Water covers most of the planet. Yet, fresh drinking water remains a precious commodity in many places. It’s one of life’s rich riddles.
A Spanish company has a solution. Abengoa S.A. (MCE: ABG.B) signed a 27-year contract with Morocco to make seawater drinkable in the port city of Agadir.
It’s a big deal. It could change the course of human history.
It’s no surprise that new technologies can tackle big problems … like cost-effectively removing salt from water.
Advances in computer power and software analytics mean engineers have more tools than ever. They are pushing the envelope everywhere.
Abengoa’s desalination project will start by producing 275,000 cubic meters of potable water every day. Of that, 150,000 cubic meters will go to drinking. The rest will go to farms for irrigation.
For perspective, humans in developed countries need 3.8 cubic meters of water a day. This includes water for drinking, washing, agriculture, and industry.
By that standard, the Abengoa project will initially supply water to 72,500 people. And production could ramp up by 63% to 450,000 cubic meters a day.
Desalinization projects are not new. In fact, Deutsche Welle reports some 21,000 plants are already in service.
However, the Agadir project stands out because it uses sustainable power and a special filtration system.
The Middle East builds most of the world’s desalination plants. There, many people must live in the desert. So, drinking water is scarce. But there’s plenty of inexpensive oil.
In Saudi Arabia, oil-fired plants heat seawater, creating vapor. Filtration systems then collect the water. The salt particles get left behind.
This thermal process works in Saudi Arabia where the cost of finding oil is low. But, in most parts of the world, it’s a non-starter.
Most of Agadir’s power will come from solar energy. It’s delivered by high-tension wire from the Noor Ouarzazate power plant, a giant collection of mirrors and steam turbines on the edge of the Sahara.
Abengoa will use that power to run a reverse-osmosis filtration system. It will force the salty water through a series of filters. Eventually, only salt-free water will pass through.
In theory, the addition of solar power and reverse osmosis makes this project less expensive than traditional thermal desalination. And it opens the door to scaled-down projects in Africa.
The World Health Organization lists drinkable water as the biggest obstacle faced by poor African countries. A lack of potable water is the leading cause of illness.
According to a 2012 study by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, it also hampers economic development. This leads to civil war and promotes terrorist organizations.
And all this strains the developed world’s economy, too.
Drinkable water is a basic human need. Since 97.5% of the water on Earth is saltwater, desalination is a logical development.
And it makes sense for the developed world to bring the technology to developing countries.
The technology will create new business models. In the developed world, I’m already looking into semiconductor-design and data-analytics participants.
In the developing world, desalination changes everything.
Secure sources of drinkable water promote industry and a higher standard of living. This makes e-commerce possible. It means more economic development, and data centers and cell phone towers.
It is the start of something big. I’ll be discussing how to take advantage in coming months.