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'We can purify sea water cheaply'

By Igsaan Salie

Local scientists have developed an advanced new water desalination system that they believe is the answer to Cape Town's water crisis.

Their company has already erected desalination plants across the Middle East, Far East and Caspian Sea areas, and at a few sites in Europe, and they claim they can supply fresh water from seawater at a lower price than consumers are currently paying for municipal water.

Ocean Mineral Water is run by local group Grahamtek Systems, which has been working in the field since 1994.

They believe they are years ahead of other companies elsewhere in the world.

Jean Vos of Ocean Mineral Water said: "The basic point is that we can give Cape Town water and that is a fact."

The company recently erected a plant in the Maldives that produces half a million liters a day and was erected in a single day at a cost of a mere R1.5 million.

In the past the prohibitive energy costs of desalination have prevented widespread use of the
technology.

However, the local scientists say they have improved technology and are now able to supply desalinated water at a cost of R4,80/1 000 liters, which is substantially cheaper than the water provided by most municipalities.

"Seawater is the healthiest water on the planet as it has all the minerals that you need, reverse osmosis simply removes what is bad for you and retains the good part. This is the best water for any living being to consume and even for agriculture," said Martin Lyons of Ocean Mineral Water.

The technology is, however, not exclusively for seawater and has been used to clean up brackish water found in many parts of the Cape and industrial water.

"In the mines up in Gauteng, there are millions of liters of water that are not being used because of contamination but that can be removed using this system," said Vos.

Neil Bezuidenhout of Grahamtek explained that in the United Arab Emirates they had managed to clear seawater used to pump out oil of all impurities and make it fit for consumption.

Vos said the company had the capability to supplement the city's water supply and could pump the water directly into the municipal systems.

"The water we provide will in fact be cleaner than what is in the reservoirs," Vos said, adding that their studies had shown that the environmental impact of a desalination plant would be "negligible or insignificant".

Waheed Patel, spokesperson for Saleem Mowzer, head of trading services in the city, said that the city is taking a fresh look at the viability of desalination as a source of drinking water.

"It does form part of the city's strategy to address the water issue," he said.

Patel noted they were in the feasibility phase looking at the technology. He said the city was assessing what needs it wanted a desalination plant to address, where the plant would be situated and what environmental impact it would have.

He said that the city had been conducting studies looking into desalination for a number of years but had received a fresh boost from the mayor's office in November prompting a more serious look into its viability as a source for fresh drinking water.

"Clearly our situation in the city doesn't allow us to be narrow minded in our thinking. The sea is there and we need to see how to utilize it in a way that is environmentally friendly," he said.