Desalination of the Future

Consultant Bruce Marlow demonstrates a feature at the solar-powered WaterFX desalination plant in Fresno County. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

In a world increasingly plagued by frequent drought and water pollution, the technology of water desalination may offer a glimmer of hope. The process of ridding seawater of its salt, in order to make it drinkable is not a new one. The first documented account of water desalination dates to 1684 (story here: – Desalination 1864). In the present day, this technology is relied upon more and more frequently, especially in arid climates near the sea.

The current drought being experienced in the “Central Valley” of California has shown few signs of relief. This is the most productive agriculture zone in the United States, and it’s being threatened by a seemingly uncontrollable factor-climate. However, the pioneering company WaterFx has stepped in to aid in the situation. WaterFx has only one plant to date, but they have hopeful plans of expansion. The technology offered by this groundbreaking company is different than any of its competitors. The plant uses solar thermal technology to strip the water of its salt, but at a quarter of the cost of traditional desalination methods. This incredibly economical method is great news for the local farmers. Mike Stearns, a fourth generation farmer says, “this situation right now is a killer, and anything that adds to a potential water supply is good”. WaterFx is able to supply the farmers with water for $450 an acre, as opposed the $2000 an acre charged by their competitors.

The method of distillation in the Central Valley is quite simple. The plant collects water that has been tainted with salt and other chemicals from the farm runoff and feeds it through a series of pipes for heating. Next, “the heat comes from the plant’s huge, parabolic-shaped solar reflector, which focuses the sun on a long tube containing mineral oil. That heated tube in turn creates steam, which condenses the brackish water into usable liquid, separating out the minerals” (Fagan, P. 2).

In sum, the fears of decreasing fresh water that is suitable for irrigation and drinking are rapidly becoming reality. The method of desalination is helping to resolve some of the shortages, and offers a great deal of hope. The WaterFx plant in the Central Valley is a testament to what desalination has to offer the world, and is the way of the future.

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  1. Interesting post about desalination of water and how the costs end up $450 for WaterFx compared to $2000 from competitors. The loss of freshwater has greatly depleted in certain areas especially where some people need it most (farmland) and if we are able to spread the ways of WaterFx hopefully we can decrease overall crop-loss from droughts.

  2. I found your post to be incredibly interesting. I was just talking to my boss about how water desalination was so expensive and that is the only reason not many areas do it. I literally told him that the only way it would be feasible would be to use solar power to make steam. WaterFx seems to be a pioneer in marketing this process and it is far overdue since we only can use 3% of the Earth’s water and the other 67% is tainted with salt! This is a great step in the direction of renewable resources!

  3. Thanks for the blog post. It looks good. It’s interesting to hear about this new (or at least improved) technology that would be beneficial for people and allow for a greater carrying capacity for people on the Earth.

    Some critical thoughts come up for me: Efficient desalinization would give more people access clean water, but is there a limit of what it can do as populations continue to expand? It’s cheaper with this method, but is it a technology still only some people have access to (those who can afford it)? If we used it on a bigger scale, would it be damaging to oceans in some way?

    BTW, the link to the desalinization timeline didn’t work for me. You might see if you can get it working.

  4. Living in the Midwest my entire life i never gave much of a thought to drought. This post was a big eye-opener for me. I found it very interesting. I enjoy seeing problems solved and those solutions made more efficient.

    Water is one of the most necessary things for life to be sustained. Hopefully in the near future people with a lack of clean water and drought zones will be relieved of the problem

  5. It would be nice if this desalinization could become more readily available for everyday use by everyone. I am sure the costs would go down and there would be less need to rely on the purest water we have, essentially preserving it. It would be remarkable to see where this could take us in the future and I would be interested to see what effect desalinization would have perhaps when traveling to other planets.

  6. I agree that we need more fresh water since our usable water is so limited. It is good that companies are innovating new ways to clean the water at a lower cost. Collecting water from run off and using solar heating also makes it better for the environment!

  7. I remember when I lived in Kuwait, water was free. They had a desalination plant that pumped in 4 gallons of sea water from the Arabian Gulf to produce just a mere 1 gallon of fresh water. The cost of that was subsided by oil.

    In Israel, half their fresh water comes from desalination plants. They helped establish another plant in Jordan (in accordance with their peace deal in 94′)

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