2. Seawater Desalination in China
2.1. The Course of Desalination Development
2.2. The Status Quo of Desalination Development
3. Direct Utilization of Seawater in China
3.1. The Development Status Quo of Once-Through Seawater Cooling
3.2. Direct Utilization of Seawater in Other Ways
4. Utilization of Seawater as a Chemical Resource and Structural Optimization in China
4.1. Utilization of Seawater as a Chemical Resource
4.2. The Optimization of the Recycling Industry Chain
- Taking seawater as a raw material, obtain Freshwater and retentate brine through the desalination process.
- Produce bromine by applying the air blow-out method to retentate brine and obtain debrominated brine.
- Add NaOH and Na2CO3 to the debrominated brine to produce magnesium hydroxide and calcium carbonate and refine the brine.
- Produce sodium sulfate decahydrate by applying the freezing method to the refined brine and obtaining desulfurized mother liquor.
- Produce sodium chloride by applying high-temperature evaporation to the desulfurized mother liquor and obtaining the mother liquor of salt.
- Produce potassium chloride and potassium mother liquor by low-temperature evaporation. The mother liquor is then circulated into the extraction process of sodium sulfate by the freezing method.
5. Restrictive Factors and Potential Countermeasures for the Comprehensive Utilization of Desalinated Seawater in China
5.1. Low Localization Rate of Key Technologies and Equipment
- The “Special Plan for Seawater Utilization” introduced in 2005 proposed that the localization rate of desalination equipment should be 90% or more by 2020. Considering the current development situation, we should carry out independent innovation in terms of process optimization, cost reduction and research into the key equipment and technologies. The leading domestic manufacturers are Hangzhou Big Dipper Membrane Products Co., Ltd., Beijing Shidai Walton Technology Co., Ltd., Bluestar Co., Ltd., Tianjin Motiammo Co., Ltd., and Hainan Lisheng Water Purification Technology Co., Ltd. The domestic market share of desalination membranes is approximately 10% . The Vontron reverse osmosis membrane produced by Beijing Shidai Walton Technology Co., Ltd. has passed the NSF certification in the United States and has distributors, agents and fixed customers around the world [83,84]. Construction of the largest domestic reverse osmosis membrane project began in Beijing in August 2009, and this project is jointly built and financed by Bluestar Co., Ltd. and the Toray Company in Japan .
- At the same time, seawater desalination demonstration projects should be constructed. By encouraging enterprise and scientific research institutes to incorporate the latest research achievements (especially innovations in key pieces of equipment, such as reverse osmosis membranes, energy recovery devices, high-pressure pumps, and evaporators) into demonstration projects to be tested and improved, we could gradually realize the localization of desalination equipment manufacturing. The Southern Pump Industry Company undertook the “Research, Development, Application and Demonstration of Energy Recovery Devices for Desalination” project of the “Key Equipment for Reverse Osmosis Desalination Development” national science and technology support plan during the “12th Five-Year Period”, which has resulted in the local production of energy recovery devices. The research work of this company is progressing, and preparations are being made for third-party testing. In addition, the biggest single-plant high-pressure pump in China, the pump used in the Zhoushan Liuheng desalination project, which was developed by the Southern Pump Industry Company and has a daily capacity of 12,500 m3 and was put into operation during the second phase of the project in 2014. Its acceptance indicates that the localization rate of the key technology of desalination membranes is further improving.
5.2. High Economic Costs
- To reduce the cost of energy consumption and pretreatment, the combination of nuclear power and desalination has become an important development trend. The combination of these systems meets the need for cooling water in nuclear electricity generation. On the other hand, it provides cheap energy for desalination, creating the necessary conditions for the large-scale utilization of seawater. At present, the first combined nuclear power plant and seawater desalination system built in China, the Liaoning Hongyanhe nuclear power plant, is working well. The first nuclear power project approved during the “11th Five-Year Period”, the Hongyanhe nuclear power plant, has four machine sets and a scale of a million kilowatt-hours. It greatly alleviates water shortage conditions and breaks new ground to effectively solve the problem of freshwater supply to nuclear power plants.
- As the first city to introduce the use of desalinated seawater, Qingdao has leading significance for the nationwide implementation of this practice in terms of demonstrating the feasibility, method of operation, and the means of subsidizing and financing the project. In another case, the Caofeidian desalination project was adopted by the Hebei Development and Reform Commission in 2014. It is expected to produce water for Beijing beginning in 2019. This large-scale project, which has a daily capacity of 1,000,000 m3, will meet one-third of the water demand of Beijing. The cost of the desalinated seawater will be 7–8 RMB/m3, however, the cost of domestic water in Beijing is 4 RMB/m3. Clearly, there is a certain gap between these water prices, which is supposed to be adjusted gradually in the future.
5.3. Insufficient Water Production Rate of Desalination Plants
- Given the current desalination cost level, direct subsidies from the government are indispensable in solving the problems related to the large-scale idling of capacity. The attitude of the government largely determines whether seawater desalination can be carried out on large scales in urban water supply systems. As a city manager would do, the government should not just regard the water supply as a financial and technical problem. It is important to establish a safe and stable water supply security system in order to meet the demands of economic development and residents. The marginal benefits of urban economic development can fully or partially provide an incentive to supply government subsidies for the enforcement of desalination. In addition, the large-scale application of seawater desalination and equipment localization can also become a new industry, driving local economic prosperity and tax increases.
- The coastal cities of China should implement reforms in tap water pricing, specifically categorized water pricing and ladder water pricing . These reforms increase the water resource tax for water users whose consumption is excessive and indirectly increases the demand for unconventional water resources. By calculating the water demand at different water prices, the demand for desalinated seawater can be determined at the comprehensive cost level . Roseta Palma and Monteiro  systematically proved that, in the case of insufficient resources and different users, ladder pricing can promote resource saving. In Tianjin, the ladder pricing of domestic water, shown in Table 3, has been carried out since 1 November 2015. Incremental, ladder-based water pricing policies have the following advantages. First, they promote social justice. Monteiro  noted that ladder water pricing ensures the basic demands of low-income people by making the first level water price lower than the marginal cost of supplying the water. However, higher-income families who consume more water are charged extra via the higher levels of the ladder water pricing. Second, Boland and made  indicated that ladder water pricing tends to accelerate the effective utilization of water resources and the realization of water savings. Third, Porter  and Opitz et al.  concluded that ladder water pricing can increase economic efficiency, achieving the most effective use of resources with balanced profits and losses in the water industry.
5.4. Environmental Problems Produced by Concentrated Brine
5.5. Lack of Competitiveness and Complete Supporting Policies
- A scientific formulation of the desalinated water price will be taken as the fundamental basis of government subsidies to desalination plants and water-consuming enterprises. The government should encourage production-oriented enterprises and enterprises that consume large amounts of water to use desalinated seawater preferentially, providing preferential policies for the companies to help them recover their losses on water costs. For the desalinated seawater supplied to municipal networks, water supply enterprises should sign long-term procurement contracts with desalination plants and charge the desalination plants according to the actual amount of desalinated seawater in each municipal network. The water price difference between the market price and the purchase price should be compensated by the government.
- Developing the demand for desalination in the production field. The price of industrial water in the coastal areas of China is generally higher than that of domestic water. The desalination cost is close to the industrial water price in some cities with water shortages, which increases the application prospects of desalination in industry. By strengthening the policy guidance, more enterprises, especially those that consume large amounts of water, can be induced to use desalinated seawater. The Ministry of Water Resources issued the “Plan for the Reform and Development of Water Conservancy in the 13th Five-Year Period” in December 2016. It proposed that the government should encourage coastal areas and industrial enterprises to carry out demonstration projects using seawater. Desalinated seawater should be used preferentially in the industrial enterprises where it can be applied.
5.6. Lack of Perfect Laws, Regulations and Standards
- In establishing a system for administering desalination projects, the strategic positioning of desalination should be clarified in the law to promote its standardized development. In addition, the Department of State, including the Ministry of Water Resources, the State Oceanic Administration, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and other local departments, as well as associations involved in marine management, need to confirm their respective functions, responsibilities, rights and interest distributions, and so on. Currently, the Ministry of Water Resources has a Department of Unconventional Water Resources, which is responsible for the administration of unconventional water sources and overall planning specifically including the use of seawater. In addition, the “Plan for the Reform and Development of Water Conservation in the 13th Five-Year Period”, which was issued in December 2016, noted that unconventional resources should be incorporated into the regionally unified allocation of water resources. As an important means of realizing water conservation priorities and system management, strengthening the development and utilization of unconventional water resources is of great significance to ease the contradiction between water resource supply and demand in China.
- We should determine whether the quality of desalinated seawater is satisfactory for transport within municipal pipe networks, establish quality standards for desalinated seawater, develop a mineralization processing standard for desalination, and build a system for determining the appropriate scales of new projects. At present, sulfuric acid is mainly used to dissolve limestone to mineralize desalinated seawater in China . The development of the desalination industry is expected to be guided and standardized in such aspects as the development of resources, environmental protection, safety and industrial development. We also should perform research on desalination and draining, raw materials and reagents, desalination technology, testing technology, engineering designs, operation management practices, desalination regulatory standards and the design of related equipment and quality standards, as well as other topics . These developments will strengthen the guidance available to the desalination industry.
6. Concluding Remarks
Conflicts of Interest
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|Methods||Status Quo||Development Trend|
|Reverse osmosis desalination ||Practical application||Semipermeable membrane and membrane module|
|New technology and energy recovery|
|Low-temperature multi-effect distillation ||Practical application||Thermodynamics and fluid mechanics|
|Materials and equipment|
|Combined with multi-stage flash distillation|
|Multi-stage flash distillation ||Practical application||Combined with nuclear power generation to set up large scale devices|
|Vapour compression distillation ||Practical application||Small and medium size|
|Solar distillation ||Research and development, small test and application||Applied in areas with strong sunlight|
|Crystallization method ||Research and development, small and medium test factory||Mud generation, transmission and thin ice separation and washing|
|Choice and recycling of solvent and water mixture|
|Electrodialysis method ||Practical application in desalination and marine salt producing||Membrane|
|High-temperature electrodialysis method|
|Combining desalination with comprehensive utilization|
|Solvent extraction method ||Research and development||Choice and recycling of solvent|
|Ion exchange method ||Practical application in pure water production||Resin synthesis and regeneration|
|Level||Water Consumption (m3/household·year)||Price (RMB/m3)||Base Price (RMB/m3)||Water Resource Fee (RMB/m3)||Sewage Treatment Fee (RMB/m3)|
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