Desal Directions: April 2012

Posted on 30 April 2012

From the CEO

David Pratt of Sundrop Farms with a tray of fresh tomatoes grown from seawater and sunshine.I have been interested to read a couple of articles recently on agriculture and water security. Trade Minister Mr Craig Emerson was reported in The Australian in March saying rising world food demand will provide lucrative opportunities for Australia.

In referring to water, he said: “I am no hydrographer, but I don’t believe that there is not more we can do to better utilise water. When the real price of a product rises, investment projects that might not have been viable at the old price might be viable at the new price. It requires risk-taking.”

In a further March report in The Australian, a survey of 162 senior food executives conducted by corporate law firm Barker and McKenzie reported that half of them identified ‘scarcity of water’ as the greatest challenge to food supply.

Australia has plenty of land, we have lots of seawater and brackish water, lots of sunshine and we are next door to 40% of the world’s population. The opportunity to augment traditional supplies with desalination to provide water security for agriculture is appealing and a firm part of the NCEDA’s vision.

However, a common reaction when I speak to people about this is: ‘desalinated water is too expensive.’ But is it? It represents an input cost like energy, chemicals, labour and transport. As stated by Mr Emerson, if the price of the product is right, investment will follow.

In early March I visited Sundrop Farms, pictured, near Port Augusta in South Australia. Recently featured on ABC Landline, this is a commercial solar-powered greenhouse growing tomatoes, capsicums and cucumbers. The entire water supply comes from a bore which pumps hypersaline water originating from Spencer Gulf. This is an outstanding development of what some might call a risky venture, but shows what is possible with imagination and hard work.

Neil Palmer
0417 996 126
Follow us on Twitter: @DiscoverDesal

In this issue

NCEDA International Desalination Intakes and Outfalls Workshop, 16-17 May 2012, Adelaide

We are very proud to announce new speakers from Fukuoka District Waterworks Agency, Japan and Georgia Institute of Technology, USA.

These and other international researchers, engineers and industry leaders will present current best practice in seawater intakes and discharges, examine case studies, and consider challenges for future research.

Keynote speakers are Prof. Gary L. Amy, Director of the Water Desalination and Reuse Research Center at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and Mr Tom Pankratz, Editor of Water Desalination Report, USA.

Other presenters include Acciona; Alden Research Laboratory, USA; Hatch Associates; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; The University of New South Wales; SA Water; Valoriza Agua, Spain; Veolia Water Australia; and WorleyParsons.

The cost is $743 for researchers at NCEDA Participating Organisations and $990 for non-members. Postgraduate students at NCEDA POs attend for free with their supervisor. Delegates of the Desalination Short School on 18 May can obtain a 20% discount.

Register now! The workshop program is available for download. For more information or to register go to

Earlybird registration ends Friday for GWI Desalination Short School, 18 May 2012, Adelaide

Earlybird discount registration for the Global Water Intelligence Desalination Short School in Adelaide on May 18 ends on Friday 20 April. There is also a double 20% discount for anyone who registers for both this Short School and the Intakes and Outfalls workshop.

This second Australian Desalination Short School provides an opportunity to learn the technical aspects of some high visibility world-class projects. The course offers a highly practical and interactive case-study approach, delivered by two very experienced and well-known practitioners from the desalination industry.

“We’ll be focussing on the practical aspects of seawater desalination using examples from our own first-hand experiences”, says Tom Pankratz, Editor of Water Desalination Report and one of the course experts. “It won’t be just a slide show. We’re fully conversant with all the details of these projects as we’ve actually been involved in their design and delivery”. He promises a lively, in-depth look at how decisions are made and the pitfalls to avoid. The course will cover feasibility and pilot studies, commissioning, testing and the post-completion issues of specific plants, from the Middle East, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

Participants will be drawn from contractors, consultants, offtakers, water utilities, suppliers, O&M personnel and researchers – all those looking to gain additional knowledge and an extra edge in the desalination field.

The School is presented in association with the International Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Management. A registration form is available for download.

Science confirms growing water security issues

Three recent high profile scientific reports warn of the serious risks to water security from climate change forecast for Australia, and global arid regions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CSIRO in conjunction with the Bureau of Meterology, and the Climate Commission have all issued publications showing that the long term effects of climate change require urgent adaptive planning and solutions.

The IPCC Special Report ‘Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ cites changes in climate have the potential to seriously affect water management systems.

Adequate funding and capacity for resilient water infrastructure is advocated, along with new ‘resilience thinking’ and ‘integrated water systems thinking’.

The Climate Commission revealed the science behind south-east Australia’s current wet, showing that long term drying and extreme cyclical droughts would continue despite recent summer rains – as documented in the CSIRO and BOM report.

Read them online:

Comparative modelling finds desal unit cost lowest

A recent National Water Commission investigated comparative costs of water schemes in Queensland. The key objective of this research was to evaluate potable water saving, alternative source demand and present value life cycle unit cost assessment for a traditional infrastructure mix supplemented by:

  • desalination plants
  • internally plumbed rainwater tanks
  • dual-supply of recycled wastewater, and
  • a hybrid of dual supply and internally plumbed rainwater tanks.

The NWC commissioned research, led by Griffiths University Associate Professor Rodney A. Stewart, found that desalination plants operating at 66 to 100 per cent capacity had the lowest unit cost of the four different water schemes from a ‘total resource perspective’ covering costs to all stakeholders.

Read the full comparison of all costs of different water supplies.

Centre helps foster international ties

NCEDA encourages research collaborations worldwide and is delighted that Prof. Sunny Jiang from University of California Irvine has become Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University following attendance at the Centre’s first biofouling workshop and nomination by Centre researcher Professor Goen Ho.

Environment Science expert Professor Goen Ho says Prof. Jiang, who investigates prevention of membrane biofouling to reduce desal plant energy consumption, will work with his MU research team on NCEDA-funded projects.

Australian Desalination Research Roadmap review completed

To ensure the ongoing currency of the Australian Desalination Research Roadmap, the Centre formed a Committee led by Chief Scientific Officer Prof. David Furukawa to undertake a review the original Roadmap written in 2009. The industry-focused committee made recommendations for minor changes to the Roadmap to reflect updates to the state-of-the-art in desalination technology and to seek future projects for robust, reliable inland systems and applications for the coal seam gas industry.

Reaching out to Rockingham locals

Following the success of the recent Open Day, NCEDA staff set up a desal information stall at the Rockingham Naragebup Environment Centre at one of its regular film evenings. Run by committed volunteers, the Centre has subsequently expressed interest in touring the Rockingham Desalination Research Facility and NCEDA plans to sponsor another local movie night in next year’s summer season.

AWA Water Future Forum: Boom or Bust? Management of Water in a World of Extremes, 24 May 2012, Perth

This Young Water Professionals’ Perspectives forum will focus on the wide ranging issues that face the water industry. The forum will include presentations from and will be facilitated by West Australian Young Water Professionals, including the NCEDA’s Dr Misty-Lee Palmer who will discuss the Centre’s research program.

See the event flyer for more details, and register your interest at

Researcher Profile: Dr Marlene Cran

Cleaning guidelines to overcome scaling and fouling issues for desalination membrane users are being developed by researchers at Victoria University to enhance membrane and plant performance.

Dr Marlene Cran, research fellow at the Institute for Sustainability and Innovation at the VU Werribee campus, is leading the NCEDA-funded project which is reviewing current industry cleaning practices.

The project has industry support from Nalco and Integrated Elements, with a team of four primary researchers.

“Adequate pre-treatment for reverse osmosis (RO) membranes is critical for maintaining membrane performance in desalination plants,” Dr Cran says.

“There are a wide range of physical and chemical means of preparing feed water for RO processes including filtration and the use of chemical agents, however biofouling, scale and other foulants can build up on the surface of membranes over time and significantly affect their operation.

“When the performance of a membrane declines to a critical point, cleaning must be undertaken to restore and recover the functionality of the membrane process.

“Timely cleaning is a critical aspect of desalination operations enabling users to maintain the performance of membrane elements over their lifetime.

“Membrane suppliers provide general guidelines for cleaning and sanitisation but often specialised cleaning chemicals and procedures are required for more difficult fouling issues.

“Moreover, there are a range of commercial products available to address many of these cleaning issues.”

Dr Cran says that in addition to a review of the literature, the existing guidelines and cleaning regimes and the current range of commercial cleaning products will be assessed as new clean-in-place guidelines are developed.

Dr Cran has a PhD in polymer science with undergraduate studies in environmental management. Her VU research projects focus on the chemical degradation and wear of membrane materials, membrane integrity monitoring, and reuse applications for end-of-life membranes.

Dr Cran also investigates degradation and biodegradation of polymer materials; membrane synthesis and characterisation; synthesis of fluorescent nanoparticles; active food packaging using natural antimicrobial additives; and development of biocomposite packaging materials.

Links and articles

Presentation by Chief Scientific Officer Prof. David Furukawa at The Future of Water in Southern California, January 2012.

NCEDA CEO speaks out: Desal offers best water and food security insurance for drying Australia, Murdoch University, March 2012.

The new SkyBox water filtration unit as recently launched by SkyJuice Foundation on World Water Day, March 2012.

Jobs boost for WA as second desal plant expansion on track to supply 100 billion litres for Perth, WA Government, April 2012.

NCEDA’s funding body, the Australian Government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, can now be followed on social media. See its new Twitter, Flickr and YouTube feeds.

Gold Industry Sponsors

The NCEDA is grateful for the generous support of our Gold Industry Sponsors.


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