Four companies chosen for desalination pilot schemes in Abu Dhabi

The ultimate aim of the Masdar project is to pave the way for the construction of a large-scale desalination plant that can be powered by renewable energy.

ABU DHABI // Four international water companies have been selected to run small-scale plants in Ghantoot, 90 kilometres north-west of the capital, in a bid to reduce the energy intensity of desalination.

The companies – Spain’s Abengoa, Degrémont and Veolia from France and Trevi Systems from the United States – will have 18 months to run the desalination plants where they will test a series of new techniques in clean water production.

The ultimate aim of the project is to pave the way for the construction of a large-scale desalination plant that can be powered by renewable energy.

The project was announced by Abu Dhabi clean energy company, Masdar, in January 2013, with a shortlist of 48 companies.

On Monday, Mohammed El Ramahi, associate director, asset management, engineering and operations at Masdar, said the trials could revolutionise the industry.

“The objective of this programme is to mitigate the risks associated with the deployment of a large, utility-scale plant that utilises the latest innovation and cutting-edge technology in desalination,” he said. “To mitigate that risk we need to pilot these technologies.”

He said the exact amount of water the Abu Dhabi Government would need by 2020 was still uncertain. “We know that the government has the plan to develop large-scale commercial application, large utility scale,” he said.

“We have an indicative figure that we based our calculations on in terms of the cost because the cost is affected by the scale of deployment.

“So the reference benchmark we have used is a minimum of a 100 million imperial gallons per day. But that is only indicative, it could be more.”

Mr El Ramahi was speaking at Abu Dhabi Ascent, a two-day meeting on climate change, organised in preparation of another high-level summit on climate, to be held in September in New York.

The four plants are expected to start producing water by January.

With a capacity of 1,080 cubic metres per day, Abengoa will be building the largest of the four pilot plants. Sidem/Veolia is building a facility with a capacity of 300 cubic metres per day, while Degrémont will have a capacity of 100 cubic metres per day.

The facilities by the three companies will test improvements on advanced and already established desalination technologies.

Veolia, for example, will rely on reverse osmosis technology, which involves pumping water under pressure through a series of membranes. The pilot facility will look to integrate two separate stages of the pre-treatment process, which serves to purify sea water before it is pumped through the membranes.

So far, plants have applied the two methods – filtration and dissolved air flotation, a method patented by the company – in separate stages of the desalination process, said Xavier Joseph, chief executive officer of Gulf Countries.

“What we are trying to do is to integrate the two stages, it means that you will see only one [piece of] equipment,” he said.

While these three companies are industry giants, the fourth, California-based Trevi Systems, is three years old and will build a facility with a capacity of 50 cubic metres a day using a technology that has so far been put to limited use.

“We would call ourselves the small shrimp in this pond,” said John Webley, chief executive.

Trevi Systems’ methods utilise forward osmosis, a process in which chemicals are used to pull water through membranes. This eliminates the need to put the water under pressure when pumping it through the membranes, thus reducing energy use.

“Most people do not believe us when we show our energy numbers,” said Mr Webley. “They say it is too low.”

The company has already built a plant with a capacity of 50 cubic metres per day at a navy base in the US and is working on a facility to process waste water for a utility company in Los Angeles.

“Our technology today is obviously more expensive because today we only build small plants. But in the long run, we think that once this technology is adopted widely, it should be just a little bit less expensive from a capital cost than the existing,” said Mr Webley.

vtodorova@thenational.ae

Published: May 5, 2014 04:00 AM

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