Environmental impact of desalination processes: Mitigation and control strategies

Khaled Elsaid*, Enas Taha Sayed, Mohammad Ali Abdelkareem, Ahmad Baroutaji, A. G. Olabi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Freshwater supplies are in shortage relative to the high demand for different human activities, making desalination of saline water a must. Desalination to extract water from saline water has been well established as a reliable non-conventional water supply. However, desalination as any human-based process has resulted in many impacts on the environment. Brine loaded with chemicals being discharged back to the environment, along with greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions being released to the atmosphere, are the most significant impacts, which has been extensively studied, with some efforts given to its mitigation and control. The current work discusses the mitigation and control strategies (M&CS) to the different environmental impacts (EIs) of desalination processes. The article compiles the M&CS in one work, instead of the distributed and separate treatment of the EIs of each desalination step and its respective M&CS as currently present in literature. The article tracks the water flow in an intake-to-outfall approach exploring how to minimize the impacts at each step and as a whole process. This starts from intake, pretreatment processes, desalination technology, and finally, brine discharge. The EIs associated with each desalination process element is thoroughly discussed with proposed M&CS. The work shows clearly that many EIs can be eliminated or minimized by incorporating specific design criteria and process improvements. The feedwater source has shown to have a great effect on EIs. Similarly, desalination technology has shown a considerable effect on the EIs related to brine characteristics and energy consumption. Hybrid and emerging desalination systems have shown reduced EIs relative to conventional thermal and membrane desalination technologies, while the utilization of renewable and waste energy sources has shown a significant reduction in EIs related to energy consumption.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140125
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date11 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


  • Desalination
  • Emerging desalination
  • Environmental impact
  • Membrane desalination
  • Mitigation and control
  • Thermal desalination


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