Desalination in the Gulf States

The gulf states are blessed with varieties of natural resources, but sadly, freshwater is not one. These states filter salt water to get fresh water via Desalination. Keep reading to find out what it is and how its effects can be negative or positive.

What Is Desalination and How Does It Work?

Desalination is the process of removing salt and contaminants from saltwater to generate freshwater for drinking and other uses. Desalination plants that use reverse osmosis go through this process.

Before treatment, the plants receive seawater from the ocean and pass the water through a filtration system. The initial filtration stage removes impurities and particles. After filtration, the plant forces the water through special membranes for reverse osmosis – a process through which further filtration and water cleansing occur.

How Does Reverse Osmosis Work?

Reverse osmosis is a water purification process through which particles, ions, and unwanted molecules in water are separated from the water by a partially permeable membrane. The pores in this semipermeable membrane are so tiny that salt particles, bacteria, ions, viruses, and several other impurities cannot pass through with the seawater. They are technically microscopic filters that continue to filter out contaminants that the initial filtration system could not remove.

The filtered impurities and salt removed from the seawater are returned to the ocean via diffusers. The diffusers mix these returned filtrates into the seawater to prevent over-concentration and negatively impact the marine environment.

The Cost and Impact of Desalination

When a country faces a problem like this, as the gulf states have, solutions are often quickly embraced without too much thought on their looking-term. When desalination plants first began operating and helping these states out of their despaired state, they were a necessary and long-awaited solution to a severe problem. However, looking to the future shows that they may not be as sustainable or helpful as they once were.

The entire process is highly energy and cost-intensive. It begins by pumping the seawater into and through the plant, desalinating, and then flushing out filtrates to increase the gulf waters’ salinity.

The Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait – only have about 250,000 sq km of Gulf saltwater. The waterbody itself is 35 meters deep on average and nearly entirely enclosed as the rivers that used to feed into the gulf are now diverted or dammed. With increased heat and dry climate, a high rate of evaporation contributes to the increased salinity of the Gulf.

Experts believe that the Gulf will reach peak salt. This is a term coined from the oil industry’s Peak Oil. Peak Salt is a concept that defines the point when the Gulf gets to the maximum salt extraction level, and desalination becomes no longer possible. With this impending threat to the Gulf’s once-perfect solution, researchers have begun proposing alternatives to desalination.