Entrepreneurs are being offered Dh3.4 million in prize money to help reduce the amount of brine produced at desalination plants.
The UAE government has combined with the private sector to launch Rethink Brine in an effort to solve the issue.
Officials hope the challenge will encourage more researchers and scientists to develop new ways to tackle the problem.
Brine is a major by-product of desalination, the process of making saltwater fit for human consumption.
“While the desalination of seawater has enabled communities to flourish in the arid conditions of the desert, the by-product of desalination, brine, affects the health of marine ecosystems,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary general of Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.
“Brine discharge increases the salinity of the surrounding seawater, causing a reduction in oxygen levels that [affects] marine life.
“As the environmental regulator of Abu Dhabi, conserving nature and biodiversity is one of our fundamental responsibilities and addressing brine discharge is one of EAD’s top priorities.”
Rethink Brine’s mission is to protect the Arabian Gulf’s ecosystem and encourage a greater focus on sustainable development.
Officials also want to address the UAE’s water scarcity challenges and support the nation’s Water Security Strategy 2036.
The competition was created by Sandooq Al Watan, a social initiative, in conjunction with EAD, Aldar Properties and the Emirates Water and Electricity Company.
The announcement of the Dh3.4m prize money was made to coincide with World Water Day, which was celebrated on Sunday.
Dr Al Dhaheri said the issue of brine discharge represented a challenge not only for the UAE, but for the world.
She said the competition would focus on reducing the by-product and promoting it as a raw material to be used in construction.
The competition will focus on both reducing the quantity of the by-product and promoting it as a raw material to be used in construction.
Brine, which has a high salt content and can also contain residues of cleaning chemicals, is often pumped out to sea by desalinisation plants.
Once there it sinks to the sea floor, reducing oxygen levels and destabilising marine biodiversity.
“Finding a meaningful use for brine discharge is an incredibly important challenge,” said Talal Al Dhiyebi, chief executive at Aldar Properties.
“If the discharge can be turned into construction material, this will further Aldar’s goals of reducing its impact on our planet and supporting R&D efforts into more sustainable building methods.”
Othman Al Ali, chief executive of EWEC, said he believed Rethink Brine would go a long way towards supporting the country’s Water Security Strategy 2036.
The programme was launched with the aim of reducing the total demand for water in the Emirates by 21 per cent.
“We are developing pioneering new ways to more efficiently and sustainably produce water and electricity, using advanced technologies to reduce the carbon intensity of the system,” Mr Al Ali said.
“This bold partnership will lead change in the sector and work towards the achievement of the UAE Water Security Challenge 2036.”