Consultant for Desalination Road Map for Asia Region

Manila, , PH

Terms of Reference – Desalination Road Map for Asia Region


Southeast Asia is one of the hardest hit areas in the world in terms of intrusion of saline groundwater.  6 million people are currently affected in Vietnam’s Mekong river delta alone, where saline groundwater is now found 50-70 km inland, affecting not only drinking water supplies but also all agricultural production in the area. Bangladesh, whose southwestern coastal areas already experience high levels of salinity, are projected to experience a median increase of 26% salinity by 2050,  equating to a 55% increase in the most affected areas. Coastal areas of the Philippines and Indonesia are experiencing similar increases in salinity, rendering aquifers unfit for drinking or irrigation purposes.  In the near future, sea-level rise will cause further saltwater intrusion into coastal and groundwater resources, while climate change and an increasing number of water control structures (e.g. dams) will likely increase river salinity – all of these factors shall threaten supplies of fresh water for drinking and irrigation, as well as causing an irreversible impact peoples’ lives and livelihoods. 

Countries are now turning to technological solutions to desalinate water, with the overwhelming majority of systems globally utilizing reverse osmosis (R.O.) to transform saline water to potable water.  These systems require relatively high energy inputs, as well as specialized maintenance procedures, to function sustainably – making them inappropriate for water production in low-income areas vulnerable to increasing levels of salinity in SE Asia, where high running costs and complex maintenance procedures render them unsustainable.  Major droughts in recent years (e.g. the current drought in California, currently entering its fourth year) have encouraged research and development towards alternatives to R.O. for potable water production (e.g. forward osmosis, thermal distillation, graphite membranes) with the aim of developing technology which requires significantly lower energy requirements than R.O. 

To date a large body of documentation and technologies for desalination exists, though there is little comparative evidence to guide practitioners on the appropriate selection for specific contexts and technologies in one single piece of research.  The focus of this research will be the development of a ‘Road Map’ for simplified technical solutions for desalination, which can be applied in local contexts with minimal energy consumption, simple maintenance and scalability within the local private sector.

Purpose and Objectives:

Oxfam’s objective is to facilitate the introduction of low-cost, low-energy consumption desalination options into market chains in Southeast Asian countries affected by intrusion of saltwater into drinking water sources (specifically: Bangladesh, Philippines, Vietnam, India).  The expected outcomes of this work are the following:

  1. Creation of an evidence base through dissemination of this research within the water sector, to support vulnerable communities to retain stability in accessing potable water for domestic and livelihoods purposes. 
  2. Introduction of low-cost, low-energy input and locally-sustainable desalination options in SE Asia countries affected by high levels of saltwater intrusion;
  3. Increase capacity of local private sector companies to prototype and scale locally-appropriate desalination technologies for communities affected by saltwater intrusion;
  4. Influence government and academia in target countries to pilot and adopt alternative desalination technologies that are appropriate for low-income communities;

These outcomes shall be attained through the following indicators of achievement:

  1. Research report which identifies existing and emerging desalination technologies available (globally) and prioritizes their appropriateness, effectiveness and scalability in the target countries in terms of their a) cost (capital and operating), b) efficacy of treatment, c) energy requirements, d) sustainability (installation as well as operation & maintenance), e) scalability (based on value chain analyses, local private sector production and marketing capacity);
  2. Identification of desalination technologies (ideally with power requirements less than 2.5 kwh/m3), preferably with the ability to be powered by renewable energy sources (e.g. photovoltaic cells);
  3. Field testing of innovative and appropriate desalination technologies within the target countries;
  4. Evaluation of the field-tested technologies at country level, conducted in partnership with relevant government institutions, university institutions and private sector actors;
  5. Business plan developed with in-country private sector actors for the production and development of cost-effective, scalable desalination technologies. 

The objective of the proposed consultancy assignment will be to provide a guidance document, or ‘road map’, for Oxfam on the introduction of low-cost, low-energy input desalination options within the focus countries.  The document will include information on: available and near-term technical options (available globally), potential partnerships, potential barriers to successful implementation, and cost analysis of recommended technical options. 

Scope of Work:

The objective of the assignment is to produce a ‘Desalination Road-Map’ for Oxfam in Asia.  This road map shall enable Oxfam to do the following:

  1. Review lessons learned from previous projects in the region which have introduced desalination technology for low-income or remote populations;
  2. Prioritize specific desalination technologies (both market-ready and those in pilot phase) which can desalinate brackish and saline groundwater (3,000 – 10,000 ppm TDS), ideally with energy requirements less than 2.5 kW/m3 (complete specifications for desalination requirements are attached as annex);
  3. Identify potential partnerships with academic institutions, private sector actors and foundations for future work on introduction of technology. 

Expected Outputs

At the end of the consultancy, the consultant will produce a report, detailing the following outputs in the focus countries:

  1. Identify: (1) relevant market-ready options for decentralized desalination; (2) Near-Term solutions (at the piloting/field testing stage) for decentralized desalination; (3) Medium-term solutions (at the prototype/laboratory stage, but which may be ready for field testing within the next 3 years) for decentralized desalination.  Focus shall be upon low-energy input options, particularly those with the capability to be powered by renewable energy and with low maintenance requirements.
  2. Identify synergies with water production/desalination processes.
  3. Identify opportunities for piloting and/or co-development of desalination technologies within the target countries (Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam).
  4. For the identified opportunities, determine the energy needed to deliver desalinated water including distribution, treatment and disposal, and determine if renewable energy options can be adapted to meet these energy requirements. 
  5. A list of technical options by:
    1. Source waters
    2. Membrane technologies (technologies that desalinate and purify water by pushing it through a semi-permeable membrane that removes contaminants)
    3. Alternative technologies (technologies that desalinate and purify water that take advantage of non-traditional methods, including but not limited to: capacitive deionization, electro-dialysis, multi-effect distillation, etc.)
    4. Thermal Technologies (e.g. processes with utilize thermal energy to drive desalination processes)
    5. Concentrate management
    6. Analysis of efficiency, potential for scalability, and sustainability of identified technical options.  These will focus on 2 main areas of interest for utilization: i) 5 Household system (provision of  150 liters/day) and ii) a village level unit for 2000 people (10,000 liters/day). 
    7. A review of previous projects/lessons learned from projects in the Asia region which have introduced desalination technology for low-income or remote populations;
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