There are two definitions of water scarcity according to the UN: a physical shortage, or a lack of access. For Saudi Arabia, water scarcity due to low rainfall and the arid climate are compounded by the high evaporation from existing water infrastructure – both issues now being addressed.
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Creating water in Saudi Arabia
The process of removing salt and other impurities from seawater to produce clean drinking water. Two methods are currently being used. Reverse osmosis, where the seawater is filtered through a fine membrane; or distillation, where seawater is heated so water vapours can be collected. Both can be very energy intensive.
A highly saline by-product of reverse osmosis that’s usually discharged back into the sea. With careful management, its impact on the environment can be minimal. The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), which produces 70 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s desalinated water, is planning to “mine” valuable minerals from brine.
A hydrophilic polymer that can absorb a large amount of water and maintain its structure. Scientists at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust) have combined it with calcium chloride, a nontoxic salt, to produce a substance that can absorb water straight from the air and then release it.
Saudi scientists are researching different ways solar power can be harnessed for water production and how water can make solar power generation more efficient. One prototype from Kaust used water produced from hydrogel to cool solar panels, which would otherwise become too hot and, in turn, become less efficient.