As our planet grapples with the dual challenges of climate change and resource scarcity, two technologies have emerged as beacons of hope: Desalination and Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS).
According to UNICEF, nearly two-thirds of the world's population experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year3. The UN World Water Development Report 2023 warns that the global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to double from 930 million in 2016 to 1.7–2.4 billion people in 20504. These alarming statistics underscore the urgent need for sustainable water solutions like desalination.
Desalination, once a niche technology, now plays an increasingly vital role in addressing global water scarcity. There are almost 16,000 desalination plants operating in 177 countries, producing 95 million cubic meters of freshwater every day1.
Especially crucial in the Middle East and small island nations lacking natural water reserves, desalination is poised to expand significantly in the coming years to meet rising freshwater needs in residential, industrial, and agricultural sectors.
CO2 Emissions in the Desalination Industry
Desalination is an invaluable tool in the fight against water scarcity, but it's crucial to consider its environmental impact. The process is energy-intensive and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon footprint of reverse osmosis (RO) desalination technologies for seawater ranges from 0.4 to 6.7 kg CO2/m³.(2)
The integration of CCUS technologies with desalination processes can significantly mitigate these emissions. This dual approach not only addresses water scarcity but also contributes to a more sustainable and carbon-neutral future.
Integrating CCUS with Desalination – The Cause & Effects
What is CCUS in Terms of Desalination?
Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) is more than just a buzzword in the fight against climate change; it's a technology with direct applications in the desalination industry. In essence, CCUS captures CO2 emissions from industrial processes and either stores it underground or repurposes it. When applied to desalination, CCUS can serve as a critical tool for offsetting the carbon footprint generated by the energy-intensive desalination processes. Captured CO2 can be used for pH control and remineralization in the post-treatment stages, thereby enhancing the water quality and reducing the plant's overall emissions.
Why the Desalination Industry Needs CCUS?
The desalination industry is a significant consumer of energy, and consequently, a contributor to CO2 emissions. According to a study, the carbon footprint of Seawater RO desalination technologies for seawater can range from 0.4 to 6.7 kg CO2/m³. As the global demand for desalinated water continues to rise, especially in water-scarce regions, the environmental impact of these operations cannot be ignored. CCUS offers a way to make desalination more sustainable by capturing and utilizing the emitted CO2, thereby aligning the industry with global sustainability goals.
Synergies Between Desalination and CCUS
The integration of Desalination and Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) technologies offers a promising pathway to address two of the world's most pressing challenges: water scarcity and climate change. But how exactly can these two seemingly disparate technologies complement each other?
Carbon Capture from Flue Gases in Desalination
One of the most promising synergies between desalination and CCUS lies in the capture of carbon dioxide from flue gases generated during the desalination process. Desalination plants, particularly those using thermal methods, emit a significant amount of CO2. By integrating CCUS technology, these emissions can be captured directly from the flue gases for storage or utilization.
CO2 Mineralization and Brine Rejection
Another innovative synergy between desalination and CCUS is the potential for CO2 mineralization using brine rejected from desalination processes. This approach not only captures CO2 but also finds a sustainable way to manage the brine waste generated by desalination plants.
Energy Efficiency and Cogeneration
The integration of these technologies can also lead to improved energy efficiency. For instance, the co-generation of desalinated water and captured carbon can lead to higher overall system efficiencies8
CCUS pathways can provide substantial trans-sectoral synergies within energy-water-food (EWF) systems. When integrated with desalination, this can lead to more sustainable and efficient resource management5
GAS LAB: Pioneering the Integration of CCUS and Desalination
With over two decades of experience, GAS LAB has established itself as a leader in CO2 technology, particularly in its applications for the desalination industry. The company's innovative Carbonic Acid Injection System (CISx®) stands out for its ability to dissolve a maximum amount of CO2 in permeate water, thereby efficiently controlling pH levels and aiding in remineralization.
How GAS LAB Facilitates CCUS Integration in Desalination Plants
GAS LAB offers a range of Carbon Capture solutions and CO2 systems designed to be easily integrated into existing desalination facilities. The CISx® system is a cornerstone of this suite, revolutionizing the way desalination plants manage their carbon footprint. By providing both the technology and expertise, GAS LAB is accelerating the adoption of sustainable practices in the desalination industry.
Retrofitting existing desalination plants with CCUS technologies is a viable option. This could involve installing carbon capture units at emission points and then channeling the captured CO2 for various applications, including remineralization. The integration can happen without disturbing the existing plant, thus saving your initial capital investment, and also promises long-term benefits in operational efficiency and sustainability6.
Collaborative Models for a Sustainable Future
A collaborative model involving Independent Water Producers (IWPs) and Independent Water and Power Producers (IWPPs) offers a sustainable pathway for CO2 management. GAS LAB's Carbon Capture solutions empower IWPPs to generate CO2 from waste flue gases. This captured CO2 can then be supplied to IWPs for use in desalination processes.
Imagine a coastal region with multiple IWPs and a single IWPP. Utilizing GAS LAB's Carbon Capture technology, the IWPP can become a self-sufficient producer of CO2. This not only streamlines the supply chain but also reduces CO2 costs for the IWPs. The result is a stable, cost-effective, and sustainable CO2 supply chain that benefits both water and power producers, marking a significant stride towards environmental sustainability.
Challenges and Solutions in Integrating Desalination and CCUS
One of the main challenges in integrating these technologies is the cost. Both desalination and CCUS technologies require significant capital investment, which can be a barrier to their widespread adoption.
The integration of desalination and CCUS involves complex engineering and process optimization. This complexity can pose challenges in achieving efficient source-sink matching
Regulatory Hurdles in CCUS Deployment
Several countries have already established comprehensive legal and regulatory structures for CCUS, serving as valuable references for nations that are still in the process of building their legal foundations for this technology. However, as more commercial CCUS projects come into existence, these existing frameworks are being put to the test, offering crucial insights for regulators.
The IEA has identified 25 priority issues that legal and regulatory frameworks should address to facilitate CCUS deployment. These range from stewardship responsibilities to safety protocols, and the IEA provides a handbook as a resource for policymakers to establish and update these frameworks7
Solutions and Future Directions
GAS LAB's Innovative Technologies.
GAS LAB's comprehensive range of CO2 systems and Carbon Capture solutions offer a one-stop solution for desalination plants looking to optimize their processes and secure their water supply. Their advanced CO2 gas dosing systems and Carbonic Acid Injection System (CISx®) can significantly mitigate the challenges related to cost and technological complexity.
Research and Development
Continued research and development can help overcome the technological and regulatory challenges. GAS LAB's in-house R&D facility, approved by the Ministry of Science in India, is already contributing to this area.
Consider a coastal area with multiple Independent Water Producers (IWPs) and an Independent Water and Power Producer (IWPP). With GAS LAB's Carbon Capture solutions, a collaborative approach can be taken to produce and distribute CO2, thereby reducing costs and ensuring a stable supply.
The urgency for sustainable water management and climate action is growing. Desalination and CCUS are vital technologies that, when combined, offer a comprehensive solution to these challenges. Despite obstacles like cost and regulations, companies like GAS LAB are pioneering integrated solutions for greater sustainability.
The future lies not just in adopting but in synergizing these technologies for maximum impact. To learn more about GAS LAB's innovative contributions to Desalination and CCUS, visit the CO2 Solutions page on our website.