Water desalination plants are something that are generally associated with countries in the Middle East or more arid regions, but as part of an initiative to supply more drinking water to the rapidly growing population, the UK has opened its first water desalination plant.
Costing £270 million and powered by biodiesel made from used cooking oil, the plant operated by Thames Water aims to provide "much-needed backup for the seriously water-stressed capital in the event of drought conditions."
Officially called the Thames Gateway Water Treatment Works, and situated in Barkin in East London, the plant will be capable of producing around 140 million litres a day by converting saltwater from the Thames to drinking water - enough for 1 million people. It will only be utilised during 'drought conditions' or times of low water supply.
London's water woes
According to the Environment Agency, London is officially "seriously water-stressed", which means demand could exceed supply during a dry period. Although it is not expected to be utilised this year, Thames Water have said the plant is likely to see regular service in the coming years as a result of climate change and an expected 700,000 additional people moving to London by 2021.
The capital has also seen an increase in single-person households and this has been attributed to the lack of water supplies as well as London's naturally low rainfall.
Speaking at the plant's opening, Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs said, "The 2005 to 2006 drought was too close for comfort, with only a very wet May saving the day, and we never want a repeat of that."
"It highlighted what we already knew: additional water sources are needed, as well as a lot more work on reducing leakage, to be sure we have sufficient supplies in the long term."
The plant will use about twice as much energy as a conventional water treatment plant, and will utilise a commonly used desalination process known as reverse osmosis which forces salty water through extremely fine membranes.
Thames Water said the Gateway plant will significantly improve on one- or two-stage systems by employing a four-stage reverse osmosis system that converts about 85 percent of the water into drinkable water.
Engineers from Mott MacDonald worked on the plant, along with design engineers from Thames Water.
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