Proposed reverse osmosis desalination system for Melbourne, Australia. Source: Seawater Desalination Feasibility Study, 2007.
Desalination is the conversion of salt or brackish water into usable fresh water. Distillation is the most common commercial method; heat from the Sun or conventional fuels vaporizes brine, the vapor condensing into fresh water on cooling. Reverse osmosis and electrodialysis both remove salt from water by the use of semipermeable membranes; these processes are more suitable for brackish water. Pure water crystals may also be separated from brine by freezing.
The biggest problem holding back the wider adoption of desalination techniques is that of how to meet the high energy costs of all such processes. Only where energy is relatively cheap and water particularly scarce is desalination economic, and even then complex energy conservation procedures must be built into the plant.