IChemE forecasts more UK municipal desalination by 2050

By 2050, at least four municipal desalination plants and up to 800 smaller units could be providing water to UK households and industry.

This forecast was made on 11 September 2013 by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in an exploration of the water sector in its latest technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.

In June 2010, the UK opened its first municipal desalination plant in Beckton, East London, which is operated by Thames Water and capable of supplying 150,000 m³/d of water. The plant only operates during periods of drought.

However, changes in technology, combined with major population growth and unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change are likely to make desalination more viable in the UK. Martin Currie, a member of IChemE’s Water Special Interest Group and independent water quality and treatment consultant with Aqueum, said that, while improvements were continuously being made to reverse-osmosis membranes making desalination more chemical and energy efficient, some of the most exciting developments in desalination were with breakthrough technologies like aquaporins.

“Also, UK universities and companies are at the forefront of forward osmosis (FO) – a technology now in commercial operation that uses osmosis to suck water through the membrane rather than just pumps to push it,” emphasised Currie. “Both technologies promise huge energy savings and FO plants are already seeing massive reductions in the amount of chemicals required to maintain the membranes”.

IChemE will be publishing a white paper in 2014 which will assess all the options for a secure and safe water supply in the UK and internationally.