Timeline of water desalination

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This is a timeline of water desalination, attempring to describe major events in the development of the technology and production. Key developments in the reverse osmosis process are described. Also, major and historic desalination plants are described.

Big picture

Time period Development summary
16th century Desalination contraptions based on evaporation are incorporated into boats, allowing them to be self-sufficient in the event of an emergency.[1][2]
19th century Distillation is commercialized by companies such as Caird & Rayner (a brand which still exists today), with firms located in various countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the United States.[3] In the late century, the first major technical advance in desalination technology is the development of the Multiple Effect Distillation (MED) process.[3]
1930s Thermal distillation begins use in several large plants, primarily in the Middle East.[4]
1950s Scientists begin looking at alternatives to thermal desalination by studying membrane processes. Electrodialysis (ED) is the first of these processes to be developed commercially.[3]
1960s Membrane technologies arise as a result of a breakthrough in the use of polymer films for separating salt from water in the late 1950s and early 1960s.[1] Anisotropic cellulose acetate membranes are the industry standard through the decade.[5] By the late 1960s, commercial desalination systems producing up to 8,000 m3/day begin to be installed in various parts of the world.[3]
1970s Fuel oil cost increases very sharply, affecting strongly the desalination cost, especially in processes with high specific energy consumption. A great effort is made in many countries to shift from desalination by distillation to desalination by other means.[6] Low-pressure multi-effect distillation (MED) and improved reverse osmosis (RO) evolve as two new technologies capable to desalt seawater.[6] The introduction of isobaric energy recovery technology significantly reduces the operating costs of seawater reverse osmosis.[3] By the second half of the decade, the reverse osmosis process is considered in many regional developing programs as an option for small and large seawater desalination plants.[6] Larger scale commercial reverse osmosis and electrodialysis/electrodialysis reversal systems begin to be used more extensively.[3]
1980s Desalination technology becomes a fully commercial enterprise.[3] Synthetic membranes begin to play an increasingly crucial role in water desalination. Membrane distillation develops commercially on a small scale during the decade.[7] In the mid-1980s, low-pressure nanofiltration membranes are introduced by all of the major reverse osmosis companies.[5]
1990s The use of reverse osmosis desalination technologies for municipal water supplies becomes commonplace.[3] The continuous improvement and cost reduction in RO technology increases, in most cases, the economic benefits of SWRO over the distillation process.[6]
Recent years Today, desalination can be achieved by using thermal or membrane processes, or a hybrid combination.[3] Most of the desalinated water is currently produces in the Middle east.

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Geographical location
400 BC–300 BC In his Meteorologica, Aristotle writes that "Salt water when it turns into vapour becomes sweet and the vapour does not form salt water again when it condenses".[4][3][8]
1850s Pfeffer, Traube and others study osmotic phenomena with ceramic membranes.[5]
1869 The first patent for a desalination process was granted in England.[8] United Kingdom
1869 Facility The first water-distillation plant is built by the British government at Aden in Yemen, to supply ships stopping at the Red Sea port.[8] Yemen
1881 Facility The world's first commercial traditional desalination plant is built in Sleima, Malta. Malta
1928 Facility The world's first land-based distillation plant is built in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles. Netherlands Antilles
1930 Facility The first large still to provide water for commercial purposes is built in Aruba.[8] Aruba
1931 Technology The term reverse osmosis is coined, and the process is patented as a method of desalting water.[5]
1950s Technology Weirs of Cathcart in Scotland develop the multi-stage flash distillation process, which would have significant development and wide application throughout the next decade due to both to its economical scale and its ability to operate on low-grade steam.[9] United Kingdom
1952 Law The United States Congress passes “The Saline Water Act” to provide federal support for desalination.[10] United States
1954 Facility The first desalination plant opens in Qatar.[11] Qatar
1955 Technology Multi-stage flash distillation (MSF) appears as the first large-scale modern desalination process.[12][2] United States
1957 Facility The first multi stage flash distillation plant is built in Kuwait. Kuwait
1959 Scientific development Reverse osmosis: Breton and Reid demonstrate the desalination capability of cellulose acetate film.[4][1][5][13]
1959 Facility The first multi-effect distillation (MED) plant is constructed in Aruba.[12][2] Aruba
1960 Technology The first synthetic and functional reverse osmosis membrane is produced at the University of California, made from cellulose acetate. This membrane is capable of blocking the salts while allowing water to pass through it at a reasonable rate of flow under high pressure.[1]
1960-1965 Technology Electrodialysis is commercially introduced, providing a cost-effective way to desalt brackish water and spurring considerable interest in the whole field if using desalting technologies to produce potable water for municipal use.[7]
1962 Technology Reverse osmosis: Asymmetric cellulose acetate membrane is developed.[4][5][13]
1963 Scientific development Loeb and Sourirajan at the University of California in Los Angeles show that an asymmetric cellulose acetate membrane can be used for desalination. The permeabilities of these early membranes are low and RO membranes are considered a novelty separation technique rather than a soution to desalination.[1][3] United States
1963 Facility Reverse osmosis: first practical spiral-wound module is developed by General Atomics.[4][5][13] United States
1963 Scientific development Reverse osmosis: the asymmetric cellulose acetate membrane structure is elucidated and the solution-diffusion model of membrane transport is identified.[13]
1964 Facility In Spain, the first desalination plant is constructed in Lanzarote.[12][2] Spain
1964 Technology The cellulose acetate thin film composite membrane concept is developed.[13]
1965 Facility The first commercial desalination plant using reverse osmosis is inaugurated in California at the Coalinga desalination plant, used for brackish water.[1] United States
1965 Facility An 1 MGD (3,785 m3/year) MSF dual-purpose plant starts operating in Eilat, Israel, with an atual water cost amounted to about $0.3m3. The relatively low cost is due to the very low fuel-oil prices if $10-15/ton prevailing at the time.[6] Israel
c.1965 Production Virtually all the world's seawater desalination capacity (about 1,000 m3/day) is in the Middle East and is produced by multistage flash (MSF) distillation.[3]
1966 Publication Desalination, the first international journal for desalting and purification of water, is founded by Miriam Balaban.[14]
1966 Publication Israel publishes a joint feasibility study of a 200 MW - 100 MGD (378,500 m3/year) nuclear dual-purpose plant.[6]
1967 Technology Reverse osmosis: the B-15 polyamide hollow fiber permeator is developed.[13]
1967 Technology The first commercially successful hollow fiber module is released.[4][5]
1970 Technology Reverse osmosis: the cellulose acetate blend membrane is developed.[13]
1970 Technology Reverse osmosis: the B-9 polyamide hollow fiber permeator is developed.[13]
1971–1974 Technology Reverse osmosis: The cellulose triacetate hollow fiber permeator is developed.[13]
1972 Technology Reverse osmosis: The interfacial composite membrane is developed.[4]
1972 Technology Reverse osmosis: The B-10 polyamide hollow fiber permeator is developed.[13]
1973 Reverse osmosis: The PDC-1000 thin film composite membrane is developed.[13]
1974 Facility The first sea water reverse osmosis desalination plant comes into operation.[12][15] Bermuda
1975 Facility A large seawater desalination plant is built in Jiddah, using interfacial composite membranes, introduced by Fluid Systems. The construction of the plant is considered a milestone in reverse osmosis development.[4][5] Saudi Arabia
1976 Technology Reverse osmosis: Fluid Systems starts commerciallization of aryl-alkyl polyetherurea thin film composite membrane.[13]
1978 Technology Reverse osmosis: the first fully aromatic thin film composite (FT-30) is developed.[4][5][13]
1981 Technology John Cadotte patents the design for the three-layer TFC membrane that would later become industry standard. The layer provides high permeability while maintaining selectivity for water.[1][16][17][18]
1986 Technology Low pressure nanofiltration membrane becomes widely available.[4][5]
1986 Technology Reverse osmosis: the B-15 polyamide hollow fiber permeator is developed.[13]
1986 Technology Reverse osmosis: several companies modify current membrane lines for low pressure operation.[13]
1986 Technology Reverse osmosis: the fully aromatic polyamide thin film composite membrane is developed.[13]
1998 Facility Grace-Davison and Mobil install the first large hyperfiltration solvent separation plant at Beaumont Texas refinery.[4][5]
2000 Statistics About 80 per cent of water demand for the domestic and industrial sectors in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates is supplied by water production using desalination. In Saudi Arabia and Oman, water production using desalination supplies about 45 per cent of the water demands, with the remaining 55 per cent being supplied from ground waters.[19] Middle East
2005 Production More than 10,500 desalination plants producing a total of more than 55 billion litres (in excess of 14.6 billion gallons) of potable water per day are in operation throughout the world.[8]
2009 Facility The current largest desalination plant in the world is commissioned in Hadera, Israel. Built at a cost of around US$500 million, it uses reverse osmosis.[10][20][21][22] Israel
2009 (July) Facility The largest desalination plant in Europe is inaugurated in Spain. The Barcelona-Llobregat desal plant provides drinking water to 20% of the population in the region, nearly 1.3 million people.[15] Spain
2010 Production The largest producers of desalinated water are Saudi Arabia, accounting for about 17 percent of total global output, and the United Arab Emirates, with 13.4 percent. The United States is third, accounting for roughly 13 percent of the total output (mostly in Florida, Texas, and California).[8]
2014 Production As of 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest desalinated water producer in the world, and it currently produces about one-fifth of the world productions.[23] Saudi Arabia

Numerical and visual data

Google Scholar

The following table summarizes per-year mentions on Google Scholar as of November 7, 2021.

Year "water desalination"
1950 0
1955 0
1960 5
1965 118
1970 143
1975 121
1980 170
1985 240
1990 258
1995 354
2000 475
2005 868
2010 2,010
2015 4,140
2020 8,000
Water desalination gscho.png

Google Trends

The chart below shows Google Trends data for Desalination (Topic), from January 2004 to April 2021, when the screenshot was taken. Interest is also ranked by country and displayed on world map.[24]

Desalination gt.png

Google Ngram Viewer

The chart below shows Google Ngram Viewer data for Water desalination, from 1900 to 2019.[25]

Water desalination ngram.png

Wikipedia Views

The chart below shows pageviews of the English Wikipedia article Water desalination, from July 2015 to March 2021.[26]

Water desalination wv.png

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by User:Sebastian.

Funding information for this timeline is available.

What the timeline is still missing

[1] [2] [3]

Timeline update strategy

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 KUMAR, MANISH; CULP, TYLER; SHEN, YUEXIAO. "Water Desalination History, Advances, and Challenges". nae.edu. Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "History - Drying Rivers". shalldesal.org. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 "Current challenges in energy recovery for desalination". filtsep.com. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 KUMAR, MANISH; CULP, TYLER; SHEN, YUEXIAO. "Water Desalination: History, Advances, and Challenges". nap.edu. Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Baker, Richard W. Membrane Technology and Applications. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Glueckstern, Pinhas. "History of Desalination Cost Estimations" (PDF). gwri-ic.technion.ac.il. Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Shatat, Mahmoud; Riffat, Saffa B. "Water desalination technologies utilizing conventional and renewable energy sources". doi:10.1093/ijlct/cts025. Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 "Desalination". britannica.com. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  9. Shatat, Mahmoud; Riffat, Saffa B. "Water desalination technologies utilizing conventional and renewable energy sources". International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies, Volume 9, Issue 1, 1 March 2014, Pages 1–19. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Desalination plant history". preceden.com. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  11. "Historical Background". countrystudies.us. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "A short history of desalination". theenergyofchange.com. Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 13.11 13.12 13.13 13.14 13.15 Wang, Lawrence K.; Chen, Jiaping Paul; Hung, Yung-Tse; Shammas, Nazih K. Membrane and Desalination Technologies. 
  14. "Introduction to the special issue honoring Miriam Balaban". eepdyve.com. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Tag Archives: Reverse Osmosis". yatesenvironmentalservices.wordpress.com. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  16. "High-flux reverse osmosis membranes incorporated with hydrophilic additives for brackish water desalination". docslide.com.br. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  18. "BRIDGE. The FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING. Computational Near-Eye Displays: Engineering the Interface to the Digital World Gordon Wetzstein". docplayer.net. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  19. Energy Options for Water Desalination in Selected ESCWA Member Countries. United Nations, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, 2001. 
  20. "Hadera Desalination Plant". water-technology.net. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  21. "Hadera Desalination Plant". ide-tech.com. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  22. "Hadera Desalination Plant". technologyreview.com. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  23. Ouda, Omar K.M. "Domestic water demand in Saudi Arabia: assessment of desalinated water as strategic supply source". tandfonline.com. Retrieved 17 February 2018. 
  24. "Desalination". Google Trends. Retrieved 18 April 2021. 
  25. "water desalination". books.google.com. Retrieved 18 April 2021. 
  26. "Water desalination". wikipediaviews.org. Retrieved 18 April 2021.