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Fresh water to be carried by sea

An enterprising team of European companies has developed a more sustainable and eco-friendly way to transport fresh water in bags over sea to needy locations.

Global warming and erratic rainfall patterns have put a strain on water resources in parts of Europe, affecting 18 % of the continent's population. This also applies to 20 % of the population worldwide, accounting for 1.2 billion people. Within a European context, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain and Turkey are among the most affected countries in this respect, a development exacerbated by increased tourism demand and growing urbanisation.

As seawater continues to intrude on coastal aquifers, the EU is looking at more eco-friendly ways to transport fresh water. The EU-funded project 'Green technology for fresh water sea-transportation based on a flexible containers system' (REFRESH) worked on achieving this objective.

Led by an enterprising Greek shipping company, the project consortium envisioned a system of modular, interlinked, flexible containers that can be towed across the sea by tugboat. Such an approach would be more cost-effective than transporting water by tankers and more eco-friendly than desalination.

Building on previous efforts in this area and improving on past attempts, the project team overcame structural limitations of materials used, strength loads, bulkiness and handling. It developed new coated recyclable fabrics for producing water bags that are 20 m long and 4 m wide. Once the prototype bags were made, REFRESH conducted tests off the coast of Crete in Greece to transport 200 tonnes of fresh water.

The water bags proved very successful and stable in transport, thanks to a set of floaters that were integrated into the system. The bags also withstood rough towing conditions, demonstrating suitability in challenging sea environments. Overall, long-term impacts are numerous, from supporting the tourism industry in southern Europe (e.g. in the more arid Greek Islands) to increasing accessibility to fresh water for agricultural and industrial use.

Already, the project partners have begun exploring opportunities to exploit the technology, which could also eventually support other parts of the world. Nations around the Arabian Gulf, in the Levant and in north Africa will certainly be able to benefit from such a novel solution to water shortage.

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