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Fresh water production from sea water for domestic and

auxiliary purposes is an essential requirement aboard

ships. A considerable amount of fresh water is consumed
in a ship. The crew consumes an average 100
liter/head/day. In a steam ship (a ship whose main
propulsion unit is steam turbine or a ship which is a large
tanker having steam turbine driven cargo oil pumps) the
consumption for the boiler can be as high as 30

Shell and tube freshwater generator

Sufficient potable water may be taken on in port to meet
crew and passenger requirement. But the quality of this
water will be too poor for use in water tube boilers and
for filling expansion tanks. It is common practice to take
on only a minimum supply of potable water and make up
the rest by distillation of sea water. The stowage space
that would have been used for fresh water can hence be
utilized for fuel or extra space made available for cargo
when fresh water generator is installed on a ship. It is
statutory requirement to have a distillation plant for
emergency use if otherwise ship has carried sufficient
potable water. The equipment used on board for the
production of freshwater from seawater is known as
fresh water generator.

Various types of fresh water generators used on board

ships are mainly:

Submerged tube type fresh water generator

Plate type fresh water generator, and
Reverse osmosis plant
What ever type of plant is used, essential requirement of
any fresh water generator is that it should produce fresh
water as economically as possible.

Submerged Tube Type Fresh Water Generator

The shell and tube freshwater generator consist of heat
exchanger, separator shell and condenser. In addition to
this water ejector, ejector pump, distillate pump, salinity
indicator, demister or mesh separator, solenoid valve
and water flow meter are also fitted as accessories.

Fresh Water Generator Working Principle

Basic principle of all low pressure freshwater generator is
that, boiling point of water can be reduced by reducing
the pressure of the atmosphere surrounding it. By
maintaining a low pressure, water can be boiled at low
temperatures say 50 degree Celsius. The source of heat
for the fresh water generator could be waste heat
rejected by main engine jacket cooling water.

Hence using energy from a heating coil, and by reducing

pressure in the evaporator shell, boiling can takes place
at about 40 to 60 degree Celsius. This type of single
effect plant is designed to give better economy than
obsolete Boiling Evaporators.

The submerged tube type fresh water generator

explained below uses the heat from main engine jacket
cooling water to produce drinkable water by evaporating
seawater due to the high vacuum, which enables the
feed water to evaporate at a comparative low
temperature. Steam can also be used as a heat source
instead of main engine jacket cooling water.

This type of fresh water generator is based on two sets of

shell and tube heat exchangers, one acting as evaporator
or heater and other as condenser.

The combined air/brine ejector creates evaporator

chamber vacuum condition by driving sea water pass
through air/brine ejector, and sea water supplied by the
ejector pump to be delivered to ejector for taking out the
brine (concentrated seawater) and air. A simple fresh
water generator diagram is shown below.
Freshwater generator line diagram

While entering to the evaporator chamber temperature

of feed water will be around 50 degree Celsius. Feed
water supply rate to the evaporator is fixed by an orifice
fitted at the feed inlet. Because of the vacuum condition
inside evaporator feed water evaporates at this
temperature. The water spray and droplets are partly
removed from the vapour by the deflector mounted on
top of the evaporator and partly by a build in demister.
The separated water droplets fall back into the brine,
which is extracted by the water ejector.

The desalted vapour, which passes through the demister,

will come in contact with the condenser, where it will be
condensed by means of incoming cold seawater.

The distilled water is then taken out by integral

freshwater pump (distillate pump) and controlled by
salinometer and solenoid valve. If the salt content of
produced water is high, solenoid valve diverts the
freshwater to the shell side of freshwater generator, and
issues an alarm signal. In order to get better suction
head, distillate pump is placed at the lowest possible
location in the fresh water generator plant. This is
because the fresh water generator shell is at a lower
pressure. Distillate pump get maximum net positive
suction head with the height of liquid column in the
suction line.

Thermometers are installed for control of seawater to

the condenser and jacket cooling water to the
evaporator. These thermometers permit control of both
heating and cooling of these units. The salinometer or
salinity indicator is connected to remote alarm so that
very high salinity is immediately registered at the engine
control room of the ship.

A detailed line diagram of a tube type fresh water

generator on board ship is shown below. Click on the
diagram to enlarge.

Operation of freshwater generator

Plate Type Fresh Water Generator

Working principle of plate type fresh water generator is
same as that of submerged tube type. Only difference is
the type of heat exchangers used. Here plate type heat
exchangers are used for condenser and evaporator unit.
Heat from the diesel engine cooling water is used to
evaporate a small fraction of the seawater feed in the
plate type freshwater generator or evaporator.
Unevaporated water is discharged as brine (by combined
air /brine ejector). The evaporated water passes through
the demister to the plate type vapour condenser. Here,
after condensation it is discharged to fresh water storage
tank by fresh water distillate pump. During entire
operation the feed rate to the evaporator is fixed by the
orifice plate at the feed inlet to evaporator. A typical
plate type freshwater generator line diagram is shown
Fresh Water Generator
Plate Type Fresh water Generator

In the event of salinity of fresh water exceeding a

predetermined value (maximum usually 10 ppm) the
solenoid controlled dump valve diverts the flow back to
the shell. This prevent contamination of the made water.
Excess salinity could be used by many factors include
leakage of seawater at condenser or priming of
evaporator or malfunctioning of demister, or many other

What cannot be condensed at the condenser are called

‘incondensable gases’ like air and these gases are
continuously ejected out by air/brine ejector. This way
the shell of fresh water generator is maintained at high
vacuum, a must requirement to boil water at low

Materials of Construction for Fresh Water Generator

The shell is usually fabricated steel (or non-ferrous metal
like cupro-nickels) which has been shot blasted then
coated with some form of protective. One type of coating
is sheet rubber which is rolled and bonded to the plate
then hardened afterwards by heat treatment. The
important points about protective coatings are:

They must be inert and prevent corrosion.

They must resist the effect of acid cleaning and water
treatment chemicals
They must have a good bond with the metal
Heat exchangers use aluminium brass tubes and muntz
netal tube plate in the case of tube type fresh water
generator. For plate type, titanium plates are used for
condenser and evaporator. Demister is made of layered
knitted wire of monel metal.

Extreme care must be taken during the operation of
fresh water generator onboard ships. Operate all the
valves gradually. Sudden opening and closing of valves
may result in thermal shock to the main engine. Also
make sure that distillate pump never runs dry.
Fresh water Generator Starting Procedure
Make sure seawater ejector pump suction, discharge and
overboard valves are open. Start the ejector pump.
Seawater pressure at the air ejector must be 3 bar or
Wait for vacuum to build up inside fresh water generator
shell. (About 92 % vacuum).
Open the feed water valve to feed seawater to the
evaporator. Adjust the feed water pressure. Normally
marking is provided on the pressure gauge for desired
feed water pressure.
Open main engine jacket cooling water inlet and outlet
to the evaporator gradually.
Open the air vent clock at the top of the evaporator to
make sure the evaporator is filled with jacket cooling
water. Air must be purged out if any.
Switch on the salinity alarm panel for measuring purity of
the freshwater produced.
There will be a sight glass provided at the suction line for
the distillate pump. Make sure condensed water is
coming to the suction line. Now start the distillate pump
and open discharge valve to lead generated water to
specified storage tanks.
Do checks While Running Fresh water Generator
Through the sight glass provided in the evaporator shell,
observe flashing of water.
Also check for the brine level inside. It should not be too
high or too low.
Shell temperature must be around 50 deg cel.
Make sure shell vacuum is more than 90% from the
vacuum gauge.
Check seawater inlet and outlet temperature to the
Ensure seawater pressure at air ejector inlet more than 3
Check for distillate pump pressure and water flow meter.
Check salinity of fresh water produced.
Check level and flow of dosing chemical.
Check ampere of ejector pump and distillate pump
Regulating the Capacity of Fresh water Generator
Capacity of a fresh water generator means the quantity
of fresh water produced by it per day. The capacity of
fresh water generator can be varied by reducing or
increasing the amount of jacket cooling water to the
evaporator. The quantity of jacket cooling water to the
evaporator can be adjusted by adjusting the bypass valve
provided. When the temperature of jacket cooling water
is comparatively low, the quantity to the evaporator to
be increased a bit. At the same time cooling seawater
pressure to the condenser also to be regulated

During very low seawater temperatures, evaporation

temperature can falls to a lower value. In that case,
adjust vacuum adjusting valve to control vacuum inside
the shell. Cooling seawater quantity to the condenser
also can be reduced to increase the evaporator
temperature. During high seawater temperatures,
evaporation temperature can go up. In that case,
increase the quantity of seawater to the condenser for
reducing evaporation temperature.
Too high evaporation temperature causes scale
formation in the heat exchanger. On the other hand, too
low evaporation temperature results in seawater carry
over which increases salinity of fresh water produced.

The distillate pump discharge to be throttled so that

pump should not run dry. The rate of distillate pump
discharge and rate fresh water produced in the
condenser should match. When distillate pump is not
able to extract the freshwater at the rate of production,
level of freshwater increases in the condenser and
effective cooling area of the condenser reduces. This
finally results in reduced evaporation quantity.

Fresh water Generator Stopping Procedure

When ship approaches port, shallow water, etc. It is
desirable to stop the fresh water generator. This is
because the seawater may contain harmful bacteria
which can enter the freshwater produced. Operation of
freshwater should be carried out in consultation with
bridge watch keeper. Following procedure may be
adopted for stopping fresh water generator.
Slowly open bypass valve for main engine jacket cooling
Ensure that main engine jacket cooling water
temperature is within normal limits.
Close jacket cooling water inlet and outlet valves for the
freshwater generator respectively.
Close the feed water chemical dosing valve.
Stop the distillate pump and shut discharge valve.
Switch off salinity meter.
Close filling valve to freshwater tanks.
Wait for evaporator shell temperature to drop below 50
deg cel.
Close the feed water valve to evaporator.
Stop ejector pump. Shut fresh water generator
overboard valve.
Open the vacuum breaker valve to make shell side
pressure equal to atmospheric pressure.
Open the drain valve of the evaporator to drain all the
seawater from the fresh water generator.
Precautions for Operation of Fresh water Generator
Seawater pressure at the inlet of air ejector must be 3
bar or more.
The pressure at ejector outlet should not exceed 0.8 bar.
Never start fresh water generator distillate pump in dry
Operate jacket cooling water valves to the fresh water
generator gradually to avoid thermal shock to the main
Feed water to be supplied for a few minutes to cool
down the evaporator before stopping.
Never open the drain valve of evaporator before opening
vacuum breaker. Otherwise atmospheric pressure causes
seawater inside to hit the deflector.
How Scale Formation Occurs in Fresh Water Generator
The performance of fresh water generator reduces with
the formation of scales because of reduction in heat
transfer efficiency. Three scales which are normally
found in fresh water generators are:

Calcium Carbonate, CaCO3

Magnesium Hydroxide, Mg(OH)2
Calcium Sulphate, CaSO4
Calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide scale
formation mainly depends on the temperature of
operation. Calcium sulphate scale formation depends
mainly on the density of the evaporator contents or
brine. The reaction takes place when sea water heated

Ca(HCO3)2 ————> Ca + 2HCO3

2HCO3 ————> CO3 + H2O + CO2

If heated up to approx. 80 degree Celsius

CO3 + Ca ————> CaCO3

If heated above 80 degree Celsius

CO3 + H2O ————> HCO3 + OH

Mg + 2OH ————> Mg(OH)2
Hence if the sea water in the fresh water generator is
heated to a temperature below 80 degree Celsius,
calcium carbonate scale predominates. If sea water is
heated above 80 degree Celsius, magnesium hydroxide
scale is deposited.

If the density of evaporator contents is in excess of

96000 ppm, calcium sulphate scales are formed. But
fresh water generator brine density is normally 80000
ppm and less. Hence scale formation due to calcium
sulphate is not a problem.

Hence it is recommended to operate fresh water

generator at its rated capacity, not more. More
production of water than rated capacity means higher
concentration of brine and more scale formation.
Similarly higher shell temperatures result in formation of
hard scales which will be difficult to remove. All these
together will reduce the plant efficiency drastically.

How to Minimize Scale Formation

Scale formation in fresh water generator can be
controlled and minimized by continuous chemical
treatment. Polysulphate compounds (like sodium
polysulphate) with anti foam is preferred by marine
engineers and is extensively used on ships. Their trade
name is different, like:

Vaptreat (by “UNITOR”)

Ameroyal (by “DREW CHEMICALS”)
These chemicals minimize calcium carbonate scale
formation and possibility of foaming. The compound is
non toxic, no-acidic, and can be used in fresh water
generator producing water for drinking purposes. If
would be continuously fed into the feed line using a
metering pump or by gravity. Amount of chemical to be
dosed depends on the capacity of fresh water produced.
Important thing is that this chemical is effective only on
low pressure fresh water generators. The sea water
temperature to be less than 90 degrees. Fresh water
generator chemical treatment to be religiously carried
out to maintain its performance.
Faults in fresh water generator
Faults in fresh water generator reduces performance of
the system, thereby reducing quality and quantity of
freshwater produced on ships. These irregularities must
be identified and rectified immediately to ensure that
the optimum performance of the fresh water generator
is achieved.

Typical faults in fresh water generator are:

Loss of Vacuum or Over-pressure of Shell

The shell pressure of the fresh water generator rises and
rate of freshwater produced reduces. The reasons are:

Air leaks into the evaporator shell in large quantities and

air ejector cannot cope.
The cooling water flow through the condenser is reduced
or cooling water temperature is high. This cause
saturation temperature and hence saturation pressure
within the condenser to rise.
Malfunctioning of the air ejector.
Flow rate of the heating medium increased and excess
water vapour produced. Since this excess vapours cannot
be condensed, shell pressure increases or vacuum falls.
Salt Water Carry Over
Salt water may be carried over in large quantities during
operation of the freshwater generator. This is called
priming. General reasons of the priming are:

Level of salt water inside the shell is high. When water

level is high agitation due to boiling occurs and salt water
may carry over along with the vapours.
When the salt water brine density is too high, agitation
of salt water occurs which results in priming.
Increased evaporation rate.
Gradual Increase in Level of Brine
For the satisfactory operation of the freshwater
generator, a constant level of brine to be maintained in
the shell. Brine is the concentrated sea water after
liberation of water vapours. This brine is gradually
extracted from the shell. Usually this is achieved by the
combined air-brine ejector. It extracts air as well as brine
from the shell. Any fault in the ejector or brine extraction
pump (in some models) cause increase in the brine level.

Increase in Salinity of Freshwater

Possible causes are:

Brine level inside shell too high.

Leaking condenser tubes or plates.
Operation of evaporator near shore with contaminated
feed water.
Shell temperature and pressure too low.
Increased solubility of CO2 generated from the salt water
due to reduced sea water temperature. This dissolved
CO2 makes water acidic and conductivity of water
increases. Hence salinometer shows increased salinity,
which is a measure of conductivity ans not presence of