Revolutionising Hydration: The Future of Water Treatment in Maritime Operations

The maritime industry is one of the largest infrastructures in the world and is responsible for over $430 billion in services and goods each year.

Crucial to the continued running of this vast network of enterprises are over 2 million seafarers, who often live and work in dangerous or unpredictable conditions sometimes for long periods of time. Essential to their wellbeing is the ongoing provision of food and most importantly clean, fresh water.

In the types of environments and conditions that seafarers regularly encounter, this supply of safe, reliable consumables comes with its own complexities and challenges.

The issue of a consistent source of potable water on voyages is one that has occupied seafarers since the dawn of sea travel. Obviously great leaps forward have been made over the centuries and those working at sea now have far greater access to safe food and drink, better living and working conditions and greater allowance for rest and relaxation than those who went before them.

But what does the future hold for water provision and treatment within the maritime industry? Are innovative steps being taken to eliminate the concerns around safe drinking water at sea for ever? Below we’ve explored some of the key issues around treating, storing and providing fresh water at sea and looked at the potential for marine water solutions in the future.

Delivering Reliable Hydration to Seafarers

A reliable and safe source of water while at sea or on voyages is one of the key issues facing ship owners, managers and seafarers.

In recent years the pressure has built to not only encompass the consistent supply of potable water but also to consider the environmental impacts of current marine water solutions. Exploring the potential for better, more sustainable practices when it comes to the provision and storing of perishable supplies of food and drink, is part of the growing agenda around sustainability in the marine industry.

Up until very recently, the vast majority of water provision across the industry was via bottled water stored on board. Often this took the form of single use plastic bottles that then needed to be stored for recycling or disposed of.

Another option for fresh water on board relies on the pumping and storage of clean drinking water from a municipal source whilst the vessel is docked. Although obviously using far less plastic, the water is potentially exposed to a greater number of pathogens as it is transported through a network of pumps and pipes to be held in reserve for the voyage.

The global environmental impact of single use plastic is now widely known and strategies for limiting and eventually eliminating their use have been applied with varying degrees of success across the world. In the UK the introduction of a fee for plastic bags at all major retail outlets has resulted in a staggering 97% drop in single use plastic bag usage at the main retailers. Source

Bold but simple changes can yield a huge impact, and it will be innovative and sustainable marine water solutions that the maritime industry looks to in the future.

What is The Future of Water Treatment in Maritime Operations?

Large scale on-board water storage and single use plastic water bottles for seafarers and passengers are two of the most common ways to provide potable, fresh drinking water whilst at sea.

However, they are not the only methods and many maritime organisations and ship management companies are already investing in more sustainable methods of securing a safe supply of water for drinking and cooking.

Among these marine water solutions are filtration and reverse osmosis (RO) processes which are becoming increasingly popular. They offer results that can be far more cost effective and are safer and more sustainable than the more traditional options outlined above.

Filtration systems for providing drinking water onboard have become particularly popular, mainly because they are reliable and can be installed and maintained by crew members themselves whilst at sea. This contributes to their lower running costs and mitigates the need for single use plastic bottles. Many ship management firms have invested heavily in supplying crew members with durable, refillable metal bottles to further cut down on single use and plastic waste. Filtration units have been developed that can remove harmful contaminants from drinking water but retain essential minerals like magnesium, calcium and zinc that can benefit seafarers who may have a limited diet while on board.

Reverse osmosis also works by removing harmful pathogens and contaminants, rendering the treated water suitable for drinking. It can even be used to treat collected rainwater, further enhancing its sustainability credentials.

Research on a diverse range of marine water solutions is underway across the world, with some hugely promising results already showing the potential for increased application in the near future.

Among the potential future options for revolutionising marine water solutions are:

  • Water Desalination – some of the most exciting research around desalination techniques comes from scientists in the UK who are experimenting with ultrasound waves to ‘explode’ contaminated seawater into minute particles which evaporate and condense resulting in clean, drinkable water.
  • Nanotechnology – using large nanoparticles in the treatment of dirty water to attract and collect contaminant particles including heavy metals and harmful chemicals.
  • Solar Technology – an option with huge global potential, using solar technology to ‘clean’ water is not new but is gathering pace in its progress and development. In combination with black carbon-dipped paper, solar water treatment technology could become the most cost effective and widespread solution in the future.

Final Thoughts

The future of marine water solutions and the continued supply of safe drinkable water for seafarers and passengers is at the forefront of sustainability planning for most stakeholders in the marine industry.

Climate change issues are rendering supplies of drinking water inconsistent and potentially severely threatened in vulnerable areas across the globe. So, research and advances in the creation, treatment and provision of potable water have ramifications and applications far beyond the needs of the world’s largest industry and infrastructure.

Huge steps forward have already been made with the widespread integration of reverse osmosis and filtration systems on vessels and offshore environments of all types. Technological advances and scientific research in this area may well result in even more sustainable and cost-effective water treatment solutions for the marine industry and global community in the future, protecting the health and wellbeing of seafarers for decades to come.