Last month, Science X posted an article about the role of water desalination in addressing the drought that has been affecting the Western United States.

As a result of water scarcity, some parts of the world have turned to desalination for drinking water. Desalination (desal) involves removing salt and minerals from salty water, usually seawater. This process occurs naturally as the sun heats the ocean—fresh water evaporates off the surface and then falls as rain. Arid regions like the Middle East and North Africa have long depended on desal technology for their fresh water. Today over 120 countries have desal plants with Saudi Arabia producing more fresh water through desal than any other nation. The United States also has a number of desal plants with the largest in the western hemisphere located in Carlsbad, CA. A new $1.4 billion desal plant in Huntington Beach, CA is likely to be approved soon.

Desalination approaches

Desal is usually done one of two ways. Thermal distillation involves boiling seawater, which produces steam that leaves the salt and minerals behind. The steam is then collected and condensed through cooling to produce pure water. The second method is membrane filtration which pushes seawater through membranes that trap the salt and minerals on one side and let pure water through.

The article goes on to mention that currently, 70 percent of desalination is done using membrane filtration.

Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) have the potential to shift that balance back toward thermal distillation due to their ability to supply both the heat and electricity required for the process. Small Modular Reactors (MSRs) could potentially be located pretty much wherever desalination is needed, providing both clean water and electricity to traditionally underserved areas.