Technion and California join to desalinate water

LOS ANGELES — Israel's Technion Institute and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will collaborate on a $35 million project they hope will be a major step toward the desalination of sea water.

The project to build a pilot plant to purify 5 million gallons of ocean water a day for human and agricultural use will most likely be located in Huntington Beach.

The joint U.S.-Israeli Commission for Science and Technology has agreed to put up initial funds for the plant. The remainder of the funding is tied to the resolution of budget battles in Washington, D.C.

Huntington Beach is the site of a desalination test unit that purifies 2,000 gallons a day and that was built by the Metropolitan Water District and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

If the larger pilot plant is a success, the next step would be construction of a plant that would handle 50 million gallons of water a day.

It takes about 300,000 gallons to supply a household of five people with water for a year.

The collaboration between engineers in Southern California and Israel comes naturally, because both areas have similar climate zones and desert settings, said Uri Shamir, the professor who heads the Technion's Water Research Institute.

Shamir spoke at a recent reception hosted by the Southern California Chapter of the American Society for Technion.

Engineers have been working for decades to develop a relatively cheap process for desalinating sea and brackish water in commercial quantities.

The main obstacle is the high energy cost required for desalination.

However, with the rising cost of developing new conventional water sources for thirsty Southern California and Israel, and the anticipated lowering of desalination costs, purified sea water could become more competitively priced, Shamir said.

Shamir acknowledged that he had predicted in 1962 that desalinated water would be competitive by 1980.

In a revised forecast, he said that "we are now much closer to success than 20 years ago. Within 10 to 20 years, I expect to see substantial water [desalination] factories springing up in many locations."