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Drinking water for China, Israeli style

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Friday, May 27th, 2011

As reported in Israel 21c

Normally, “green” and “desalination” are two words that don’t go together. Desalination is a process that takes brackish inland or sea water and makes it drinkable.

This can be a lifesaver in countries with limited or no access to fresh water, such as Saudi Arabia or Jordan, but the processes involved gobble massive amounts of energy and produce an unfavorable amount of salt discharge, causing environmentalists to argue that desalination is not a sustainable solution to meet the world’s water needs — especially in countries that can’t afford to power the desalination plants.

Now, the Israeli desalination company IDE Technologies has introduced a greener way to pull salt from the world’s water. Putting it to the test in China, the Israeli company has created a win-win solution for the environmentally conscious Chinese: using runoff steam from a power plant to help run the desalination plant. The result is water for the power plant, drinking water for the community and salt to sell.

The UK trade magazine Global Water Intelligence is so impressed by the Israeli desalination technology, that in April it named IDE as the “2010 desalination company of the year.”

Making what it called “the greatest overall contribution to the desalination industry during 2010” the magazine praised IDE for its “unique competitive position in the global desalination arena during 2010, winning a significant portion of the Chinese desalination business and competing strongly for tenders in the Americas, Southern Europe and elsewhere in Asia.”

For its innovation, the magazine put IDE’s MED desalination plant China on its short list, as a testament to the company’s leadership and ability to take on new environmental challenges and specifications.

Runs on 50 percent less power

Created in Tianjin, China, the Israeli-built IDE MED desalination plant is the country’s largest and greenest one yet, says IDE’s CEO, Avshalom Felber. Using a process called multi-effect distillation (MED), the plant is claimed to be 50 percent more energy efficient than any other thermal desalination plant today.

In IDE MED, salt water from the sea is heated with steam and then circulated through an evaporator to create an end result of fresh water and salt.

The green element in the design is that the steam used to heat the water before the evaporation process comes from a nearby power plant, making sure that some wasted energy is put to good use.

According to Felber: “The first phase of the Tianjin project is already operating for the last year or so, at 100,000 cubic meters of water per day. Currently we are in the execution process of Phase II, for another 100,000 cubic meters. This is by far the largest desalination plant in China.”

The plant consists of four 25,000-cubic-meter units, and an additional four are underway.

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