Masdar News

Masdar’s Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Programme Finds Solar Energy-Powered Desalination to be Commercially-Viable

17 Jan 2018 Press Release
Clean Energy
Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, Masdar, today announced the outcomes from its Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Programme in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi during an insight session at the International Water Summit (IWS) taking place during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) 2018. 

Masdar commissioned five pilot projects during the programme to explore the feasibility of using renewable energy to power seawater desalination and test novel, energy-efficient desalination technologies.

The outcomes of the pilot projects were published in a report presented during the IWS Insight Session titled Energy efficient desalination: Results from the Ghantoot pilot studies. The findings of the report revealed that solar energy-driven seawater desalination using reverse osmosis technologies offers a commercially attractive, low-cost and sustainable long-term solution for seawater desalination in the Gulf region. The report also revealed that energy efficiency improvements of up to 75 per cent were achieved through the programme compared with existing technologies employed in the UAE.

The findings help to demonstrate that diversifying the region’s desalination technologies can help reduce the carbon footprint and enhance water security. With oceans covering more than 71% of the Earth’s surface and over 1,400 million cubic kilometres of water on the planet, there is still a shortage of clean drinking water. The UAE is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries and the GCC is one of the world’s top producers of desalinated water, producing around 45% of the global total. In Abu Dhabi alone, desalinated water accounts for 31% of the Emirate’s total water supply and is the main source of drinking water.

The challenge countries in the GCC face is that most of their desalination plants are cogeneration plants, which utilize energy-intensive thermal-based methods to turn seawater into freshwater.  These thermal-based processes have high financial and environmental costs – they consume considerably  more energy than modern reverse osmosis plants and contribute to the region’s heavy carbon footprint. Energy-efficient methods for producing freshwater sustainably are critically needed to reduce desalination’s environmental impact while ensuring the growing demand for drinking water is met. 

“Water is an essential component for industrial, economic and social development and its demand globally is predicted to increase by 55% by 2050. While the UAE is developing rapidly, it remains one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, and with more than 90% of the UAE’s drinking water provided through desalination, we have a duty to pursue and deliver solutions to manage the increasing demand using sustainable, clean technologies,” commented HE Suhail Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy. “The UAE is committed to this and through programmes like the Ghantoot Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Programme, we are working towards this objective to achieving our goals set out in the UAE Energy Strategy 2050.”

The desalination pilot programme was a competitive hub with five pilot plants in operation side-by-side: Abengoa, Suez , Veolia/Sidem, Trevi Systems and Mascara Renewable Water. Each pilot plant demonstrated various seawater desalination technologies, with key objectives to:
• Develop desalination technologies that are more energy efficient
• Be suitable to be powered by renewable energy sources
• Be cost competitive with non-renewable energy powered solutions
• Have minimal environmental impact 

The programme and its partners piloted innovative and advanced desalination technologies to help bridge the gap between promising desalination technologies developed in the lab and solutions ready to be applied in commercial settings.

“The world still faces a shortage of clean, potable drinking water. It is a challenge that plagues many countries around the world, and the GCC region battles with costly and energy-intensive water production,” said Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, CEO of Masdar. “Our renewable energy desalination programme in Ghantoot has delivered some important outcomes for the future commercialization of technologies that will see a reduction in energy consumption and production costs for desalinating seawater, creating water security for future generations.” 

The pilot programme saw several milestones achieved since its inauguration in 2013. In October 2016, the fifth international partner joined the Masdar-led project, French start-up Mascara Renewable Water. Mascara’s technology coupled reverse osmosis desalination technology with solar energy. In May 2017, Masdar began testing three advanced solar thermal collector systems that capture the heat of the sun to drive the seawater desalination process as an alternative to burning natural gas. Masdar monitored the operation and cost efficiency of the three collector systems, each supplied by a different specialist, Empereal Energy Services, EMSOL Innovations and GREENoneTEC, and their suitability for larger scale applications. 

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which become part of the Khalifa University of Science and Technology in February 2017, has been a key contributor to the project since 2015, with its researchers delivering advancements to existing desalination technology and introducing novel approaches for more sustainable and affordable new technologies in order to meet further goals.

Dr. Steve Griffiths, Interim Executive Vice President for Research at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology, said: “Achieving sustainable desalination – utilizing renewable energy and energy efficient designs to reduce the environmental impact of desalination – is a research priority of Masdar Institute, now under the umbrella of Khalifa University. We are proud to be contributing to achieving this goal, as desalination accounts for a significant portion of the UAE’s domestic water needs and is expected to play an increasingly significant role in meeting regional fresh water needs.
“Our partnership with Masdar during the Ghantoot Renewable Energy Desalination 
Pilot Programme provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the development of our desalination technologies,” said Vincent Baujat, Water Technologies Executive Vice-President for the Middle East, Veolia. “The cooperation between all parties has allowed us to gain valuable data and insight to move forward with implementing these solutions in a large-scale commercial setting and we are looking forward to further progressing the technologies piloted.”

John Webley, CEO of Trevi Systems, commented on the unique facility and partnership provided by Masdar: “Trevi was honored to be selected for the Renewable Energy Desalination Challenge by Masdar. The selection afforded us the opportunity to build a large-scale pilot plant and demonstrate the technology under real world conditions. We were able to improve key components of the design and the data gathering proved invaluable. Our partner Masdar provided a facility which would be dearly missed in desalination research, and their financial and technical support during the project was key to our success.”

The programme has been managed with Masdar in coordination with Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB), Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, Executive Affairs Authority (EAA), and Abu Dhabi Sewage Services Company.

The programme will continue to be a test bed for piloting energy-efficient desalination technologies and renewable energy-powered desalination plants, and contribute to the development of innovative solutions needed to advance the UAE’s strategic goals regarding water security.   

For more information:
Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Programme

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About Masdar
Masdar is Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company which works to advance the development, commercialisation and deployment of clean energy technologies and solutions. The company serves as a link between today’s fossil fuel economy and the energy economy of the future. Wholly owned by the Mubadala Development Company PJSC, the strategic investment company of the Government of Abu Dhabi, Masdar is dedicated to the United Arab Emirates’ long-term vision for the future of energy and water.
Masdar Staff