Is it possible to use sea water for domestic use?
The short answer is yes, but it is little more complicated than that. Many individuals aware of desalination technology, which makes salt water usable for humans, wonder why it is not already happening. While some argue that it is not realistically possible or practical as an ongoing solution for domestic use, others say it is, such as using it for washing dishes and the like especially while away on their boats.
However, while possible, desalination takes a lot of energy and technology, according to Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute. The salt breaks down easily in water, but as a result, they form chemical bonds, which are difficult to break, he says. The means and energy to do this process is quite costly. Because of this, it is more commonly used in industrial practices.
When could we use sea water for domestic use?
As mentioned above, other than for industrial applications, it is possible to use sea water for domestic use. Not just that, but desalination is far from being a new discovery.
The natural desalination process occurs through the water cycle. Through evaporation, condensation and precipitation, the water is cleaned naturally and moved around the earth. This process has been recreated through man-made technology and disillation. Actually, it’s been historically used on war ships and submarines as well as our modern-day cruise ships. And because the fresh water scarcity issue is worldwide, there are actually desalination plants already operating around the world. According to the International Desalination Association (IDA), there were about 13,000 plants in 2007 in existence producing roughly 14.7 billion gallons of drinkable water. The largest plant is currently in Saudi Arabia, where the cost of energy is lower and fresh water is particularly in short supply.
In addition to use on ships, flushing with sea water has recently been discovered as a way to potentially protect marine life. About 80% of Hong Kong residents use sea water to flush, using a different distribution, according to this article in Chemical and Engineering News.
Using sea water for domestic use is actually being explored more. In fact, big players in the United States for using desalinated water include California and Florida. So, if this technology exists and we already use it in some commercial and industrial purposes, what is holding us back from using it more?
Could using sea water save us money?
As technologies advance, the number of desalination plants in existence is expected to rise. However, despite the amount of plants across the world, cost continues to be an issue, even in the United States. The good news is that as the technology also advances, expenses of such a process will begin to decrease. This is proven from data over the last two decades, showing costs of desalinated water has already significantly decreased. Thankfully, that time may be sooner rather than later.
An article by David Talbot in the March/April 2015 MIT Technology Review publication sheds light on Sorek, a desalination plant in Israel that has made great strides in energy efficiency and reduced costs.
Expenses for this technology are still higher, but we are getting closer. The next challenge to overcome with this process will be determining ways to reduce operating costs of the plants, transporting the salt water inland and disposing of the salt solution effectively. Whether or not using sea water could save us money can depend upon where you live as environmental factors need to be taken into consideration. Even those who do live in coastal areas must wrestle with the continuing opposition of incorporating effective energy technologies. Hopefully, we will be able to learn from Sorek in Israel.
So, could using sea water save us money? Things are looking up, but we are not quite there yet.
Have something to add to the conversation? Feel free to comment below or start a discussion in our forums.