In China, a new desalination plant developed by IDE Technologies uses steam from nearby industries that otherwise would have gone up in smoke, providing precious water for power and for drinking.
By Rivka Borochov
Desalination plants are not only expensive to build, but they are also energy intensive. However, a new desalination plant in Tianjin, China, the country’s biggest one yet, has been built by the Israeli desalination giant, IDE Technologies to be an ecologist’s dream.
IDE CEO Avshalom Felber says that the new desalination plant in China, called the IDE MED (short for Multi Effect Distillation) is 50 percent more efficient than any other thermal desalination facility plant in operation today.
MED technology enables a process whereby the seawater is heated by steam and circulated through an evaporator. What makes this solution "green" is that it uses waste heat from nearby industry or power plants, creating clean water from heat that would otherwise just go up in smoke. "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," says Felber.
IDE Technologies has some experience tailoring solutions to meet customers’ demands: The company has some 400 desalination plants in about 35 countries to date. In China, IDE has just finished constructing the first of several desalination plants to provide water for the state-owned energy company SDIC’s new power-generating facility. Located about 200 kilometers northeast of Beijing, the SDIC facility meets tough regulations in China, which require that new power plants must develop their own water source. Furthermore, 80 percent of the desalinated water must be designated for public consumption.
Staving off water shortages
"Water shortage is a major issue in China. It has a growing population, not yet fully reaching its planned population. And the standard of living is going higher, along with water consumption. It’s still less than one quarter of the developed world, but assuming China will catch up, water shortage will be a major restriction for its economic development," Felber explains.
Currently, IDE has four 25,000-cubic-meter units installed and is planning an additional four. The Beijing region is desperate for water, says Felber, as it uses 1.5 million cubic meters per day. He is currently talking with a few major companies, as partners, to expand the desalination business deeper into the Chinese economy. "Already for the northeast part of China, the water shortage in industry is such that it can’t build new industry without building a water supply. If they want to build a power plant, they need water with it," he adds.
The new SDIC power plant will generate 4,000 megawatts of power to meet the needs of Tianjin, using 20 percent of the desalinated seawater (or 20,000 cubic meters) for its steam boilers. The other 80,000 cubic meters provides drinking water to the nearby population. And instead of returning the brine to the sea, which can be damaging to the marine environment, IDE’s plant instead turns it into table salt.
In terms of energy cost, one ton of steam is normally able to generate 10 tons of clean water. IDE’s setup, by contrast, can generate 15 tons of water from one ton of steam, a 50 percent increase in efficiency. "Ours is one of the most efficient solutions worldwide," says Felber, noting that IDE plants require lower capital expenditures and lower maintenance costs to boot.
The Tianjin project is IDE’s first foray into China. The company is looking to strengthen its position in Asia, where it has more than a dozen units installed – mainly in India, where is has been working for the last 15 years.