DUBAI, UAE — The global desalination market is growing at a record rate, led by surging demand for seawater desalination, according to the 22nd GWI/IDA Worldwide Desalting Plant Inventory. The numbers were released at a briefing on the State of Desalination held by the International Desalination Association (IDA) and Global Water Intelligence (GWI) at the IDA World Congress on Desalination and Water Reuse.

The total capacity of plants now online is 59.9 million cubic meters per day (m3/d), a 6.6 million-m3/d increase compared with last year. This represents the largest amount of desalination capacity brought on line in a single year. Seven hundred new plants were commissioned around the world during the year, including the largest in the world: the 880,000-m3/d Shoaiba 3 project in Saudi Arabia. There are now 14,451 desalination plants on-line. A further 244 plants with a capacity of 9.1 million m3/d are known to be under contract or in construction.

The greatest increase has come from seawater desalination. Since the last IDA World Congress in November 2007, the installed capacity of seawater desalination plants has expanded by 29.6 percent to 35.9 million m3/d. To date in 2009, 4.6 million m3/d of seawater desalination capacity was added, and demand for seawater desalination is forecast to grow dramatically.

“We project that by 2014, we will be adding more than the equivalent of a new River Thames each year to the world’s renewable freshwater resources. By 2020, the seawater desalination industry will be adding twice that amount. We are creating rivers that flow backwards from the sea,” said Christopher Gasson, publisher of GWI and DesalData.

This growth is taking place not only in the Middle East, but also in other countries. The Inventory shows that there has been an explosion of demand in the GCC region because of population growth and high oil prices.

According to Lisa Henthorne, president of IDA, the world’s largest desalination plants, both online and in the planning stages, are those seawater facilities located in the Middle East region. The largest production from an individual desalination installation is the Shoaiba 3 project on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, producing 880,000 m3/d. Seven other commissioned or contracted plants have capacities in excess of 400,000 m3/d.

“We tend to build these desalination plants in phases, adding onto facilities as demand grows. The Jebel Ali complex in Dubai is a good example, where an additional 600,000 m3/d of capacity was recently contracted,” she noted.

“Seawater desalination represents a $10 billion industry today. We forecast that it will be a $16 billion industry in 2020,” Gasson added.

According to Henthorne, while the global economic downturn caused the rate of growth in desalination plants to slow somewhat in 2008-2009, population and economic growth, pollution of existing water resources, and climate change continue to drive the need for new and reliable sources of water.

“Desalination is one of the answers. It continues to be an increasingly important part of global water solutions for the 21st century and for a better world,” she said.