The Largest Desalination Plants in the World

The biggest desalination plants in the world exemplify groundbreaking engineering solutions that ensure the provision of freshwater, irrespective of geographical constraints. Read on to discover the astonishing scale of the world’s biggest desalination plant as well as the planet’s largest seawater desalination plant.

Building Big Engineering
25 July 2023

In response to rising water scarcity challenges, scientific advancements have pioneered novel methods for securing water supplies, including harnessing the immense breadth of the ocean. Converting saline oceanic water into drinking water has proven a game-changing solution for countries where freshwater sources are scarce. It’s against this backdrop that the world has seen the rise of the largest desalination plants in the world.

The purpose of these plants is straightforward but profound: to provide life-sustaining freshwater to regions where this crucial resource is perilously scarce. They’re the cornerstones of regional water security strategies, underpinning economic growth and enabling sustainable development in some of the world’s driest regions. Let’s discover the location of the biggest water desalination plant in the world.

The Two Types of Water Desalination

The reverse osmosis equipment in a desalination plant. (Credit: tifonimages via Getty Images)

The world’s biggest desalination plants are dedicated to the singular task of producing fresh water from the sea, processing hundreds of millions of litres of seawater every day. Their staggeringly complex labyrinthine network of pipes, pumps, and filtration systems is a marvel of modern engineering, and there are two main types of desalination – reverse osmosis and thermal desalination.

Reverse Osmosis (RO): This is the process where seawater is forced through a fine membrane at very high pressures. The water passes through the membrane leaving the larger salt molecules and other impurities such as bacteria, viruses and other particulates behind. Reverse osmosis is highly efficient and is the most commonly used method in the biggest desalination plants in the world.

Thermal Desalination (TD): In this process, seawater is heated to produce steam. The salt and other impurities are left behind in the process as they don’t evaporate with the water. The steam is then cooled and condensed to form pure, drinkable water. This method is more energy-intensive and is generally used in areas where heat energy is readily available, like in countries with significant amounts of sunshine.

In this article, we’re rating the size of the largest desalination plants in the world by daily capacity of processed water in litres.

Minjur Seawater Desalination Plant

Detail of filtering system in reverse osmosis water purification plant. (Credit: jia yu via Getty Images)

Location: Chennai, India | Capacity: 100 million litres | Type: RO

Minjur may not be the largest seawater desalination plant in the world, but it’s the biggest in India. Commercial operations started in July 2010 and the desalinated water from the plant is primarily used for industrial purposes at the Ennore Port and the North Chennai Thermal Power Plant. During periods of drought, water can be supplied to the public and, if required, can serve around a million people.

Victorian Desalination Plant

Reverse osmosis system. (Credit: Vithun Khamsong via Getty Images)

Location: Victoria, Australia | Capacity: 410 million litres | Type: RO

Occupying a 49-acre site on Victoria’s Bass Coast, one of the biggest desalination plants in the world supplies up to 150 billion litres of water to the city of Melbourne every year, or over 30% of its water. The water travels from the plant to the city via an 84-kilometre pipeline and the plant’s power requirements are offset by renewable energy.

Sorek Desalination Plant

The Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv (Credit: kolderal via Getty Images)

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel | Capacity: 624 million litres | Type: RO

Sorek is a contender for the world’s largest seawater desalination plant, taking water from the Mediterranean. The plant became operational in October 2013 and provides clean drinking water for around 1.5 million people. The output comprises 20% of Israel’s municipal water demand and the 25-acre site was built at a reported cost of $500 million.

Taweelah Desalination Plant

Closeup of the post carbon filter of a reverse osmosis water station. (Credit: Michael Edwards via Getty Images)

Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates | Capacity: 909.2 million litres | Type: RO

The Taweelah plant is believed to be the world’s biggest desalination plant using 100% reverse osmosis technology. It was built at an estimated cost of $874 million and the plant generates electricity through two photovoltaic plants. The facility was completed in 2022 and is believed to meet the water demand for around a million people.

Ras Al Khair Desalination Plant

The Ras al-Khair water desalination plant (Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Location: Ras Al Khair, Saudi Arabia | Capacity: 1.036 billion litres | Type: RO/TD

Situated on the Persian Gulf on Saudi Arabia’s eastern coast, Ras Al Khair is one of the biggest desalination plants in the world. It was commissioned in 2014 at a cost believed to be over $7 billion and uses 70% thermal desalination and 30% reverse osmosis. Once the water has been processed, it is piped a staggering 535 kilometres to Riyadh where it services the needs of almost three million people.

Jebel Ali Desalination Plant

Jebel Ali Power Plant and Desalination Complex. (Credit: Aleksandra Tokarz via Getty Images)

Location: Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates | Capacity: 2.22 billion litres | Type: RO/TD

Using a mix of thermal desalination (87%) and reverse osmosis (13%), Jebel Ali is not only the world’s largest seawater desalination plant, it is the world’s biggest desalination plant. The vast complex extends for three kilometres along the coastline of the Persian Gulf, close to the Palm Jumeirah, one of the world’s biggest man-made islands. The facility is also home to a huge power station – believed to be the largest gas-fired power plant in the world – that drives efficiency in the daily production of the equivalent of almost 900 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.

It Does Taste Like it Ought To

The largest desalination plants in the world transform millions of litres of seawater into freshwater daily, and play a pivotal role in safeguarding water security for millions of people in the driest and hottest nations on Earth.

From serving the needs of the arid regions of the Middle East to the bustling cities of Australia and India, these desalination plants provide an essential resource. The continued growth and technological advancement of desalination plants also offer a glimpse into the possibilities which may be available to further this progress in the future.


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