Cyprus is the most water-stressed country in Europe and most of the people are aware of this. Last year’s drought in many European countries means the subject of water scarcity has become even more urgent.
The energy consumption of desalination is expected to increase eight-fold globally by 2040, due to increased demand for freshwater, the International Energy Agency estimates.
But existing desalination plants are not a long-term solution, experts predict.
Water resources in Cyprus are very expensive to exploit and they cause environmental problems, as the World Economic Forum warns.
Desalination plants produce waste and toxic chemicals that are harmful to wildlife and the planet. The process can also raise salt levels in seawater, which affects fish. Desalination plants that use diesel also produce greenhouse emissions.
A conference that took place recently in Limassol shed more light on possible solutions. The event is part of the Horizon 2020 Water Mining project which started on September 1, 2020, lasting for four years until August 31, 2024. Since its start in 2020 the project has come a long way, and is now investigating case studies. Cyprus is one of six areas which deserves closer scrutiny, the project leaders decided.
Water Mining, the conference organisers, based in the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, has the aim to ensure water is available for all by 2030.
More than half of the EU territory has now been affected by droughts over the last summer. So those solutions that are now being investigated in Cyprus could well be replicated in other parts of Europe.
By 2050, half of the EU territory will suffer from severe droughts. The acquisition of water from the sea presents itself as a compelling alternative source.
Ninety-seven percent of the total earth water which is seawater can deliver unlimited amounts of fresh water. For drinking water desalinated sea water is normally used while for agricultural purposes treated urban wastewater is used. But in general desalination creates brine which is discharged into the sea and leads to damage to the ecosystem. In Cyprus it is shown that brine can be used to generate nutrients for agriculture and to generate acetone-base which can be used in the chemical industry as a raw resource.
The environmental damage of desalination is now occurring everywhere in the world, and with our technology we can regain resources and at the same time, get a better social, coastal and marine life.
Patricia Osseweijer, professor of biotechnology and society at the University of Technology in Delft and another programme coordinator, is especially interested in the social aspect.
As she points out: “Without water we cannot have a good societal life in Cyprus because we cannot grow our own food, we cannot support our children in development. Without technology – including desalination – we cannot have enough water to survive at Cyprus, especially giving climate change effects.”
“Desalination exists, but we can make it more sustainable, so it uses less energy and prevents any pollution and, if we can, also improve the urban wastewater treatment so we can recover useful nutrients and make it better and cheaper. These are the aims we wish to achieve with our partners in Water Mining.”
She is sure the project will have an impact beyond practicalities.
“Water Mining will bring security. But not only that, it will bring hope to the future generation of people living in Cyprus. The project will help to ensure a future sustainable and affordable water supply – so the children from Cyprus can continue to grow their own food and produce and reuse their own water in a safe way.”