Israel's IDE Has Big Plans for Desalinization in the U.S.

Israeli company this week opened the world's largest desalinization facility in California.

Inside the control room of a desalinization plant in Australia.
Bloomberg

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

Located in Carlsbad on the Pacific coast, the plant was built in conjunction with IDE’s U.S. partner Poseidon Water. It is the largest desalination facility in the country, supplying much needed drinking water to 300,000 households in a region suffering from a serious water shortage.

The California plant is one of nine planned for California, in three of which IDE is involved, said CEO Avshalom Felber. IDE’s others are in Texas and Florida.

“It’s the start of a solution,” Felber told Reuters. “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 that has gripped 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 measures were taken in the Carlsbad plant to reduce the impact on the environment. One such measure is a reverse osmosis system that purifies seawater by pushing it under high pressure through a semi-permeable membrane - a sort of a microscopic strainer - which requires less energy and is friendlier to the environment than thermal-based systems.

The plant uses an ocean intake pipe 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 a day, though residents will have to pay 2% or 3% 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 conglomerates Delek Group and Israel Chemicals.