IDE plans more U.S. desalination plants after California success

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s IDE Technologies, which opened this week a billion-dollar desalination plant in California, is helping to plan 10 new facilities throughout the United States, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

Together with U.S. partner Poseidon Water, IDE has just completed the country’s largest desalination plant, located on the Pacific coast in the city of Carlsbad. It will supply much needed drinking water for 300,000 households, alleviating the area’s water shortage.

Yet it may just be the first of eight more plants being planned for California, of which IDE is involved in three, said CEO Avshalom Felber. IDE’s others are in Texas and Florida.

“It’s the start of a solution,” Felber told Reuters. “And once you have a successful plant like this, it raises our profile in the United States.”

Desalination has emerged as a promising technology in the face of a record dry spell gripping California for several years, depleting its reservoirs and aquifers and raising the costs of importing water from elsewhere.

Critics have cited ecological drawbacks, such as harm to marine life from intake pipes that suck water into the treatment systems and the concentrated brine discharge from the plants.

Felber said the Carlsbad plant took measures to reduce the impact on the environment.

IDE built a reverse osmosis system to purify seawater by pushing it under high pressure through a semi-permeable membrane - a sort of a microscopic strainer - that requires less energy and is friendlier to the environment than thermal-based systems.

The plant did not need a new ocean intake pipe, using instead one belonging to a nearby power plant. The highly-salted by-product is spread back into the ocean in a number of places, and the effect will be monitored, Felber said.

It will produce about 190 million liters (50 million gallons) a day, though residents will have to pay 2 or 3 percent more for their water, he said.

Other IDE projects include the biggest desalination plants in India, China and Israel. And with an increasing strain on drinking water sources, Felber sees desalination playing a bigger role globally.

“Demand is going up all the time,” he said. “Together with systems for wastewater reuse, desalination is becoming more necessary.”

IDE is owned by Israeli conglomerate Delek Group and Israel Chemicals.

Editing by David Evans