The nation famed for its rainfall may soon take water from the sea

One of Britain's largest water companies is planning to build the country's first desalination plant, to turn large quantities of sea water into drinking water.

The pilot-scale plan will be large enough to supply a small town and would be sited on the Norfolk or Lincolnshire coastlines, which are among the driest parts of the country. Anglian Water yesterday put the cost at pounds 2m and said it would be financed from its innovation fund rather than from water bills.

There are still only few desalination plants in the world and two of the largest are in Saudi Arabia - which has abundant supplies of oil to generate the large quantities of electricity which conventional desalination processes require.

Anglian is interested because it wants to see how much the costs of desalination can be lowered by technological improvement and because it wants to keep its options open if the climate becomes permanently drier.

Corporate affairs manager Mike Keohane said: "Being in the driest part of England with the greatest resource problems we felt that, looking into the future, we need to know more about desalination than we do."

Anglian has purchased an American company, Fluid Systems, which works on the special membranes now seen as offering the best way forward for desalination.

Even with the drought now deepening in southern and eastern England it seems highly unlikely that desalination plants could be commercially viable here inside a decade.

More conventional measures, such as enlarging reservoirs or cutting wastage offer a much better return on investment.

But in the next century there may be a huge overseas market in dry, coastal nations with fast growing economies or even in Britain if dry years become a permanent fixture.

Anglian has not yet selected a site nor applied to a council for planning permission to build a pilot plant. "It's going to be rather bigger than a box on a beach," said Mr Keohane.

But he hopes for "a certain sympathy" from council planners who appreciated the looming problems of water shortages when an application was made.

Anglian is interested in reverse osmosis technology in which sea water is kept under pressure in a tank with a special membrane across it. Water minus the salt passes through and accumulates on the other side. But the saltier brine left behind is pumped back into the sea.

Another smaller water company, Folkestone and Dover, is considering investing in desalination as well. But this is because some ground-water sources in its part of eastern Kent have become increasingly saline due to old coalmining works which have allowed sea water from the nearby coast to penetrate.

Folkestone and Dover has also been looking at using the Channel tunnel to bring fresh water across from France using the structure's firefighting and cooling water-mains.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power