Desalination Plant Photo

Desalination: Take It With A Pinch Of Salt

Group 51

The real problem with water is not in its abundance but rather in its usability. Persian Gulf countries experience a shortage of clean water resources. Desalination can provide it by removing the salts from seawater to make it drinkable. This however comes with consequences, the removal of salts from sea water uses immense amounts of energy and the process itself and due to negligence can be damaging to the surrounding.

Desalination – Disguised evil

Environmental Damage

By latest studies desalination contributes to global warming and destroys the marine environments. The benefits it brings are undermined by damage it causes.

Desalination Plant PhotoDuring seawater desalination, small fish and fish eggs get sucked into the water inlet tube. Desalination plants emit water twice saltier than seawater leaking harmful chemicals and adversely affecting fish reproduction, the coral reef and the food chains.

Every step of desalination consumes large amounts of energy, which can lead to an increase in greenhouse emissions. In the Persian Gulf region, the sea water desalination had been responsible for the growth of over 100% in CO2 emissions.

According to utilitarianism investment project should not be undertaken as losses of common environments and habitats can outstrip Gulf people of their right to enjoy nature in the future making majority worse off. Desalination projects are expected to result in social and environmental injustice: local people will pay higher prices for fresh water since desalination is more expensive than other water treatment or management interventions. In addition, people’s everyday for economic profit activities will be disrupted, include fishing and tourism. As an example, California’s desalination results in a $13.6 million economic loss to fishermen per year. Food & Water Watch (FWW) calculated that if all of the proposed plants in California functioned at their full capacity, the additional water would only be enough for everyone in California to take one extra three-minute shower a day. This, however, would be the most expensive shower the citizens would have ever taken.

Pragmatism theory, according to which numbers should justify the actions, suggests take a vote against desalination. Not for all rational and intuitive reasons can we allow to destroy delicate marine environments that cannot be reestablished.

The Alternatives

Instead of killing nature local governments could cooperate to draw conservation activities into the area. Eco-tourism could become a stable source of income for local budgets so can help with funding of more effective water management and waste-water cleaning projects.

According to Kant we have an obligation to do only what is morally right determined by rational thinking. With careful consideration and just a little bit of affection for the region we can see that there can be ultimately no greater common idea than saving the natural wonders of the gulf for future generations. This is at the centre of sustainable living and it is our greatest responsibility to preserve and to multiply. We strongly agree with the deontological view that no economical consequences can justify the immoral undertakings.

An artificial but irreplaceable source

Desalination is here to Stay

The need for desalination in the Persian Gulf region results from the combination of factors such abundance of cheap energy, access to the sea and scarcity of freshwater. This can clearly be seen in the middle east region, and the coast of North Africa. Although desalination plants pollute nearby sea water and air, the need for water in such dry regions is absolutely critical for agriculture, industry, and civil life. It is, thus, vital for the consequences of desalination to be thoroughly understood and evaluated considering all groups to be affected by the activity. Especially urban civilians would be hit the hardest, therefore, governments must ensure that no social unrest results as a consequence of taking or not taking the action.

The present solution would be to import water which is not efficient, more expensive and produces a larger carbon footprint than desalination. The other option would be to use natural underground water aquifers which can’t be, however, sustainably used at current rates of water consumption and could be easily overused and consequently destroyed by salt water intrusion. This puts the livelihood of small countryside communities that fully depend on those natural resources at great risk.

Mitigating the Current Harmful Desalination Practices

Desalination certainly does come at a cost by damaging the surrounding marine environment and by producing high carbon emissions. Some may argue, however, that the maximum utility it provides can outweigh the damaging effects of desalination if only the negative effects were to be compensated. Recently it became evident that there might be the ways of dealing with chemical contamination of se. Firstly, there must be collaboration between environmental groups and the corporations that operate the desalination plants. Perhaps most importantly, new promising disruptive technologies are being actively brought to life.

A Promising Future

The recent developments of Forward-reserve osmosis hybrid (FO-RO) desalination systems minimizes energy consumption by about 20% compared to the single reverse osmosis process. In addition, extremely efficient graphite oxide membranes may be introduced into desalination very soon by a company which has developed this technology. Water desalination with graphite oxide will introduce immense energy reductions in desalination. At the same time, graphite oxide technology eliminates the need to dump waste saline water into the sea. This will result in a new desalination method in the near future that is more feasible and eco-friendly, thus allowing for wide scale adaptation of desalination while encompassing more stakeholders in the utility it provides.

40 thoughts on “Desalination: Take It With A Pinch Of Salt

  1. What a fantastic topic. It’s been a real reward to be presented with a number of topics I’d never thought about. Naively, I’d never thought that desalination was an issue.

    The ethical arguments against desalination focus mainly on utilitarianism, whereas I didn’t pick up on the ethical objections for desalination.

    Who are the stakeholders? Presumably, those who want/need water, and those who supply water.

    Is there a way of using the salt for other uses instead of dumping it back in the sea? Could the brine be used in the generation of NaOH and HCl?
    Is there a way we could use the abundant sunlight in the Gulf to aid desalination?

    Overall, an interesting topic (very interesting) but please develop the ethical aspects with regards to ‘For’ and ‘Against’ – thanks.

    1. Thank you. The stakeholder is the citizens who need clean and cheap water in the Gulf region.
      For now, the salted water cannot be used to another way due to the salt contains sand and other particles.
      A good suggestion! The solar source can be a solution! They can build the solar panels around the plant to generate the power.

  2. With regards to financial perspective, the cost generated by desalination is not only new fantastic technology, but compensation to negative effects. Impressive article!

  3. Although the water desalination technology provides better environment solution, it still harms the sea and air. For now, the Gulf region already emits a lot of CO2 from oil extraction, it is no excuse to output more from water desalination. The Gulf region is one of the richest regions, they need to invest more money on protecting the environment. Or simply buy the water from other countries. This also can benefit others! The uses of water desalination can only benefit the peoples from Gulf region, but it harms the earth! It cannot build someone’s happiness from others pain.

    1. At present, desalination brings more damage than the benefits, in future, this technology could be fully use in the Earth, but now, this technology is immature, so for now we should not use this technology until it becomes more helpful than harmful.

  4. Very interesting article! Thanks for letting me know this interesting topic. Personally, I think that buy water from other countries is a better idea for the Gulf regions countries at this stage, due to the harmful effect to the environment. However, this is not the plan in future and the desalination tech should keep developing and get involved in the future.

  5. I think desalination is not the best choice to support Middle East to have the water supply. At present time, desalination bring a lot of negative impacts. Firstly, It will destroy the ocean ecology since desalination will resulted harmful chemicals flow into the ocean and affect the seafood reproduction.In addition the food chain in the ocean will be break down. Many sea animal will die since they have no alternate place to go. Secondly, the designation is expensive, Middle East still need pay a lot of many to support this technology it would help them reduce the burden. Thirdly, the other people’s job will be affected for example fish man. Thus the desalination is not a good choice.

    Adding point: For the Middle East people they still have a choice but the sea animal have no other place to go. In addition, break the ocean ecology will not only effect the seafood animal but it will also effect to the human in the later life.

  6. Interesting topic! Disadvantages is definitely outweighing the benefits of desalination. If their environment and homes are killed by the desalination, what is the point of getting the clean water? Alternative eco-friendly projects are more reasonable and sustainable for the local people apply. There should be some other ways to get fresh water nowdays.

  7. A impressive and attractive article. However, your final decision for this issue is not clearly stated, do you go for desalination or against? Except utilitarianism, it seems that there are some other ethical frameworks that fits in and helps to determine this issue. I personally agree that any economic development should not sacrifice the environment and its ability to sustainable development. How the energy is con by the desalination system is not detailedly described in the article. However, from my knowledge these environmental damage due to high energy comsumption can be minimized through using renewable and sustainable energy system. As for effects to the ocean, I really hope that engineers and scientists from different related fields could work together to promote new solutions.

    1. Thank you for your comment. The final decision, for now, is to against the water desalination as the benefits it brings cannot cover the damage it deals.
      Sure, the solar power station can be a solution for the energy supply.

  8. As this article presents things it seems that part of the issue is about ownership of water, ownership of the resources and natural-services provided by the saline environments and also ownership of the atmosphere into which carbon dioxide is discharged.

    The consumers of desalinised water in Gulf countries seem to believe that they own the water they are desalinating, the atmosphere they discharging carbon dioxide into and the habitats and their indiginous species. I can see they need the water, but I don’t understand why they think own the other things. All of this I would question as other people clearly use and need both the water, habitats and Atmosphere? For sure I need my atmosphere how it is now and my sealevel 15 m away from my house.

    I also question the case for the need for desalinating with such a high carbon foot print and envrionmental foot print. All these countries are near to sources of renewable energy, they have plenty of wealth and could easily develop a better way. Many of them also have high levels of education and should be able to develop such technology even if it doesn’t exist at the moment or isn’t developed enough. Even if a use for useful-chemical reagents or other trace metals isn’t found (they would have to be transported – but these countries are next to the sea!), as these countries are not denesly populated these materials could be stored and discharged more slowly in less damaging places.

    So while there is a need for desalination, there is no strong need for many of the problems that it causes. I hope the better and new technologies are brought on-line soon.

  9. A well-argued article. It focuses on specific a topic which most people did not realise how severe the problem is. On one hand, we have to worry about the potential environmental pollution caused by desalination. On the other hand, the existence of desalination is necessary since small countryside communities fully depend on this resources. A trade-off is needed in this complicated case. You mentioned that a new technology is being developed and it is expected to solve the problems we are facing.

    These links may provide those who may be interested more information.

  10. Interesting topic, I wonder if the desalination process is accelerating population growth near coastal cities making the problem exponential with time. If so are desalination plants essentially ticking time bombs waiting to destroy local ecosystems?What will this have in the long run if efforts to reduce environmental impact fail?

    1. Thank you! A very interesting point! Personally, the sea water desalination plants can accelerating population growth near coastal cities, however, it would not a problem because the main requirements are for the cities who does not near the sea.
      If the action of protecting the environment fails, the fishing industry in the Gulf region would die first, then, the climate change would affect the earth but not only the people who lives in Gulf region.

  11. From my view Desalination is good for human especially for those people live in Persian Gulf countries. They need clean water but the only thing they currently have is the water from the sea. So this technology helps them to live. But the other point is that desalination will also damage the environment. So I think the best solution is to find the balance point which satisfies the demand from human but also satisfies the environment. If it only satisfies the demand from human, the environment will show the consequence which means the living for human will be affected. But if this process can be a continuous method. Both human and environment can benefit which is a good strategy for the future.

  12. The potential benefits of ocean desalination are great, but the economic, cultural, and environmental costs of wide commercialization remain high. In many parts of the world, alternatives can provide the same freshwater benefits of ocean desalination at far lower economic and environmental costs. These alternatives include treating low-quality local water sources, encouraging regional water transfers, improving conservation and efficiency, accelerating wastewater recycling and reuse, and implementing smart land-use planning. There for I think there should be another way to make fresh water by not damage the nature.

  13. Interesting stuff. I don’t care for salt too much myself personally, unless it’s on fish and chips, and in that case I like lots. Personally in my opinion, GDP in those countries is high enough that there should be sufficient socioeconomic developments to onset better environmental policy, but I imagine oil extracting countries don’t have to worry about that. Advances towards new processes that eliminate the direct environmental impacts from current process’ dumping of waste water back into the ocean sounds great. As the article suggests investments into eco-tourism and the income generated alongside the fishing industry’s income could provide reason enough to discourage over use of desalination plants and encourage preservation of marine habitat and ecosystems. I would be interested to know of what role civic society could play (if it exists there, I’m ignorant to this I admit) in the process, fisherman’s collectives surely have rights to their ocean, but I imagine may easily be paid off. Fishing collectives in Japan benefit from nuclear power plants’ waste water through the heat it can provide to fish farms, I wonder is there any way by-products and processes of the desalination plants can benefit other industries? (For example could we use the salt for fish and chip shops in nearby towns, just kidding). I imagine the energy used in the process is from cheaply locally sourced oil? So I can’t see CO2 footprints of the processes dropping enough. Unfortunately, I imagine unless there is pressure on or active decisions made at government level to be more environmentally responsible then the cheapest means of acquiring water will be sought over more expensive ones such as importing water. Also populations are still growing in the gulf region and mixed changes in rainfall in the gulf region predicted in relation to climate change might increase or decrease demands for fresh water even more for general or agricultural consumption. So I think you guys need to hurry up and sort out this new desalination method!! 🙂 Also I would have been interest to know if any other benefits of desalination besides economic ones. For example it was mentioned that natural water sources are few, does the use of desalination plants help preserve these natural sources? Because in some cases those too cannot regenerate quick enough to keep up with demand. Anyway it was a great read, makes me wish I had done engineering more now.. thanks for making me reevaluate my life choices at a critical (no changing courses now) stage of my degree 🙁 😉 ??

    1. Thank you for comment. The technology now cannot reuse the salt as they contain chemicals. The water desalination plant can use clean and renewable energy, and this will be the future development. Yes you are right, we could focus on using the natural water sources more efficiently.

  14. There is a very interesting point that the places where adopted desalination technologies are the ones with cheap energy and scarcity of fresh water (as mentioned in the article). However, fresh water, as a necessary for human beings, is far more important than GDP or pollution in some less developed countries. It is possible that the locals prefer to get the cheap fresh water by desalination instead of expensive imported water, and this could mitigate many budget problems of a household. The ones who really need to care about the pollution problem might be the the nearby countries with abundant freshwater , worrying about environmental problem (typically developed countries). The United Nations can promote more protocols with respect to global water resource. To be honest, a vital way to boost one government’s work efficiency is to use the power of another government.

    This is a very special article in upgrading technology topics, since there is always conflict and controversy when carrying out new technologies. We can make more progress by solving emerging problems.

  15. It is quite a raw topic for me. Personally, I never thought about the desalination would affect so many negative issues for human beings. As the article saying, salt is necessities for daily life, but it will make the damage to the surrounding because of energy consumption during seawater desalination process.
    In my opinion, the first important thing is environment-friendly. For salt selection, maybe, in the future, there exist some alternative products for salt We can make more progress by solving emerging problems.

  16. The water desalination in gulf region is necessary because they don’t have water, and a new technology can reduce the environmental impact. Therefore, it is required.

  17. Although it would clearly be beneficial for the a less environmentally intrusive technology be developed for water desalination, the providers clearly still have a duty of care to the citizens dependent on the water. From a virtue ethics perspective, it is paramount that water levels be continually supplied to countries in need of the desalination process. This has become a deontological ethical standard since the introduction of human rights, one of which is access to water.

  18. It is undeniable that desalination technology can be considered as a solution to the global shortage of water resources. It also could be a solution to the urgent freshwater need for the Middle East regions. However, desalinating seawater is not a process that can completely ensure its safety. As with any other production process, the treatment of by-products from seawater desalination is likely to evolve into a worrying environmental issue. If these chemicals are returned to the ocean, they will cause unpredictable damage to the marine flora and marine life groups. Secondly, at the time when energy is very valuable, the consumption of large amounts of energy is another drawback of seawater desalination.

  19. Thank you for raising this issue. A great take on how ethical the issue of desalination is and very plausible solutions raised. Good take on how Kant’s theory and how it clearly explains how we are justifying our harmful doings to the environment as human beings.
    The harmful impacts of desalination plants on the Persian Gulf is an issue that indeed can wipe away the basic resource of fresh water. There is an urgent need to raise more emphasis on this issue as our natural resources are soon due to run out. Your article suggests the importance for companies to start developing new desalination systems that lower the environmental impacts. This thereafter would be the only way to slowly reduce the environmental impacts as well as try to get the consumers to realize the issue. Human beings cannot sustain living selfishly by only sufficing the needs of their own generation. Satisfying the needs of today and continuing with the environmentally oblivious practices will only limit the time human beings have on this planet.

  20. The scarcity of useable water is a pressing issue, unfortunately it does not receive the attention needed.
    desalination a possible solution to ensure there is enough supply of freshwater, but in the process this will harm the environment.
    it also requires a lot of energy to run the desalination plant , which will result in increase in greenhouse gases.
    by solving one issue(water) another problem arises(contribution to global warming).
    you can think of it as a battle where you cant win, all you can do is minimize your losses.

  21. For me personally the topic is really interesting and it’s clarify the term of desalination and I’m looking forward to see how future technology can do.

    However,the problem is that the desalination of water requires a lot of energy as it has been mentioned above. Salt dissolves very easily in water, forming strong chemical bonds, and those bonds are difficult to break.

  22. Absolutely True. Currently, Desalination is the necessary evil the Gulf has to deal with. their most available water is coming from oceans. it needs desalination
    This has to be the case until a new technology rises.

  23. Very interesting article about an issue that I actually had no idea existed. Attitudes are definitely changing, with much greater consideration to the environmental effects, compared to the economical benefit. The morally right thing to do is in fashion.

  24. Interesting. Environmental issues are more important for me. It is not right to only see the current benefit, it is time to think about the sustainable development. I suggest to stop the water desalination.

  25. Desalination is essentially the acquisition of water resources. Although water can be bought from other regions, the international trade of this kind of energy may be affected by politics. Therefore, , desalination is the most direct and most convenient way to solve the problem of lack of water resources. I think that the issue of the environment can be temporarily excluded from the main consideration. Because the economy is developed with sufficient resources, so that there will be enough economic power to manage the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. I think this strategy may be better. Instead of just considering the environment and not considering economic development.

  26. The against side state that there are many drawbacks for the environment, but the example is for America and it is not the current story. I am confident for the current technology, it would not have huge effect on the surrounding. I suggest to test the project and collect the feedback and then do the judgment.

  27. It is an interesting topic. It brings us into an insight of whether a desalination is viable or not. I believe that that such an issue would have the good or bane to human beings. However, to some of the extent, desalination would still be a dream. To my point of view, the plague it brings would surpass the good from the desalination. Apparently, the ecosystem is built by ages but how fragile it is, it could be also destroyed in one day, in one second. It would take more than hundred of thousand of years to rebuilt and reestablished the ecosystem, the fish reproduction, the coral reef and the food chains, etc. It is unrealistic to take a risk by having a destination to solve the drinking problems today, and ignoring our future generation who will still live on this planet and cherish the every resources left by us. No matter on economic, natural, pollutant emission aspects and so on, it is not worthy to treat desalination as a final solution to middle east.

  28. Firstly it is an interesting article and easy to read, in my opinion, only countries locates at desert and island need desalination, and most of these countries is developing country, desalination can be a really expansive option for governments in these countries, therefore engineering ethic problems may not existed in these countries because they have no choice.

  29. Desalination is an interesting topic. I strongly support the affirmative side. It helps countries in Africa that are lack of water to save lives. Though it cost lots of energy and would cause damage to local ecosystems. It is still a meaningful technique. Furthermore, technology would progress. The disadvantages would be much lower and one day it would be ignorable compared to its benefits.

    1. Thank you. Yes the water desalination plants can be built in the aridity places to save lives. In that case, the moral right would be safe lives but not protect the environment.

  30. Desalination plants requires large amounts of power and it is a disadvantage. Other water treatment technologies are more energy efficient than the water desalination plants so that in terms of energy use it is better to use other technologies.

  31. Nice arguements with these two point view. it will be better to get freash water from sea water with more advanced method. In my opinion, sea water desalination is something we have to do, cause as the population keep increasing nowadays, demand for freash water keep increasing. High technology need to be developed to reduce the bad effect which mention in the article.

  32. Interesting topic. Both sides are morally right, all actions are fully considered the consequences it will take. However, from the Virtue ethics, the polluting is wrong as it hurts people and environment and we care about them. The polluting have negative effect for both stakeholders, and can be considered as harmful for most of people. Then the utilitarianism can be applied here. Overall, the water desalination should stop.

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