Technical review and evaluation of the economics of water desalination: Current and future challenges for better water supply sustainability

NorEddine Ghaffour, Thomas M. Missimer, Gary L. Amy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1151 Scopus citations


Desalination capacity has rapidly increased in the last decade because of the increase in water demand and a significant reduction in desalination cost as a result of significant technological advances, especially in the reverse osmosis process. The cost of desalinated seawater has fallen below US$\$$0.50/m3 for a large scale seawater reverse osmosis plant at a specific location and conditions while in other locations the cost is 50% higher (US$\$$1.00/m3) for a similar facility. In addition to capital and operating costs, other parameters such as local incentives or subsidies may also contribute to the large difference in desalted water cost between regions and facilities. Plant suppliers and consultants have their own cost calculation methodologies, but they are confidential and provide water costs with different accuracies. The few existing costing methodologies and software packages such as WTCost © and DEEP provide an estimated cost with different accuracies and their applications are limited to specific conditions. Most of the available cost estimation tools are of the black box type, which provide few details concerning the parameters and methodologies applied for local conditions. Many desalination plants built recently have greater desalinated water delivery costs caused by special circumstances, such as plant remediation or upgrades, local variation in energy costs, and site-specific issues in raw materials costs (e.g., tariffs and transportation). Therefore, the availability of a more transparent and unique methodology for estimating the cost will help in selecting an appropriate desalination technology suitable for specific locations with consideration of all the parameters influencing the cost. A techno-economic evaluation and review of the costing aspects and the main parameters influencing the total water cost produced by different desalination technologies are herein presented in detail. Some recent developments, such as the increase of unit capacity, improvements in process design and materials, and the use of hybrid systems have contributed to cost reduction as well as reduction in energy consumption. The development of new and emerging low-energy desalination technologies, such as adsorption desalination, will have an impact on cost variation estimation in the future. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-207
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jan 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • General Materials Science
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Chemistry
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Technical review and evaluation of the economics of water desalination: Current and future challenges for better water supply sustainability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this