U.S. Water News Online
STAMFORD, Conn. -- General Electric Co. plans to help build
what would be one of the world's largest water desalination plants,
part of a growing interest in projects to address global water
GE, one of the world's largest companies by market value, has
invested more than $3 billion into its nearly three-year-old water
treatment business. The $270 million plant in Algeria is the
company's first major drinking-water project.
"I think it pleases the research community that a large
corporation has stepped up and has the vision to see out 20 years,"
said Ron Linsky, executive director of the National Water Research
Institute. "Desalination of sea water is an important option that the
world has. The recognition of the value of water is increasingly on
the radar of people around the world."
Nearly 100 desalination projects are in the development stages in
the United States, but environmental permitting and other issues need
to be resolved, Linsky said.
With water scarcity a growing global problem, GE says desalination
is the wave of the future.
"The technology is getting better and the cost is getting lower so
it's really becoming a viable solution," said Colin Sabol, chief
marketing officer for GE Infrastructure, Water & Process
One in five people in the world lack access to fresh water and
that number is expected to double in the next decade, Sabol said.
More than 1.1 billion people around the world lack safe water and 2.4
billion have no access to sanitation, according to the United
Nations, which says the problem results in three million deaths every
The cost of desalination has dropped from $20 to $3.50 per 1,000
gallons over the past 15 years, Sabol said.
Water desalination has its critics. The California Coastal
Commission warned two years ago that allowing desalination plants to
proliferate could threaten marine life and turn what has long been
considered a common good -- the ocean -- into a commodity.
A pioneering desalination plant in Tampa, Fla., has run into
problems, such as salt filters clogging too quickly.
Linsky denied the plants are harmful to marine life. He attributed
the problems in Tampa to growing pains. Desalination has not been
widely used in the United States even though plants have long
operated in the Middle East, he said.
GE, based in Fairfield, says the projects provide desperately
needed drinking water.
The plant in Algeria will provide drinking water to 25 percent of
the capital city, Algiers. Because of a scarcity of water, the
residents of Algiers only receive water every third day, GE officials
GE will own 70 percent of the plant, while state-owned Algerian
Energy Co. will own 30 percent.
The project is the first by GE since it acquired the water
treatment company Ionics Inc. for $1.1 billion in cash last year.
Construction is expected to begin next month and last two years.
GE expects to build three or four major desalination projects
annually. Desalination is a $5 billion market that is growing about
15 percent annually, company officials said.
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