In his treatise on Meteorology, the Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that the vapor created from saltwater, once condensed again, lost its saltiness. In 1452, the Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci devoted some of his time to studying the processes of water distillation and desalination.
Since then, the world has changed profoundly, and those insights have become one of the most effective solutions to address the most serious of problems: the absence of water. The modern answer to these questions has come from desalination plants, capable – through the most sophisticated technologies – of producing drinking water from seawater.
From India to Australia, from Israel to the United Arab Emirates, from China to Saudi Arabia, producing fresh water from the sea has become imperative for many economies. Water scarcity, recurring droughts in recent years from Italy to the United States, and the risk of a drastic reduction in this resource make these water infrastructure one of the essential solutions to address the water crisis.
Today, there are approximately 16,000 desalination plants operating worldwide, distributed in 177 countries and capable of generating 95 million cubic meters of fresh water every day. These plants are strategic not only for people’s daily lives but also for industrial activities. From textiles to food, all productive sectors need water for the operation of machinery, water that can come from the desalination process.
The world's largest desalination plants
The countries of the Arabian Peninsula were certainly among the first to understand the need to invest in desalination plants. The unique atmospheric conditions of these lands, where water is a rare commodity, led governments to invest in this technology, creating some of the largest desalination plants in the world.
One of these is undoubtedly the Jebel Ali Desalination Plant, a massive project. Fisia Italimpianti, a subsidiary of the Webuild Group, also contributed to the construction of Jebel Ali M, whose eight desalination units are still among the largest in the world today. Each of these units produces 80,000 cubic meters of water per day, and for this reason, in 2014, Jebel Ali M was named “Desalination Plant of the Year” by the Global Water Awards.
Like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia has equipped itself with modern desalination plants to ensure the country’s water supply. Among the country’s large plants, Ras Al Khair, located on the eastern coast of the Kingdom, produces fresh water for the capital, Riyadh, where it is transported through a pipeline system spanning 535 kilometers. In Saudi Arabia, Fisia has worked on the expansion of the Shoaiba III project on the western coast of the country, capable of producing 250,000 cubic meters of water per day, which is used to provide drinking water to over one million residents distributed between Mecca, Jeddah, and Taif.
Not just the Middle East
Despite the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula being among the largest users of desalination plants, this technology has been spreading worldwide for years, especially in places where access to water is more complex. Australia and India, for example, have invested heavily in desalination plants, meeting the needs of millions of people.
In Australia, in the state of Victoria, one of the largest plants in the world has been built. The drinking water produced by the Victorian Desalination Plant, located within a facility covering 49 acres (almost 20 hectares), travels 84 kilometers to reach the city of Melbourne, supplying it with 150 billion liters of water each year, which is 30% of its overall needs.
Treating seawater and transforming it into drinking water remains one of the most effective solutions to combat some of the worst effects of climate change, namely water scarcity. According to the United Nations and UNESCO, currently, 2 billion people do not have access to drinking water.
For its part, Fisia Italimpianti – now a global leader in sustainable design and the construction of water treatment and desalination plants – has already created plants capable of treating 6.7 million cubic meters of water every day, serving daily with its desalination plants 20 million people around the world.