GE, Saudi Aramco launch contest to improve desalination technology

Current desalination techniques are typically very energy intensive and energy consumption can account for up to 70 per cent of costs, according to a joint statement from the two companies.

General Electric and Saudi Aramco have launched a US$200,000 technology challenge to help to improve the energy efficiency of seawater desalination.

Current desalination techniques are typically very energy intensive and energy consumption can account for up to 70 per cent of costs, according to a joint statement from the two companies.

The global production of desalinated water uses approximately 75.2 terawatt-hours of electricity per year – enough to power nearly 7 million homes. The goal of the challenge is to identify new ways to lower these costs, through either advances in technology, process improvements or both.

According to the United Nations 2014 World Water Development Report, 25 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s domestic oil and gas production is used to produce water via cogeneration power desalting plants, a figure that may rise to as high as 50 per cent by 2030 if current trends continue.

In Kuwait, projections show that the energy demand of desalination plants in 2035 will be equal to the country’s entire oil production of 2011-12 if current trends continue, the report found.

GE’s ecomagination and Aramco Entrepreneurship are running the competition.

The prize will be shared equally among four winners and extra funds will be available for developing the best ideas.

“Due to increased water scarcity, countries around the world are poised to rely more and more heavily on desalination as a means to provide fresh water,” said Nabil Al Khowaiter, Aramco Entrepreneurship’s director of special projects. “With current techniques, this increased reliance could contribute dramatically to increased energy use.”

Mr Al Khowaiter added that he hoped the competition would attract new technologies and industries to Saudi Arabia.

The open innovation challenge aims to identify new solutions to lower total desalination costs and emissions through cleaner energy sources, incorporating advanced materials and integrating processes better. Solutions must be innovative, impactful, feasible and scalable across the globe, the companies said.

“Through this challenge, we hope to inspire scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators around the world to bring their talents to this effort and help drive greater outcomes for customers,” said Deb Frodl, GE’s global executive director at ecomagination.

Masdar, the Abu Dhabi's clean-energy company, has already announced plans build the UAE's first large-scale water desalination plant to be powered by renewable energy. The company has been lining up technology partners for three trial projects to run until the end of 2015, before construction on the plant begins the year after.

lgutcher@thenational.ae

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