrane filtration process that uses loose RO membranes. These
have a lower rejection capability than RO membranes and therefore leak more soluble
ions, but can obtain higher recoveries.
Osmosis the natural movement of water from a diluted solution to a more concentrated
solution.
Osmotic Pressure the pressure required for the osmotic process to equalise.
Permeate the purified water that membrane desalination processes produce.
Photovoltaic a type of solar panel used for collecting solar energy.
Polishing this is an end process, where product water undergoes some more processing
to refine it to meet high quality product requirements.
Potable Water water that is considered suitable for human consumption.
Product Water the fresh water that is discharged from the desalination process.
Recovery the percentage of the feed water that is recovered in the desalination process
as fresh product water.
Rejection the percentage of solids that the desalination process removes from the feed
water.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) a membrane desalination processes where pressure is applied to
feed water so that it moves through a semi-permeable membrane.
Salinity the measure of soluble salt (sodium chloride) in the water.
Saturation Vapour Pressure the pressure at which no more vapour can evaporate into
the air.
Scale the substance that precipitates onto the equipment walls during the desalination
process. Most relevant for the distillation processes.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 2-4

Solar Humidifcation a desalination process where solar power is used to heat saline
water so that some of it evaporates, and the vapour is then condensed and collected as
product water.
Suspended Solids colloidal material that is suspended in water.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) the amount of solids that are dissolved in the water,
usually measured in milligrams per litre (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm).
Total Suspended Solids (TSS) the amount of solids that are suspended in a solution.
Turbidity the clouding of the solution because suspended materials in the solution
reduce the transmission of light.
Ultra-filtration this process uses membranes to selectively filter molecules of a
particular size and weight.
Vacuum Freezing a desalination process that involves the temperature and pressure of
the feed water being lowered until the water freezes. This is then washed and then melted
to produce the product water.
Vapour Compression (VC) a desalination process where some of the feed water is
evaporated and then compressed with mechanical or thermal energy where it condenses
and is collected as product water. The latent heat released in the condensation process is
used to evaporate more feed water.

URS Australia

Annex 3
Consultancy terms
of reference

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 3-1

Annex 3: Desalination consultancy terms of reference


Aim
Provide a report on desalination technologies applicable to Australian conditions, in
particular their application in National Action Plan priority regions. The report should
also provide guiding principles as to where desalination might be cost effectively applied
to supply potable water as part of a strategy for addressing rising saline groundwater and
increasing water salinity. The consultant will apply these principles in identifying which
desalination systems are most applicable (in which situations or contexts) and where these
systems might generally be a viable option within the NAP regions where water supplies
are at risk from salinity in Australia.
Context and rationale
In an arid continent like Australia supplies of potable water are a very limited resource.
Even small volumes of potable water are a most valuable resource to supply individual
landholders and small communities. Recent studies undertaken as part of the Murray
Darling Basin Salinity Audit and the National Land and Water Resources Audit have
highlighted the potential decline in the quality of water supplies over the next fifty years
arising from the impacts of salinity on groundwater and surface water resources. Rising
saline groundwater also threatens to severely damage or destroy infrastructure, urban
environments and key environmental assets as well as reducing the productive potential of
the land.
A range of solutions aimed at using rainfall more effectively and/or intercepting
groundwater thereby reducing groundwater rises are proposed, depending upon their
efficacy and cost effectiveness. However, it is accepted that in some locations it will be
neither technically and economically feasible to halt salinisation. Some individuals and
communities may therefore have to live with a more saline environment. At the same
time, supplies of potable water for small communities, farms and towns in some locations
are likely to experience increasing prices as the costs of replacing pipelines and related
infrastructure are passed on to consumers. Advances in desalination technology are
continuing to bring down the cost of supplying water from saline resources. The major
potential users for desalinated water supplies are likely to be rural domestic consumers.
AFFA is keen to understand if and where desalination of surface or groundwater resources
has potential as a cost effective option for use within salinity-affected regions as part of
regional/local strategies to enhance the quality of water for human, agricultural and
environmental purposes.
The consultancy should cover the potential for on-farm usage of desalination to enhance
water supplies as well as applications that might be used to enhance urban water supplies
and potentially contribute to lowering groundwater in rural urban environments while
contributing to environmental or productive uses. It is recognised that the economics of
desalination can be improved where the desalination costs can be offset against other
productive enterprises that might flow out of or be incorporated with the desalination
technology such as heat and power generation or production of industrial and high value
salts. The consultancy should therefore consider the feasibility of such integrated options
as part of its appraisal.

URS Australia

Economic and Technical Assessment of Desalination Technologies in Australia: With Particular Reference to National
Action Plan Priority Regions
Annex 3-2

Objectives
1. To report on the available technology and those factors which are key to ensuring that
desalination using those technologies can be cost effectively implemented to:
-

improve on-farm water supplies;

provide potable water supplies for rural towns and communities;

contribute to providing water for productive and environmental uses; and

contribute to reducing the impacts of salinity on water quality for households and
communities.

While all available technologies should be considered, the report should focus on those
techniques which have the greatest potential to be most cost effective in the NAP regions.
Examples of where different techniques are effectively applied in Australian are to be
included in the report and significant overseas operations should also be included (for
example, the Yuma desalination operation in the USA which is providing 270 ML per day
of desalinated drainage water to the Colorado River for environmental outcomes).
2. Determine the key thresholds for the costs that potential users (urban, irrigation,
domestic) of desalinated water are currently willing to pay and the cost they would
need to pay for desalination to be a realistic option for water supply.
-

the study should look at the current barriers to adoption (eg cost, other) and
identify any ways of reducing these ie opportunistic use of off-peak power,
combine with other technologies that have excess power production at certain
times eg solar, wind power; and

can the technology be turned on/off quickly to make use of opportunistic power
etc.

3. Using the information derived in 1 & 2, identify those general locations within the 21
NAP priority regions where desalination has the potential to be cost effectively
employed as part of a local or regional strategy to reduce the impact of rising
groundwater and saline water resources and provide a fresh water resource.
4. Provide indicative costs for each desalination technology (including cost per unit of
water, capital and operating costs). The relationship between cost and the salinity of
water being desalinated should be identified (ie is it more cost effective to treat
moderate or high salinity water per unit of water, or per unit of salt in the case where
downstream impacts are the driver eg salt interception). What flow rates can the
technology produce and does the cost of production vary with the flow rate?
5. What issues are associated with waste production ie high salinity brine, bitterns etc how could these wastes be managed/disposed of, what costs involved, any
opportunities for productive use eg salt harvesting, mineral extraction, etc.
Methodology
This project is primarily envisaged as a desktop exercise, including a literature review and
telephone liaison with managers of existing and planned operations and authorities and
technical people in this field.
URS Australia