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Research and planning
Estimated cost
Project status

This project was funded by the Australian Government ($190,000). Australian Government funding was provided through the National Water Grid Fund.

Combine harvester in field.

The project assessed the possibility of using desalination technologies to support Australian agriculture.

Project overview

CSIRO assessed the possibility of using desalination technologies to support Australian agriculture.
Desalination is a process that removes dissolved salts from: 

  • seawater
  • municipal or industrial wastewater
  • brackish or saline inland water, including groundwater.

The process results in 2 streams: 

  • Treated water suitable for use, also known as permeate. 
  • Brine, a concentration of salts that requires disposal.

There are up to 1,000 desalination plants in operation in Australia. These vary in size and output: 

  • Small plants produce less than 10,000 litres (L) and up to 10 kilolitres per day. 
  • Large plants produce 250 million L to 250 megalitres per day.

Many industries use desalination plants, including:

  • mining
  • power
  • oil and gas
  • food and beverage
  • medical
  • municipal. 

A small number of desalination plants have been built in Australia in the last decade. 

Assessment goals

This research assessed the opportunities and challenges of desalination technology, including:

  • supporting agricultural resilience to drought and climate variability
  • increasing agricultural productivity and profitability
  • addressing practical and economic challenges to expanding agricultural use
  • how to best use this technology based on water resource limits, location, energy source and approach to agricultural production. 

Assessment outcomes

Desalination schemes are best developed between desalination infrastructure providers and the water user. This collaborative approach should: 

  • improve water security and quality  
  • improve the sustainability and profitability of the water user’s business
  • offset the cost of the desalination scheme through increased profits and productivity.

The next steps towards developing desalination schemes for irrigated agriculture include:

  • engaging agribusiness
  • assessing brackish groundwater resources
  • assessing brine management options
  • looking into ways to add value to existing infrastructure
  • evaluating the role of subsidies.

Key project benefits

Drought resilience
Water quality