The global water desalination market size was valued at USD 19.62 billion in 2022. It is estimated to reach USD 43.03 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 9.12% during the forecast period (2023–2031).
Desalination procedures eradicate excess salts and other minerals from water, transforming it into usable or safe potable water. Feedwater sources may comprise seawater, brackish water, and groundwater and surface water. To successfully push water through membrane processes and overcome natural osmotic pressures, membrane separation requires driving factors such as pressure (applied and vapor), electric potential, and concentration. As a result, technology is energy-intensive, and research to increase efficiency and lower energy usage is ongoing. A byproduct of the desalination process is brine.
Desalination is deemed an alternative sustainable freshwater supply with the requisite quality and quantity. The key advantage of desalination is that it can provide high-quality drinking water for consumption in areas of water scarcity. Desalination addresses diminishing freshwater supplies as countries seek solutions to water scarcity caused by climate change, industrial development, pollution, and population growth. Desalination techniques are categorized into membrane, thermal, and renewable technologies. It is also more environmentally friendly than conventional water treatment methods due to the lack of chemical use.
Depleting freshwater resources is one of the most crucial global challenges, which significantly threatens economic growth, ecosystem health, and water security. Freshwater is a vital component of a healthy human life, but according to International Water Management Institute, 1.2 billion people lack access to water. According to the Wildlife Federation, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Likewise, water demand is estimated to increase by 40% by 2030. Another challenging source of water scarcity is economic factors. Economic water scarcity is prevalent all over Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Due to increasing water demand, recycling and recovery of wastewater have become a rising trend in the past decade. Wastewater reuse reduces the volume and environmental threat of released wastewater and lessens the pressure on ecosystems from freshwater withdrawal. In recent years, greater identification of challenges of pollution of aquatic environments and water scarcity has revived global interest in water desalination systems. More strict regulations, increasing expenses for wastewater discarding, and the growing value of freshwater are leading water desalination to become a useful or even an essential choice for wastewater management, driving the market growth.
Urbanization refers to the rising population percentage in urban areas. More than 50% of the global population lives in urban areas, generating over 80% of the global domestic product (GDP). Water pollution has become a more significant concern with the rapid growth of the economy and the acceleration of urbanization and industrialization. The rising population in cities has a substantial impact on water quality. Moreover, the growing number of industries that release emissions is also anticipated to generate more significant opportunities for water desalination for water treatment. Thus, with the increase in urbanization and growing consumer awareness, the demand for water desalination is expected to grow.
Membrane Fouling and Scaling
The demand for water desalination is rapidly growing due to rising expenditure on water treatment coupled with increasing demand for cleaning drinking water. In addition, RO is becoming increasingly popular for seawater desalination and wastewater reclamation. However, scaling and fouling are significant challenges, as fouling of the membranes adversely impacts the overall process efficiency and economics. RO scales are formed when dissolved substances in the feedwater reach their maximum solubility limit somewhere in the RO unit. The saturation of salts on the surface of the membrane is the core reason for scaling in desalination plants. The fouling reduces the membrane's flux and life span, thereby hampering the market growth.
Hybrid Desalination Process
The hybrid desalination process combines two or more desalination technologies to accomplish the comparative advantages of these technologies. Some hybrid systems combine systems that utilize membrane desalination or thermal distillation, or both methods. Some hybrid systems also generate electric power, supplementing pure water production. In addition, hybrid systems have been contemplated as an economical alternative to standalone systems as they can lower pressure and stress in terms of scaling and fouling, consumption of energy, and cost of desalinated water through improvements in the recovery rate and overall water quality.
Currently, the applications of hybrid systems have developed, and the implementation of these systems has led to the enhancement of the efficiency of the desalination plants through the development of product water and brine quality. Recent advancements in hybrid desalination technologies have created sustainable, environmental-friendly, cost-competitive, and socially impactful desalination methods. Likewise, innovations in desalination technologies offer more significant opportunities to the market.
The global water desalination market is bifurcated into technology, application, and water source.
Based on technology, the global water desalination market is bifurcated into membrane technology, thermal technology, and other renewable technologies.
The membrane technology segment dominates the global market and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 9.46% over the forecast period. Membrane-based desalination is the technology where salt separation arises with no phase transition and includes lower energy consumption. It is generally considered to resolve water scarcity problems owing to its high efficiency and lesser energy consumption. Membranes and filters can selectively prohibit or permit the enactment of some ions, and desalination technologies have been created across these capabilities. In addition, membranes are crucial in separating salts in the natural procedures of osmosis and dialysis. The primary membrane technology includes electrodialysis (ED), electrodialysis reversal (EDR), reverse osmosis (RO), and others.
Thermal treatment includes high temperatures in the processing of the waste feedstock. Generally considered systems in thermal treatment include gasification, incineration, and pyrolysis. Gasification can be viewed as between combustion and pyrolysis because it entails the partial oxidation of matter. Incineration typically involves the combustion of unprepared, raw, or residual MSW. Compared to combustion, pyrolysis is thermal degradation in the absence of oxygen. The primary thermal technology includes Multistage Flash (MSF), Multiple Effect Distillation (MSD), and Mechanical Vapor Compression.
Based on application, the global water desalination market is bifurcated into municipal, industrial, and others.
The municipal segment owns the highest market share and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 9.10% over the forecast period. The municipal sector is estimated to be the largest sector by application of the water desalination market during the forecast period. Globally, the increasing population has increased the demand for treated water. The scarcity of water resources has necessitated more water recycling and water treatment services. In addition, municipal wastewater is usually treated to fulfill the statutory requirements for discharge to environmental waters. However, there is rising implementation of wastewater reuse schemes. The significant contaminants requiring removal from municipal wastewater, generally in order of importance, comprise suspended solids, organic matter, ammonia, nitrates, phosphate, pathogenic bacteria, and micropollutants.
Water desalination systems have been widely utilized for several industrial wastewater treatments. Desalination can lessen water supply limitations and allow the treatment of challenging wastewater throughout various industries such as food and beverage, oil and gas, pulp and paper, etc. It is a process utilized for various applications with effective, low-cost, and compact systems to manage separation and water purification requirements. In the industrial sector, water treatment is required if contaminated water is used in manufacturing; the unwanted materials may harm product quality.
Based on the water source, the global water desalination market is divided into seawater, brackish water, and groundwater and surface water.
The seawater segment is the most significant contributor to the market and is anticipated to exhibit a CAGR of 9.16% over the forecast period. The seawater desalination process eliminates salt and other impurities to produce pure water. The most extensively used and commercially accessible technologies for seawater desalination can be categorized into membrane and thermal. Thermal desalination procedures usually utilize heat to evaporate water, putting dissolved constituents behind. The water vapor is then condensed and accumulated as product water. In addition, membrane desalination processes use high pressure to drive water molecules across tiny pores while maintaining salts and other bigger molecules. Reverse osmosis (RO) is the most widely employed membrane desalination technology. With the development of desalination technologies, seawater has become an attractive water source for addressing the freshwater shortage.
Brackish water is water that contains a salinity level that lies between freshwater and seawater. It arises where ground or surface water blends with seawater in deep fossil aquifers and where salt dissolves from mineral accumulations over time as precipitation permeates into aquifers. As water scarcity increases, brackish water can be a crucial resource for several regions. With total dissolved solids (TDS) ranging from 1,500 to 20,000 mg/L, desalination is necessary. For various reasons, brackish water is desalinated to reduce its total dissolved solids (TDS) or salinity. Innovative membrane treatment technologies used to do this involve ultrafiltration (UF) reverse osmosis (RO). However, since several brackish water resources are inland, deliberation of brine management and minimization for these plants is essential.
Based on region, the global water desalination market is bifurcated into North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa.
The Middle East and Africa is the most significant global water desalination market shareholder and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.03% over the forecast period. The scarcity of freshwater resources is the primary driver in the region. Similarly, the increasing need for energy-efficient and cost-effective water desalination systems is expected to boost the market for water desalination in the Middle East and Africa. Furthermore, rising global awareness regarding water pollution and rapid urbanization is expected to surge the demand for water desalination systems in the region during the forecast period. Also, the ongoing development in the water desalination sector is expected to lead the market growth. Increasing per-capita water consumption in the Middle East and Africa combined with a growing population due to expanded immigration in the region is also expected to raise the water demand. Likewise, the increase in tourism, mainly in the Middle East region, is estimated to stress water resources. Therefore, the abovementioned factors are estimated to drive the demand for water desalination in the upcoming period.
Asia-Pacific is anticipated to exhibit a CAGR of 9.92% over the forecast period. The Asia-Pacific water desalination market is primarily driven by swift urbanization and industrialization throughout countries like China, India, and Japan, which has led to the need for clean water and effective wastewater treatment. Increasing investments by the public sector in developing existing water and wastewater treatment systems also lead to market growth. Furthermore, environmental concerns and the restricted availability of safe drinking water have raised the usage of water desalination systems across the region. Numerous initiatives by governmental bodies, such as establishing environmental protection laws to preserve natural water resources and providing proper sanitation, are indeed impacting the market growth. As a result, the market is projected to continue its strong growth during the forecast period.
The growth of the water desalination market in North America is supported by rising investments in R&D for enhanced technologies and the increasing demand for water treatment systems in the region. The most robust economic growth in the US and Canada, developments in industrial sectors, and the company’s expansions are driving the water desalination market in North America. Considering the planned industrial activities, the water desalination market is expected to witness demand quickly in the forecast period. However, planned industrial projects slowed due to the economic slowdown and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But the industrial sector in North America is expected to recover and regain its market position on a global level. Therefore, with increased product sales across the region, the demand for water desalination is anticipated to be high during the forecast period.
Europe is estimated to witness a sharp rise in drilling operations and oil and gas exploration activities, establishing white development spaces for market players. Strict regulations related to the treatment and disposal of effluent water will stay the main force, driving the demand for water desalination. Produced from the oil and gas industry, generated water generally comprises hydrocarbon formulations and other harmful chemicals. In addition, water treatment systems specially designed for released water help maintain the quality of treated water before being reused or released.
The Latin American water desalination market is presently witnessing strong growth. The market is driven mainly by the increasing awareness of preserving water quality and maintaining natural resources. Also, the growing investments in several development plans throughout Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina are increasing the product demand. For example, the Government of Brazil declared an investment of about USD 1.4 billion in sanitation projects under the ‘Time to Move Forward-Cities’ program in 2018. It is also executing regulations for managing municipal waste disposal and industrial discharge in water bodies, which constructively impact the market growth.
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