Over the past 100 years, global freshwater use has increased sixfold. By 2030, the world is likely to face a global water deficit of 40 percent. And already today over 2 billion people live in water-stressed areas. Technological innovation in water treatment has a critical role in making efficient use of the planet’s precious water resources.

Innovation examples

  • High Angle View Of Illuminated Buildings In City Against Sky - Stock-Fotografie High Angle View Of Illuminated Buildings In City Against Sky - Stock-Fotografie

    Supplying Windhoek’s drinking water

    The Goreangab Water Reclamation Plant was built in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1968. It is the world’s longest-running treatment plant for recycling … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Water treatment / Innovation examples

    Supplying Windhoek’s drinking water

    High Angle View Of Illuminated Buildings In City Against Sky - Stock-Fotografie
    Getty Images Plus /©Johannes Laufs / EyeEm

    The Goreangab Water Reclamation Plant was built in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1968. It is the world’s longest-running treatment plant for recycling wastewater into drinking water. Driven by challenges such as a lack of perennial rivers, declining rainfall and increased evapotranspiration, the city of Windhoek became the first in the world to produce drinking water directly from municipal wastewater. In 2002, the city built a new plant named the New Goreangab Reclamation Plant to benefit from more modern water treatment technologies. A combination of nine processes are employed to treat the water. Steps include pre-ozonation, coagulation/flocculation, dissolved air flotation, dual media filtration, ozonation, biological active carbon filtration, adsorption/active carbon filtration, ultrafiltration and chlorination. Once treated, the water is blended with treated surface water to produce drinkable reused water.[1] To protect water sources from pollution, industries are located outside the city. Industrial waste is treated at a separate wastewater treatment facility. The new plant supplies more than 20,000 m3 of potable water daily to the capital’s 350,000 residents.[2]

  • One of the worlds largest desalination plants supplying fresh water to the Jubail area One of the worlds largest desalination plants supplying fresh water to the Jubail area

    Desalination in Saudi Arabia

    Saudi Arabia leads the world in desalination. The country has relied on desalinated seawater and wastewater since the 1950s and operates more … Read more

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    Desalination in Saudi Arabia

    One of the worlds largest desalination plants supplying fresh water to the Jubail area
    Getty Images /©Abayliss

    Saudi Arabia leads the world in desalination. The country has relied on desalinated seawater and wastewater since the 1950s and operates more than 30 desalination plants. Desalination accounts for 60 percent of water supply, with non-renewable groundwater (fossil water) supplying the remainder. With a growing population and expanding industrial sector, water demand is expected to increase. Major new desalination projects are planned. A reverse osmosis plant was recently expanded to supply nearly 2 million people with a daily output of 450,000 m3. However, desalination comes at a great cost. It represents nearly 20 percent of total energy consumption in Saudi Arabia. This represents a significant source of GHG emissions, since the country’s electricity is produced mainly from natural gas and crude oil.[1] Progress is underway in renewable energy sources for desalination. In 2018, the world’s first large-scale desalination plant powered solely by solar energy was built in the city of Al Khafji, where it provides water to 100,000 people. Solar-powered desalination plants in Saudi Arabia now save an estimated 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.[2] This represents a fraction of total energy demand. But more renewable initiatives and efficiency measures are planned.

Proven technologies  

  • System of greywater recycling in households System of greywater recycling in households

    Decentralized graywater recycling

    Water scarcity is driving a need to exploit alternative water solutions. Hydraloop provide decentralized graywater recycling systems for … Read more

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    Decentralized graywater recycling

    Hydraloop Systems B.V.
    System of greywater recycling in households
    Photo: © HydraLoop Systems

    Water scarcity is driving a need to exploit alternative water solutions. Hydraloop provide decentralized graywater recycling systems for residential buildings and hotels. The system takes water from showers, washing machines and air conditioning units and treats it on the spot. The recycled water is then used for flushing toilets, laundry, irrigation and other non-potable uses. Depending upon user behavior, the system can reduce water consumption in a house by up to 45 percent. Instead of relying on filters, membranes or chemicals to clean the water, Hydraloop combines six technologies: sedimentation, floatation, dissolved air floatation, foam fractionation, an aerobic bioreactor and UV light disinfection.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: The Netherlands
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Die Umkehrosmoseanlage in einer Entsalzungsanlage. Die Umkehrosmoseanlage in einer Entsalzungsanlage.

    Reverse osmosis of seawater

    Reverse osmosis (RO) is the most common desalination technology.[1] During an osmosis process, water … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Water treatment / Proven technologies

    Reverse osmosis of seawater

    SafBon Water Technology
    Die Umkehrosmoseanlage in einer Entsalzungsanlage.
    Getty Images /© tifonimages

    Reverse osmosis (RO) is the most common desalination technology.[1] During an osmosis process, water with different concentrations of salts for example is separated by a semi-permeable membrane. As these different concentrations come into contact through the membrane, water with a lower concentration naturally crosses over to water with a higher concentration until equilibrium is reached. In RO, pressure is added to highly concentrated water (e.g., seawater), forcing it through the membrane to obtain clean, and salt-free water. SafBon Water Technology, part of Shanghai SafBon Water Service Co. Ltd., provides various RO treatment systems for seawater and brackish water. The technology has been developed as a modular system to enable shipping and installation worldwide. Water can be treated for municipal use as drinking water or to supply industrial sectors such power and mining.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: China
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • thermal desalination technology thermal desalination technology

    Multi-stage flash desalination (MSF)

    Multi-stage flash (MSF) desalination is a thermal desalination technology. This means it uses heat to evaporate and condense water to purify it. … Read more

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    Multi-stage flash desalination (MSF)

    Wärtsilä
    thermal desalination technology
    Photo: © Wärtsilä

    Multi-stage flash (MSF) desalination is a thermal desalination technology. This means it uses heat to evaporate and condense water to purify it. The Finnish company Wärtsilä’s MSF system is applicable to seawater, industrial water and well water. It is capable of producing up to 1,500 tons of distillate a day. It is specifically designed for use onboard ships. But the company also provides land-based applications. In the MSF desalination system, incoming seawater is first heated in a heat exchanger. The water then enters different flash chambers, where pressure is continually reduced and the water exposed to a series of explosive evaporations (flashing). The purified vapor is then condensed to leave behind salty brine. Meanwhile, the heated water helps preheat incoming seawater thereby reducing energy use. As heat transfer and evaporation are separated, the risk of scaling (caused by the salt) is reduced.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: Finland
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Located in San Diego County, CA, at the Encina Power Station, The Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is the largest salt water desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere and provides 50 million gallons of desalinated seawater per day.​ Located in San Diego County, CA, at the Encina Power Station, The Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is the largest salt water desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere and provides 50 million gallons of desalinated seawater per day.​

    Multi-effect distillation (MED)

    Multi-effect distillation is a thermal desalination technology that uses waste heat from industrial processes or power production to distill … Read more

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    Multi-effect distillation (MED)

    IDE Technologies
    Located in San Diego County, CA, at the Encina Power Station, The Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is the largest salt water desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere and provides 50 million gallons of desalinated seawater per day.​
    Getty Images /© Reed Kaestner

    Multi-effect distillation is a thermal desalination technology that uses waste heat from industrial processes or power production to distill seawater. IDE Technologies has developed a multi-effect distillation process in which seawater first enters a condenser that removes oxygen and heats the water moderately. From there, the seawater is led through a series of evaporators and condensers – called “effects” – in which waste heat is added through heat transfer tubes. It is then sprayed on to the hot tubes in the first effect. This evaporates some of the water before it flows into the next effect. Here, the water condenses and provides heat for an additional evaporation process in the next effect, and so on until a final clear condensate is obtained.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: Israel
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • solar-driven mini desalination plant suitable for use in off-grid rural areas solar-driven mini desalination plant suitable for use in off-grid rural areas

    Solar-driven mini desalination plants

    Elemental Water Makers has developed a solar-driven mini desalination plant suitable for use in off-grid rural areas. The plant is delivered in a … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Water treatment / Proven technologies

    Solar-driven mini desalination plants

    Elemental Water Makers
    solar-driven mini desalination plant suitable for use in off-grid rural areas
    Photo: © elementalwatermakers

    Elemental Water Makers has developed a solar-driven mini desalination plant suitable for use in off-grid rural areas. The plant is delivered in a container for speed and ease of installation and maintenance. Different sizes are available. Water production ranges from 5,300 to 40,000 liters a day. The process utilizes reverse osmosis technology. By reusing residual energy from the brine (the saltier water flow), energy input and number of solar panels can be reduced. The company also provides a desalination technology that uses solar or wind energy to pump seawater into a tank positioned high on a hill. This is so that the system may use gravity to provide pressurized seawater for the reverse osmosis process. As this process is designed for continuous operation, storing water inside an elevated tank has an advantage with regard to fluctuating renewable energy technologies by providing a flow of seawater that is constant.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: The Netherlands
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • WESTHAMPTON, NJ - JULY 15: Employees of SunEdison install photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a Kohl's Department Store on July 15, 2008 in Westhampton, New Jersey. Company engineers estimate Kohl's will be able to reduce their electricity usage on average by 25% once power begins flowing from the 1536 rooftop panels. Kohl's signed a contract with SunEdison, based in Beltsville, Maryland, to receive electricity for 20 years at a reduced price from public utility rates. New Jersey is the nation's second largest producer of solar energy behind California. State and federal tax incentives help individuals and commercial enterprises cover the costs of solar panel installations. SunEdison is North America's largest solar energy service provider. WESTHAMPTON, NJ - JULY 15: Employees of SunEdison install photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a Kohl's Department Store on July 15, 2008 in Westhampton, New Jersey. Company engineers estimate Kohl's will be able to reduce their electricity usage on average by 25% once power begins flowing from the 1536 rooftop panels. Kohl's signed a contract with SunEdison, based in Beltsville, Maryland, to receive electricity for 20 years at a reduced price from public utility rates. New Jersey is the nation's second largest producer of solar energy behind California. State and federal tax incentives help individuals and commercial enterprises cover the costs of solar panel installations. SunEdison is North America's largest solar energy service provider.

    Solar water distillation

    Solar water distillation is a relatively simple and cheap technology for purifying water from contaminants and salts. Water is placed in a basin … Read more

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    Solar water distillation

    Millennium Electric T.O.U. Ltd
    WESTHAMPTON, NJ - JULY 15: Employees of SunEdison install photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a Kohl's Department Store on July 15, 2008 in Westhampton, New Jersey. Company engineers estimate Kohl's will be able to reduce their electricity usage on average by 25% once power begins flowing from the 1536 rooftop panels. Kohl's signed a contract with SunEdison, based in Beltsville, Maryland, to receive electricity for 20 years at a reduced price from public utility rates. New Jersey is the nation's second largest producer of solar energy behind California. State and federal tax incentives help individuals and commercial enterprises cover the costs of solar panel installations. SunEdison is North America's largest solar energy service provider.
    Getty Images /© Robert Nickelsberg / Contributor

    Solar water distillation is a relatively simple and cheap technology for purifying water from contaminants and salts. Water is placed in a basin to evaporate under high temperature. As it cools and condenses, water droplets are captured and channeled into a separate basin as clean water. Millennium Electric Ltd. provide a solar distillation device that heats water to 130oC using a solar collector. As the water boils, evaporates and condenses, the distilled water is gathered into a separate tank for further use as irrigation and drinking water. The device can vary in size, ranging from 50 to 5,000 liters a day.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: Israel
    • Availability: Worldwide

Frontier technologies  

  • Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant - stock photo Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant - stock photo

    Closed circuit reverse osmosis desalination (CCRO)

    Desalitech – now acquired by DuPont – has delivered a breakthrough in reverse osmosis desalination through its closed circuit reverse osmosis … Read more

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    Closed circuit reverse osmosis desalination (CCRO)

    DuPont Desalitec
    Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant - stock photo
    Getty Images /©TerryJ

    Desalitech – now acquired by DuPont – has delivered a breakthrough in reverse osmosis desalination through its closed circuit reverse osmosis (CCRO) technology. It combines simple filtration principles with traditional RO cross flow. The system essentially recovers water treated at the end of the RO process and recirculates it a number of times, instead of passing it through a series of multiple membrane elements and stages. Passing it through several cycles enables more efficient water recovery, with recovery rates of up to 98 percent in single-stage brackish systems. The CCRO system is claimed to reduce water waste by up to 75 percent and energy consumption by as much as 35 percent.[1]

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: United States
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • A membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) A membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR)

    Membrane-aerated biofilm reactors (MABR)

    A membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) is a relatively new technology for aerobic wastewater treatment. It treats storm and sewage water using … Read more

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    Membrane-aerated biofilm reactors (MABR)

    Fluence Corporation
    A membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR)
    Photo: © Fluence Corporation LCC

    A membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) is a relatively new technology for aerobic wastewater treatment. It treats storm and sewage water using less energy and fewer chemicals. The technology promotes a high rate of oxygen transfer to the microbes, which break down pollutants in wastewater. MABR uses a permeable membrane to transfer oxygen directly to these microorganisms, as opposed to the traditional method of pumping air and diffusing it in the form of bubbles. Because it is a more passive form of aeration, it requires less energy. Fluence Corporation offers MABR technology for small and medium-sized installations, as well as the retrofitting of existing plants. Energy savings as high as 90 percent are reported compared to conventional plants. This makes the technology suitable for use with alternative off-grid energy sources and decentralized treatment.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: United States
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • a portable water treatment system for use by off-grid rural households a portable water treatment system for use by off-grid rural households

    UV disinfection of water

    Solvatten is a portable water treatment system for use by off-grid rural households. It uses ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect water, while … Read more

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    UV disinfection of water

    Solvatten
    a portable water treatment system for use by off-grid rural households
    Photo: © Solvatten

    Solvatten is a portable water treatment system for use by off-grid rural households. It uses ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect water, while simultaneously using solar heat to warm it for domestic use. The technology consists of two 5-liter containers filled with water through an opening with a fabric filter. Units are then placed in direct sunlight to expose them to UV radiation. The combined heat (up to 75 °C) and radiation purifies the water of pathogenic materials in under 6 hours. UV light damages the microorganisms’ DNA of rendering them unable to reproduce. An indicator tells a user that the water has been purified and is hygienic and ready for household use.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: Sweden
    • Availability: Worldwide

Horizon technologies  

  • A bank of Reverse Osmosis filters at a public water utility plant. A bank of Reverse Osmosis filters at a public water utility plant.

    Batch reverse osmosis

    Traditional reverse osmosis (RO) relies on a constant flow of pressurized water fed through a membrane. Batch (RO) is a technique that processes … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Water treatment / Horizon technologies

    Batch reverse osmosis

    Purdue University
    A bank of Reverse Osmosis filters at a public water utility plant.
    Getty Images /©TerryJ

    Traditional reverse osmosis (RO) relies on a constant flow of pressurized water fed through a membrane. Batch (RO) is a technique that processes water in batches, first releasing the outputs before taking in the next batch. But the breaks between batches – during which time no water is produced – may increase costs substantially. Researchers have now developed a variant of batch (RO) that uses a double-sided piston. While one side of the piston pushes seawater forward to be treated, the other side simultaneously fills the next batch of seawater to be treated, and so on. The resultant reduction in downtime could enhance the commercial viability of batch (RO), while also significantly reducing the energy consumption of desalination processes.

    • Contracting type: Research collaboration
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: United States
    • Availability: N/A
  • Ice in an ice bucket Ice in an ice bucket

    Freeze desalination

    A category of desalination technologies currently under development focuses on freezing rather than heating feed water to extract freshwater. It … Read more

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    Freeze desalination

    Ice in an ice bucket
    Getty Images /© Florencio Horcajo Alvarez

    A category of desalination technologies currently under development focuses on freezing rather than heating feed water to extract freshwater. It does this for example by producing ice or other solids as an intermediate product. Technologies in this field include secondary refrigerant freezing (SRF), hydration (HY) and vacuum freezing (VF) desalination. Because ice contains only a small fraction of salt, such techniques can be used to produce freshwater from seawater.[2] By freezing saltwater, a slurry of ice and brine is obtained from which the brine is discarded. The ice that remains can then be melted to produce freshwater. Benefits include a reduced need for saltwater pretreatment, a lesser risk of corrosion and scaling and lower energy usage.[3] Research into freezing desalination technologies started in the 1950s. But interest waned due to difficulty removing the ice produced in the process from the brine. No commercial plants are currently in operation. However, some research is addressing the technology with the aim of developing commercially viable alternatives with a smaller environmental footprint.

    • Contracting type: Research collaboration
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: N/A
    • Availability: N/A

Global freshwater in decline

Less than 3 percent of Earth’s water is freshwater. Due to its highly varied spatial and temporal distribution, freshwater access is becoming an increasingly critical challenge. Regions such as the Middle East and North Africa face the worst … Read more

Global freshwater in decline

Less than 3 percent of Earth’s water is freshwater. Due to its highly varied spatial and temporal distribution, freshwater access is becoming an increasingly critical challenge. Regions such as the Middle East and North Africa face the worst water scarcity.[33] The agriculture sector uses up most of the freshwater – in very dry countries, irrigation may account for more than 90 percent of water withdrawals.[34] More droughts, saltwater intrusion and seasonal variability are now amplifying competition for the water that remains. Meanwhile, the quality of water deteriorates, as heavier rainfall and surface water runoff carries with it fertilizers, oil, pesticides and other pollutants. The supply of water is increasingly uncertain. In many places, it is no longer possible to rely solely on the natural replenishment of water sources. Water treatment solutions and wastewater reclamation for agriculture has been practiced for centuries. Today, innovative technologies are enabling the extraction, management and treatment of water sources for use in biodiversity preservation, as drinking water, graywater, industrial process water and irrigation.[35] Read less

Water purification systems

There is huge climate adaptation potential in recycling wastewater. Yet only about half of global wastewater is adequately treated.[36] Windhoek in Namibia is still one of only a few cities and places … Read more

Water purification systems

There is huge climate adaptation potential in recycling wastewater. Yet only about half of global wastewater is adequately treated.[36] Windhoek in Namibia is still one of only a few cities and places where wastewater is treated and turned into drinking water.[37] High rates of water recycling are found in Australia, Europe and the Middle East.[38] Water from baths, showers and sinks (graywater) can be treated and reused for flushing toilets, doing laundry or irrigating gardens. Industrial-process water can be managed in closed circuits for temperature control, or reused through industrial symbiosis processes. In Egypt, drainage water from agriculture is collected through an extensive drainage network and mixed with freshwater for reuse.[39] The country is now set to become a world leader in water reuse by increasing its recycling capacity up to fivefold.[40] The impact of climate change on the development of such technologies is already evident. Globally, the market for water recycle and reuse technologies is projected to increase from an estimated USD 15.3 billion in 2020 to more than 27 billion by 2026. Climate change impact and drought resilience measures are considered the main drivers.[41] Read less

Making use of alternative water sources

Wastewater reclamation may help conserve freshwater. But there is also tremendous adaptation potential in making use of brackish water, harvested rain, saltwater, stormwater and other sources. One major future trend in the field of water reuse … Read more

Making use of alternative water sources

Wastewater reclamation may help conserve freshwater. But there is also tremendous adaptation potential in making use of brackish water, harvested rain, saltwater, stormwater and other sources. One major future trend in the field of water reuse is the production of potable water for human consumption, particularly in megacities. Coupling advanced wastewater treatment facilities with seawater desalination plants may offer attractive ways of meeting this demand.[42] Desalination technologies are becoming increasingly relevant in water-stressed regions. Some Middle Eastern countries rely on it for up to 90 percent of their drinking water.[43] Today, there are two main types of desalination technologies for saltwater and brackish water – membrane and thermal desalination. Membrane, or reverse osmosis (RO) desalination, uses osmosis to remove salt and other impurities by filtering water through semi-permeable membranes. Thermal desalination uses heat to evaporate and condense water. Despite considerable gains in efficiency, desalination technologies remain energy intensive and expensive. Moreover, the highly saline wastewater may present an environmental problem. Reverse osmosis has even been prohibited in parts of India, partly due to its wasteful use of water.[44] However, several innovations focus on using renewable energy technologies such as wind, photovoltaic and concentrated solar power to improve the environmental and economic performance of desalination technologies. Read less