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Life Cycle Assessment of Seawater Desalinization in Western Australia

Authors: Wahidul K. Biswas


Perth will run out of available sustainable natural water resources by 2015 if nothing is done to slow usage rates, according to a Western Australian study [1]. Alternative water technology options need to be considered for the long-term guaranteed supply of water for agricultural, commercial, domestic and industrial purposes. Seawater is an alternative source of water for human consumption, because seawater can be desalinated and supplied in large quantities to a very high quality. While seawater desalination is a promising option, the technology requires a large amount of energy which is typically generated from fossil fuels. The combustion of fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases (GHG) and, is implicated in climate change. In addition to environmental emissions from electricity generation for desalination, greenhouse gases are emitted in the production of chemicals and membranes for water treatment. Since Australia is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, it is important to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from desalinated water production. A life cycle assessment (LCA) has been carried out to determine the greenhouse gas emissions from the production of 1 gigalitre (GL) of water from the new plant. In this LCA analysis, a new desalination plant that will be installed in Bunbury, Western Australia, and known as Southern Seawater Desalinization Plant (SSDP), was taken as a case study. The system boundary of the LCA mainly consists of three stages: seawater extraction, treatment and delivery. The analysis found that the equivalent of 3,890 tonnes of CO2 could be emitted from the production of 1 GL of desalinated water. This LCA analysis has also identified that the reverse osmosis process would cause the most significant greenhouse emissions as a result of the electricity used if this is generated from fossil fuels

Keywords: Desalinization, Greenhouse gas emissions, life cycle assessment.

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