New tech to drive 9.5% annual desalination growth – report

By 2020, the annual supply of water from desalination will have reached 54 billion m³, according to a report released on 17 March 2009 by Lux Research.

Entitled Desalination’s Future Champions, the report predicts a compound annual growth rate for desalinated water of 9.5% over the next decade, boosted by “a rising wave of new water treatment technologies all aiming to challenge the incumbent reverse osmosis (RO)”.

The report offers what it claims to be the first commercial analysis of emerging water treatment technologies, offering strategic insight to corporations, utilities, banks and early stage investors looking to tap growth opportunities enabled by emerging desalination technologies. To determine which technologies will succeed, the report establishes a benchmark with 13 criteria across two axes measuring each contender by its value and maturity.

Because the factors for success differ between markets, Lux’s report weighted the criteria to come up with separate rankings for each segment. It then scored 18 current and future desalination technologies in this framework, predicting that:

  • Forward osmosis (FO) and RO variants will win in the seawater segment. Set to grow from 10.9 billion m³/year in 2008 to 38.4 billion m³/year (or 71% of total supply) in 2020, the seawater segment could see simpler technologies, like cloud-point and ammonium carbonate FO, beat RO on energy and cost.
  • The brackish water segment will fragment with nine successful technologies. Increasing comparatively slowly from 6.4 billion m³/year (35% of total) in 2008 to 7.2 billion m³/year (13% of total supply) in 2020, brackish water’s widely varying operating conditions combined with the water market’s hyper-locality will foster nine sustainable technologies.
  • RO will go unchallenged in recycling. The fastest-growing segment – increasing from 0.9 billion m³/year in 2008 to 8.4 billion m³/year in 2020 (16% of total supply) – the recycling market’s low energy needs and levels of brine waste minimize RO’s weaknesses, securing its dominance in the segment for decades.
  • “Of particular interest are firms that build, own and/or operate desalination facilities,” said Michael LoCascio, a senior analyst at Lux Research and the report’s lead author. “Since they are technologically agnostic, these firms stand to benefit as the value of desalinated water continues to increase over the next 20 years, while the cost to produce it declines.”