Clean fresh water is becoming harder to get hold of due to climate change  and unsustainable use of underground water . In response, more and more communities are using seawater as a source of fresh water – this is achieved using a process called “desalination“ (see our last post) [11,14,15]. There are now thought to be over 15,900 desalination plants spread across 177 countries ! This is hugely useful for providing water for industry, watering crops, and of course for drinking . But there must be downsides too, right?
Right. Desalination leaves a toxic by-product: brine . For every liter of freshwater produced, another 1.5 liters of brine are made . If this is released back into the ocean, it can harm wildlife . We need to dispose of brine safely . This can involve making new products: the salt and metals can be extracted from the liquid and sold on .
Whilst desalination can be done on a small scale by simply boiling seawater in a pan , doing it on a large scale is expensive and energy-intensive [13,14]: desalination is, on average, 2-4x more expensive than most other water sources . We need to bring the price of the process down to make it affordable for low-income countries [1,4]. Scientists are investigating using nanotechnology  and bacteria to help desalinate water !
Although desalination is far from a perfect technology, it will likely become increasingly important for providing fresh water as climate change progresses [5,15]. In some cases, however, we could prevent the need for desalination by better management of water sources in the first instance [6,8].
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