Seawater desalination in China: Retrospect and prospect

Xiang Zheng, Di Chen, Qi Wang, Zhenxing Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


China has been and will be facing water shortage issues due to the disparity between water supply and demand, especially within Chinese coastal areas. Seawater desalination can increase the total water supply and is an important component in addressing water shortage issues in China. With the development of the last six decades, seawater desalination technologies and applications have been advanced remarkably. Total seawater desalination capacity has increased from 10,000m3/d in 2000 to approximately 660,000m3/d in 2011. Seawater desalination has been primarily used in power generation, steel manufacturing, petrochemical industry, and public water supply. 75 desalination plants have been constructed in China, among which 16 desalination plants have capacities of 10,000m3/d or more. Nine desalination plants are under construction, which will provide capacity of 408,000m3/d. Most of the desalination applications (99.5% of the desalination capacity) are located within five provinces: Liaoning, Shandong, Hebei, Tianjin, and Zhejiang. The dominant desalination technologies are reverse osmosis (RO) and multi-effect distillation (MED). 80.3% of desalination plants employ RO and 14.5% of desalination plants adopt MED. The desalination capacities of RO and MED are 348,000 and 232,000m3/d, respectively. Facing the challenge of water shortage, seawater desalination is of necessity in China and is increasingly an inevitable national strategy to address the issue. China is one of the most promising market for seawater desalination. However, international desalination companies will still dominate seawater desalination market for the foreseeable future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)404-413
Number of pages10
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
StatePublished - Apr 15 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Economic analysis
  • MED
  • Prospect
  • RO
  • Seawater desalination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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