Towards the creation of a supply chain in Italy
Openings and interest also come from the Veneto Region or from cities like Genoa and in support of the birth of a real desalination market in our country too, now also comes from the regulations contained in the recent Drought decree, which simplify the authorization procedures for the construction of desalination plants . The same Pnrr foresees some lines dedicated to the development of solutions for the management of water emergencies.
All this also creates the premises for the development of an industrial supply chain to support these plants, from both a technological point of view and the supply of components. “To date there are no companies specialized in the sector, except for a few white flies, but this is not a problem because the technologies exist and in Italy there are all the skills necessary to implement them”, explains Alessandro Marangoni, economist and CEO of Althesys, a company consultancy which recently produced a paper together with Acciona (one of the main European players in desalination) which takes stock of the sector in Italy and in the world. Globally, the document states, there are only 19,700 desalination plants, for almost 100 million cubic meters of water produced per day. In Italy, there are only 12 plants and all of them are small (except for one industrial site, in Cagliari, which serves the Saras refinery), which produce around 290 million cubic meters of water per day, against the almost 2.2 billion cubic meters of Spain, the European country which, with 765 plants, sees the greatest investments in this market.
Technological evolution and reduction of criticalities
«Until now, there has been no real need in Italy that would also make the development of these solutions economically advantageous – adds Marangoni -. Today, unfortunately, this need exists. At the same time, technologies have made enormous progress allowing both to reduce the construction and management costs of the plants, for example by adopting the reverse osmosis system instead of evaporation, and to reduce its environmental impact».
Among the critical issues there are in fact both the management of residues from the desalination process and the high energy consumption of these infrastructures: «To pump water from a lake you need 370 watts for every cubic metre, to produce desalinated water you need between 2,600 and 8,500», explains Professor Francesco Fatone, lecturer at the Marche Polytechnic University and member of the technical-scientific committee of the Ecomondo fair (from 7 to 10 November next in Rimini), where the issue of water management is at the center of the debate. «The challenge for the next few years, and I believe that opportunities will open up for Italian companies in this area as well, is not so much the mechanical part, but the development of energy solutions that combine renewable sources with traditional ones to make these plants work». Another important issue is that of waste management, but here too technologies come in handy, observes Alessandro Marangoni, with interesting reuse projects: for example in aquaculture or to produce fertilizers or to extract minerals.
The crux of costs: where watermakers are advantageous
Finally there is the issue of costs, which obviously vary greatly depending on the size of the system and the place of installation. «For larger works, a reference value could be around 800 dollars per m3 of investment, therefore 400 million dollars for a 500,000 m3 plant», observes Paola Bertossi. Nothing compared to the damage that water scarcity causes in industry and agriculture, not to mention the possible social consequences. It all depends on where the plant is built: «It is clear that the contexts in which it makes sense to build one have to be evaluated – says Marangoni -. In Italy it is certainly an advantageous solution in the smaller islands, where the supply takes place via transport on tankers, which bring the cost of water up to 10-15 euros per cubic meter, against 2-3 euros per cubic meter of the water produced by an osmosis desalinator».