New UAE technology refines wastewater to protect sea life

A new project by UAE University hopes to help protect marine life by treating wastewater from oil refineries.

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ABU DHABI // Wastewater dumped in the sea from oil refineries has successfully been treated to remove all its harmful chemicals.

Researchers at UAE University have developed a Dh4.5 million plant in Al Ruwais, 240 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi, to treat water from the country's largest oil refinery.

"We use waste that's thrown away to remove chemical waste from the water," said Dr Muftah Al Naas, head of the project.

"We mainly use date pits because it is such a common waste in the UAE and it's an agricultural product so it's harmless."

Researchers grind date pits to activate the carbon that is used to remove contaminants in the water. The use of activated carbon from charcoal is more common, "but that's a harmful fossil fuel while dates are not carbon based so they're better", Dr Al Naas said.

Funded by the Japan Cooperation Centre, Petroleum, the project started six years ago.

It was completed three years later and a pilot plant was built in Japan in February. The facility was then moved to Al Ruwais after two months and will be active until the end of June.

Test results proved successful last month and researchers have now applied for a patent to protect their technology.

"Based on these results, we will have a huge full-scale plant," Dr Al Naas said.

"At the moment, we are treating one cubic metre of water an hour while the new larger plant will treat between 200 to 500 cubic metres of water an hour."

Researchers believe that the technology will help to protect sea life. "These chemicals have negative effects on marine life," said Prof Walid El Shorbagy, director of the water resources programme.

"They can almost kill algae and small micro-organisms which are important for fish. They affect their life cycle and reduce their productivity so this is the first step in the right direction in the region."