Fact Sheet – Latin America

Desalination and Water Reuse Facts on Latin America

  • With 80% of the population living in urban areas, it is one of the most urbanized regions in the world, and is expected to urbanize even further, with 86% of its population residing in cities by 2050 (UNDESA, 2014). i) population growth (urban population has risen from 314 million in 1990 to nearly 496 million today, and is projected to reach 674 million in 2050) (UNDESA, 2014); and ii) expansion of water supply and sanitation services.
  • ONE COUNTRY in Latin America – Chile – could be defined the father/mother of modern desalination. Land-based applications of desalination stepped up their pace in the late 19th century in several countries, but only in Chile can it be shown that desalination was already applied in several sectors (municipal, mining, railways and military) using several of the known evaporative processes – multi-effect distillation (MED), single-effect and solar.
  • Las Salinas solar desalination plant, built in 1878, operated continuously for about 50 years and also the plant serving the city of Antofagasta, which was possibly one of the largest MED plants of the times, judging from a photo taken in 1882.
  • There is desalination in Latin America. As an example, one Brazilian original equipment manufacturer (OEM) alone, Perenne, in the last
15-20 years has built about 2,500 reverse-osmosis (RO) plants with capacities between 20 L/h and 20,000 m3/d, mainly for the arid north-eastern part of Brazil.
  • The first Brazilian desalination plant was installed in the town of Uaua, which is in the interior of the wonderful but poor state of Bahia, in the 1980s.
  • Another dry region is the coastal strip of Patagonia in Argentina. Some of the cities here bring water from the Andes with pipelines hundred of kilometers long for relatively small populations. Seawater desalination has to be a more economical and environmentally friendly way to provide fresh water to people and industry, and indeed several SWRO plants are being discussed.
  • Of about 800 plants listed for Latin America, some 300 are in Mexico and 120 each in Brazil and Chile. Argentina has about 70, Peru and Venezuela 50 each, and Colombia and Ecuador 25 each.


The Latin American region seems to be increasing its demand from membrane manufacturers for “loose” RO and nanofiltration (NF) membranes, as their use is expanding in mining, and offshore oil extraction operations. Already Brazilian energy giant Petrobras has hundreds of thousands of m3/d of installed capacity using tens of thousands of the patented Dow SR90 elements in order to remove sulphates from seawater.

  • In addition, oil companies like BP have published papers saying that desalting seawater further, down to a total dissolved solids (TDS) of around 1,000-1,500 ppm, may be the way to go in the future to recover more oil. This would open a huge market for the application of “loose” seawater RO membranes, not only in Latin America.
  • MBR, UF/MF and EDR are not only applied in Brazil. Both municipal and industrial applications exist in the region, from Mexico to Colombia, from Argentina to Peru.
  • In the field of microfiltration (MF) and UF, many plants have been built in various industrial sectors in Brazil using equipment provided by the major manufacturers. For example Veolia has built several for applications in Petrobras refineries. In the refinery of Reduc, a UF plant treats 450 m3/h of river water before it is fed to an ion-exchange plant.
  • The existing larger seawater desalination plants in Peru are those at Bayovar, Milpo mine, Talara Refinery and for Shougang Hierro Peru at Marcona, plus two for combined- cycle power-generation at Chilca. All are between 5,000 m3/d and 10,000 m3/d capacity and the first three are being expanded.
  • At this time, the largest seawater desalination plant in Latin America is that at Bayovar, built by Perenne of Brazil, which is about to be doubled. It serves the phosphate plant of Brazilian mining giant Vale in the northern part of the country.