Masdar News

Masdar turns the tap on cutting-edge seawater desalination programme

22 Nov 2015 Press Release
Projects, Partnership

Today marks the start of the operational stage of Masdar’s pilot programme in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, which will see 1,500 m3/day of potable water produced over the next 15 months using four unique technologies that will demonstrate commercially-viable and energy efficient solutions for renewable-powered desalination.

After launching the programme in 2013, Masdar partnered with four global industry leaders - Abengoa, Suez, Sidem (Veolia) and Trevi Systems – to implement the most advanced and innovative technologies in desalination as a key step to achieving water security and reducing energy consumption in the sector.

“Recognising the critical link between water and energy, Abu Dhabi, through Masdar, is investing in advancing cutting-edge, technologies to improve the efficiency and to reduce the environmental impact of desalination processes in the UAE, and ultimately across the globe. With a rapidly growing population and economy, the UAE leadership recognises that water is a precious and crucial resource in ensuring our sustained economic and social growth. Developing innovative technologies that can sustainably source clean water is vital, not only for the UAE, but for the Gulf and many other regions of the world. With this program, the UAE is actively and responsibly addressing the challenges of water conservation, management and security,” said HE Dr Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar.

Masdar is facilitating real market opportunities for clean-tech solutions that are commercially viable, energy efficient and cost effective via the innovations being tested in this unique programme. Desalination is the major source of potable water in this region but traditional desalination techniques are energy intensive, costly and not sustainable in the long-term.

“It is especially fitting for us to launch this programme during Innovation Week. Masdar is currently advancing development in five of the seven sectors identified in the National Innovation Strategy, and in this project, directly addressing two critical issues – water and energy. This programme exemplifies the whole mandate of this strategy and it is on-the-ground, tangible innovation that will lead to commercial solutions that can be rolled out locally, regionally and globally. It really has the potential to be a game changer for the desalination industry,” highlighted Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Masdar. “The project also demonstrates how multi-stakeholder partnerships combining government and public institutions, R&D, academia and corporations can drive innovations to solve critical global challenges. At Masdar, we are committed to pushing the boundaries of technology – to improve existing methods or find new solutions that will be more effective, more efficient and more affordable.”

In the UAE, seawater desalination requires ten times more energy than surface fresh water production and demand for fresh water is projected to grow by 30% in the UAE by 2030. Outside of the UAE, the issues of global water scarcity, droughts and water pollution have become acute risks in many regions of the world. The technologies developed through these projects have the potential to be scaled up and exported to address sustainable access to water around the world. The project goes beyond traditional R&D and is considered RDT – Research and Development Transformation – allowing new technologies to be developed faster leading to accelerated adoption and implementation by utility service providers.

The projects are targeted to dramatically reduce – by up to 40 per cent – the energy intensity of desalination. Due to this low energy consumption, an estimated annual cost savings of US$94 million is expected from 2020 onwards, if 15% of Abu Dhabi’s newly built desalination capacity is met by the implementation of the demonstrated energy efficient technologies.

Masdar is rapidly extending its water leadership by partnering with the key players in the global desalination industry, as well as entrepreneurial newcomers. These partners were chosen in a competitive process launched in 2013. Each partner designed, engineered, constructed and began operating a separate desalination plant. This first stage of the operational portion of the programme concentrates on demonstrating energy-efficient systems on a small scale for at least 18 months. The technologies used in the programme have passed research, lab testing, modelling and prototyping but have not been used on a utility scale anywhere else in the world.

The four plants have been constructed on the site of a decommissioned desalination plant in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi Emirate. The Ghantoot site was chosen because of its accessibility to deep seawater. Two categories of seawater desalination technologies are included in the programme: advanced seawater desalination technologies – based on commercially proven systems that are being adapted to lower specific energy consumption; and innovative seawater desalination technologies – new-to-market concepts.

Carlos Cosin, Chief Executive Officer of Abengoa’s water division, attending the inauguration stated, “We are committed to solving water scarcity problems in the Middle East and for this reason we are mobilising our efforts in the direction of developing innovative technologies so that the earth´s inhabitants have access to quality water.”

John Webley, CEO of Trevi Systems, also attending the event noted, “This installation marks an important milestone in the development and deployment of Forward Osmosis technology, which will enable renewable desalination to be deployed in the Gulf and elsewhere. Without the steadfast and financial support of Masdar it would not have been possible for a small company such as Trevi to gain acceptance of our technology.”

Although unable to attend the event, Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of SUEZ said, “SUEZ is proud to play an active role in the Masdar Seawater Desalination Programme and to contribute to Masdar's ambitious initiatives for renewable energy. By doing so, SUEZ demonstrates its commitment to identify and develop global solutions for the sustainable management of resources, a key issue, especially in the region.”

The pilot projects expect to lower energy consumption to less than 3.6kWh/m3 of energy for reverse osmosis plants, at a seawater salinity of 42,000 milligrams per litre. Energy consumption is proportional to the salinity of the water, and the salinity in the gulf region is extremely high.

During this first ‘reliability test’ phase (about 9 months) of stage one, the four plants will operate on a continuous basis in order to demonstrate continuous high-efficiency and reliable performance of these new technologies. The second phase of the programme, the optimisation phase, (about 6 months) has a more experimental character, and the partners can adapt and improve the plants to further innovate on their technology.

Partnership is also increasing knowledge transfer among project participants. R&D projects being coordinated with Masdar Institute are also enabling hands-on engagement of the students with the international partners for studies in such areas as membrane distillation, capacitive de-ionisation and cutting-edge forward osmosis.

“Masdar Institute is pleased to have leveraged its expertise in sustainable technologies towards the inauguration of this landmark project. The water and energy nexus is at the core of our research agenda, and by working to make the UAE’s production of fresh water more sustainable, we are pursuing contributing to the long-term welfare and sustainability of the UAE,” said Dr. Behjat Al Yousuf, Interim Provost at the Masdar Institute.

Through the pilot programme, Masdar is bridging the gap between advanced R&D, providing commercially viable solutions that can be implemented globally. The second stage of the programme envisages large-scale deployment and implementation of one or more of these energy-efficient desalination technologies in the UAE and potentially across the MENA region and in other global locations.

Masdar Staff