While recognizing that fresh water is
increasingly becoming a scarce commodity, resulting in
incredible growth in demand for desalination and other
water-reuse technologies, not many U.S.-based stainless and
stainless pipe and tube companies appear to be embracing the
"I'm not sure many domestic producers
recognize the opportunity it presents," Dan Janikowski, energy
sales manager at Plymouth Tube Co., said. "It is a big market,
but mainly a global market. It isn't nearly as strong in the
United States as elsewhere in the world. Maybe once the supply
of usable water declines further (in the United States) and
water prices start to go up, more people will pay attention to
It is hard to quantify just how much the
market could boost demand for stainless, titanium, copper-based
alloys and other corrosion-resistant materials globally,
especially for plants utilizing the reverse-osmosis
desalination process that accounts for about 80 percent of new
plant builds, Janikowski said. He could say only that
reverse-osmosis plants, which use a membrane-based technology
with piping made from super duplex stainless steels as well as
fiber-reinforced plastics, use less stainless per gallon of
water processed than thermal desalination (distillation)
A large thermal desalination plant could use
as much as 25 million feet of thin-walled tubing-made of either
superferritic or duplex stainless, aluminum brass,
copper-nickel or titanium. Putting that into perspective,
Janikowski said that 25 million feet of tubing could be a
year's production for a fairly large stainless tube mill.
Not all U.S. companies are oblivious to the
potential for high-performance alloys for desalination and
other water-treatment processes, however. "It is a nice market
for our industry," said Dan Greenfield, a spokesman for
Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI), Pittsburgh, which makes many
of the duplex stainless and titanium alloys used in the
application. "The whole area of water-desalination, clean
water, public water systems-is clearly growing. In fact, some
people think of it as the next oil."
But Janikowski said it is mainly European
stainless steel producers that recognize the potential of the
global market for desalination plants, which grew about 45
percent during the past five years and is likely to grow at an
even greater rate going forward.
ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG said that "drinking
water is the source of all life and demand for this rare and
precious 'blue gold' is rising constantly and can barely be met
by existing natural freshwater resources." In an effort to find
a solution to "increasing global water scarcity,"
Thyssen-Krupp's various subsidiaries have engaged in a
"cross-company knowledge-sharing" effort.
"We are making full use of the group's value
chain to provide mutual support, which results in (the)
transfer of know-how," said Markus Holz, managing director of
ThyssenKrupp Titanium GmbH. Other ThyssenKrupp units
participating in the cooperative effort include ThyssenKrupp
VDM GmbH and ThyssenKrupp Nirosta GmbH.
Phil Lehr, manager of nickel alloys and
export sales at Swepco Tube Corp., Clifton, N.J., acknowledged
that his company hadn't done much recently-at least not mill
direct-in the desalination market, but he doesn't rule out
doing so in the future. "There is a lot of potential in that
market," he said, but his company has been concentrating on
other markets, such as oil and gas and electricity generation,
for the past several years.
David G. Pudelsky, vice president of
strategic marketing at RathGibson Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill.,
said his company isn't currently participating in the
desalination market per se, although during the past 18 months
to two years it has done "significant project work" for the
water-treatment market out of its Janesville, Wis., facility
and is looking at the possibility of taking the plunge into
desalination as well. A decision is expected around late summer
to early fall.
Products that RathGibson sells would be a
good match for the desalination market, including large
weldments, large piping sections and fitting elbows, Pudelsky
said, and the fact that RathGibson is a global player is a
plus. He said the company already has offices in Bahrain;
Shanghai, China; Seoul, South Korea; and Perth, Australia, and
is about to add offices in Europe and South America. Most of
those regions are big growth areas for desalination, he said.
"We want to talk to experts, engineering firms and other local
people before we make a decision."