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Social Innovation

Demystifying desalination

Dive into the little-known world of turning sea water into drinking water.

97 percent of the Earth's water can be found in our oceans.

How do we make that water useful for us?

While the population of earth tripled in the 20th century, freshwater use grew by a factor of six.  As the trend continues the problem will be exacerbated, leading to a greater number of people lacking access to drinking water and greater tensions between states over access to fresh water supplies. Analysts from Goldman Sachs have gone as far as to say that water will be the "petroleum for the next century.” So how do we solve this issue?

The answer could be staring us in the face. The ocean makes up 70 percent of the earth’s surface yet its high salt concentration renders it unsuitable for our drinking needs. This is where desalination comes in. Desalination refers to any of several processes that remove enough salt from sea water to make it suitable for animal consumption or irrigation, and if almost all the salt is removed, for human consumption.

Watch below to learn about the steps of the desalination process:

Why haven’t we been turning sea water into drinking water for years? Until now, the desalination process has been too complex and too expensive to make viable within Europe. But with the looming threat of water shortages, new innovations are helping to make the idea a reality. Hitachi has developed an innovative, and cheaper, system. It first mixes seawater with processed waste water to dilute the concentration of salt in the seawater before filtering it through reverse-osmosis.

As we grapple with the need to provide our growing population with clean drinking water, desalination could provide a much needed solution. Saudi Arabia produces 60% of its fresh water via the process and, even in countries where fresh water is plentiful, desalination plants can provide water to drier areas or in times of drought. Technological advances are vital in making desalination more economically viable for other countries and that will only be achieved with innovation.