Reverse Osmosis appears in our books very frequently these days and why not? Seawater desalination as a solution to our scarce water supply problem is gaining popularity very quickly. Recently, Australia build a desalination plant in Sydney, larger than the one in Perth which is estimated to serve the water needs of 1.5 million people annually! This comes after the Israel started using the method as a solution to their water problems. In 2008, the U.S. set up a plant in Tampa Bay, Florida to try eliminating the extreme drought situation in the nearby areas. But what is making Reverse Osmosis Systems so popular all of a sudden? We know that setting up a desalination plant and its maintenance requires a good amount of money and before, only rich countries could afford building one. But now with recent advancements in RO thanks to the technology, the process has become much more cost effective than it was before. The construction of these membranes is such that more number of layers can be added to the membrane, with each layer becoming thinner thus allowing less TDS, increasing durability and eliminating the need for the second layer of the membrane for achieving potable water quality. Here are some of the effects that the RO membranes have made on the desalination industry. 1. The FilmTec touch In the 1970’s, the FilmTec Coop was the first company to bring big changes in the design of RO membranes to increase efficiency and decrease cost. After the Dow Chemical acquired it in 1985, the RO membranes that were assembled manually before were now produced by automated machines thus giving the product consistency. This brought down the cost of RO membranes so much so that now they sell products at half the rate 10 years ago. 2. Capital Costs The single biggest reason for high operation cost of a desalination plant is energy consumption. With years of scientific study and execution, the amount of energy that was spent putting pressure on the water to go through the membrane has been brought down immensely with the help of changes in the RO membrane. The changes are such that it brings the pressure and in turn the energy requirements down. It is said that this change can help the U.S. save as much as $170,000 to $800,000 per year for a plant like the one in Tampa Bay. 3. Efficiency: There was a time when desalination plants produced only 4,000 GPD but today, companies have Reverse Osmosis systems that can produce up to 800,000 GPD or even more. Salt rejection rate has increased over the years enabling one to discard the use of 2nd pass of RO for the water. Such efficiency has made investments in desalination plants go up. It is surprising to see how changes and advancements in the polyamide material of the membranes can help save up money without affecting the output of water. Its significance is realized when we compare this change to the world’s largest desalination plant in Ashkelon, Israel. When we do compare, it is estimated that the plant can achieve nearly $580,000 to $2.4 million of savings in operating costs annually. This revolutionary change has opened opportunities for many other countries to turn to the sea as an alternative to fresh water sources and water desalination technology for the high supply of drinking water.
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