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Every day Lee Kok Onn takes a ferry to Pulau Bukom, a small island to the south of Singapore. His job includes making sure that the Shell refinery located there has enough water to generate steam that drives operations. The refinery pipes in some water from the main Singapore island – but this has often proved insufficient.

“As the site grew, there just wasn’t enough fresh water,” says Kok Onn, Shell Utilities Manager at the Pulau Bukom Manufacturing Site in Singapore. “It made sense to generate it ourselves.”  

Desalination plants at Pulau Bukom refinery

Desalination plants at Pulau Bukom refinery convert sea water for use as cooling water

A saline solution

Shell built its first desalination plant on Pulau Bukom in the 1970s. It added two more in the following decades as the refinery expanded. In each plant, water is drawn from the sea surrounding the island through pipes and heated. Most of this sea water evaporates into low-pressure steam, leaving behind brine – concentrated salty water – which is safely returned to the sea. The steam is condensed into water and used in the refinery’s boilers to generate high-pressure steam that powers the plant.  

The Singapore government has built its own desalination plants on the main island, the most recent in 2013. Desalinated water now meets 25% of the country’s current demand. The plants support the government’s aim to continue delivering a secure, affordable supply of water.

 “Water is important to everyone in Singapore,” says Kok Onn. “We are pleased to be playing our part in helping to ensure there is enough.”