For Use in Water-Stressed California: Israeli Desalination Success with New Technology

An article in Ensia of July 19, reprinted in the Scientific American on July 29, provides a shining example how the almost-arid Israel, using a technologically improved reverse-osmosis desalination of seawater, has become a water-surplus nation, at least as of now.

Also contributing to this surplus is the fact that Israel monopolizes the Jordan River water source, including brackish water for desalination, and does not allocate water to other nations bounding the Jordan Valley. But the technology, already in use in one California plant as well, is a significant advance in the efficiency of desalination.

At the center of Israel’s success lies the Sorek Desalination Plant, “the world’s largest and most advanced SWRO (Sea Water Reverse Osmosis) desalination plant which provides some 20% of the municipal water demand in Israel (approximately 1.5 million people). The plant sets several significant industry benchmarks in desalination technology, capacity and water cost,” Filtration wrote on June 16, 2016.

IDE Technologies, developer of Israel’s water-treatment technologies, facing the country’s challenge, “has spent 50 years developing the technologies implemented in the Sorek Desalination Plant.” “Over the last decade it has built, and operates, three mega-size desalination plants: Ashkelon with a capacity of 396,000 m3/day (2005); Hadera with a capacity of 525,000 m3/day (2009); and Sorek, the world’s largest operating plant of its type, with a capacity of 624,000 m3/day (2013),” Filtration reported.

The Ensia article also pointed out one major reason behind the success that Sorek and other desalination plants in Israel have attained. The article, citing an Israeli expert, said “‘biofouling’ has always been an Achilles’ heel of desalination, and one of the reasons it has been considered a last resort. Desal works by pushing saltwater into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. But microorganisms in seawater quickly colonize the membranes and block the pores, and controlling them requires periodic costly and chemical-intensive cleaning. But the Israeli researchers have developed a chemical-free system using porous lava stone to capture the microorganisms before they reach the membranes.

“It’s just one of many breakthroughs in membrane technology that have made desalination much more efficient. Israel now gets 55% of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world’s driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants.”

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