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More Deserts to Bloom, This Time in Israel

After nearly a decade of drought, Israel has decided to make its freshwater rather than wait in vain for enough of it to fall from the sky. The Sorek desalination plant opening next month will be the largest facility of its kind in the world. Once it’s operational, Israel’s four desalination plants will be capable of producing 60 percent of the country’s freshwater. There’s speculation that the country will soon see a water surplus, something that was almost unthinkable during the arid 2000s. The Times of Israel reports:

Like Israel’s other plants, Sorek will work through a process called Seawater Reverse Osmosis that removes salt and waste from the Mediterranean’s water. A prefiltration cleansing process clears waste out of the flow before the water enters a series of smaller filters to remove virtually all the salt. After moving through another set of filters that remove boron, the water passes through a limestone filter that adds in minerals. Then, it enters Israel’s water pipes.

[Raphael Semiat, a member of the Israel Desalination Society and professor at Israel’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology] says desalination is a virtually harmless process that can help address the water needs prompted by the world’s growing population and rising standard of living.

Water scarcity is going to become an increasingly important strategic interest for countries around the world. It is already figuring into geopolitics in China and spurring innovation in dry places like Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Qatar.

Water from desalinization plants comes at a cost; these plants are quite energy-intensive. But the ability to convert energy into freshwater (which is effectively what desalination plants do) gives countries like Israel more flexibility when dealing with this resource scarcity.

We hear a lot about how our species is doomed, that we’ve overextended ourselves on a planet that can no longer support us. But today is not nearly as bleak as yesterday’s Malthusians predicted. There’s still plenty of reason to believe the Malthusians will be wrong about tomorrow as well.

[Desalination plant image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • wigwag

    In large amounts, salt is corrosive and toxic. Does anyone have any idea what they do with it after its extracted from the sea water?

    Would it be possible to dump it on the presidential palace in Damascus?

  • ljgude

    The Malthusians of course only have to right once to win the argument, but I think they are wrong because they chronically underestimate the opacity of the future – particularly technological developments of this nature. They project current knowns into the future, just as the original Malthus projected the agricultural production rates of his day into a future that saw them rise exponentially. One man with Mr McCormick’s reaper could produce more food in a season than his father did in a lifetime. I think that a large meteor may be the greater risk to the future of humankind and that we should be seriously looking to colonize Mars to hedge our bets.

  • ChuckFinley

    As long as there is energy, they can make water. The energy the Israelis can get by building more nuclear power plants.

    One of the things that I wonder about is why Israel has not put more research effort into the field of biochemistry pioneered by Chaim Weitzman, who went on to become the first president of Israel. Weitzman found the Clostridium Acetylbutylacium bacterium that eats starches and sugars and excretes butanol, acetone and ethanol. The acetone was used during WW I to produce cordite. Butanol can be used to fuel unmodified automobiles. In the hundred years since Weitzman’s discoveries it seems that it should have been possible to discover or breed a microorganism that can economically transform agricultural waste into gasoline.

    Not only would that guarantee Israel’s energy independence but Israel’s neighbors would be a lot less dangerous if they did not have so much money.

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