Timelines - Desalination Technology

Desalination, like all technologies, did not develop linearly over time. There were periods of rapid growth.

The following table captures some of the milestones in the development of desalination technology:

Time Events
5th Century BC Wool condenser (Earliest known distillation process by Greek sailors)  
3rd Century BC Aristotle describes water cycle and distillation process Use of solar energy by Archimedes
2nd Century BC Egyptian distillation processes  
1st Century AD   Earliest use of solar energy (for salt)
15th Century AD   Solar still used by an Arab Alchemist (Mouchot, 1869) for water
17th Century AD Earliest records (Japanese sailors, distillation earthen pots/bamboo reeds)  
1790s Thomas Jefferson& Jacob Isaacks: US Navy Distillation: “Report on Desalination of Seawater”  
1872   Early large scale solar still by the Swedish engineer Charles Wilson
1881 First commercial Desalination plant Tigne, Sleima, Malta  

The age of membrane separations

The age of thermal desalination processes MSF, MED,TVC

Mid 1900 By mid 1900’s…Advances in microscopy and cell biology led to concept of the Lipid Bilayer Membranes and semi-permeable membranes; R&D was underway towards a synthetic perm-selective membrane. Multi stage flash (MSF) distillers developed for the US Navy to overcome the scaling problems in Multiple Effect (MED) units.The concept was introduced by Worthen and Barbour of Bethlehem Steel Co. 1955 Patent for a 5 stage MSF unit with TBT of 77°C. 1954: Cleaver Brooks Co (later AquaChem)-four 5 stage MSF units each of 50000 gpd for the aircraft carrierIndependence. 1956: four units of MSF each 500000 imperial gallons per day in Kuwait
  Desalination by Cellulose Acetate (CA) films
1960   MSF unit capacity growth MED unit capacity growth
Period Unit capacity MIGD Period Unit capacity MIGD
1962 Asymmetric CA(Loeb & Sourirajan) 1960-70 3    
1963 First spiral-wound module (General Atomics)
1967 First hollow-fiber module (Du Pont)
1972 Interfacial Composite (Cadotte) 1971-80 5
1975 First commercial Thin Film Composite (TFC) Polyamide; Water factory (OCWD) 1979-82 5.9 (Al Khobar II KSA)
1978 First fully aromatic TFC (FT30, Cadotte) The age of large scale units
1980   1981-90 7.5    
1986 Nanofiltration widely available (Fluid systems, Nitto Denko, FilmTec) RO unit capacity growth
Period Unit capacity MIGD
1990   1990 0.2 1990-95 8 1990 0.3
1998 First large solvent RO sep. (methyl ethyl ketone from lube oil; Grace-Davison & Mobil Oil, Beaumont, TX) 1990-95 0.5 1996 12.6 (Al Taweelah-B, Abu Dhabi, UAE) 1990-95 1
2000   1995-2000 1.8 2002 16.7 (Shuweihat,Abu Dhabi, UAE) 1995-2000 3.3 (Um Al Nar, Abu Dhabi, UAE)
2000-02 3.8 (Al Taweelah, Abu Dhabi, UAE)
  New membrane process development 2000-2005 6 2008 17.3 (Al Taweelah-B-Extension, Abu Dhabi, UAE) 2005-06 8 (Sharjah-Layyah, UAE)
2010         2010 8.5 (Fujairah, UAE)