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Innovation leaders are confident that Middle Eastern investment in advanced water technologies is coming back in 2013. For the last couple of years, international economic uncertainty has lent an air of conservatism to business environments, and the Middle East has been no different.
Construction and the sudden cancellation or shelving of the panoply of projects earmarked from 2009 onwards was the most immediate and obvious manifestation of this. Desalination, however, has one advantage over other schemes. The fundamental requirement of clean water can be possibly postponed but not cancelled permanently.
‘The present economic situation has affected all the industries and the water industry – desalination – was no exception,’ said Dr Corrado Sommariva, president of the International Desalination Association.
‘While for many industries, the consequences were more dramatic, for the desalination and water industry, the impact was much milder. Meeting water needs is too important to any stakeholder. Hence, projects were delayed and resized, but those projects that were essential to the region have been definitely planned and implemented.
‘The financial situation has also offered, in many cases, the opportunity to address new challenges of energy efficiency and cost review. It has offered the possibility of investing more rationally in more cost effective initiatives and commence, at the same time, a program of retiring old and relatively inefficient assets.
There is also the precedent set by the region in the field of desalination technology and implementation. ‘The Middle East has been the origin of the desalination process and in all respects it is still the region where the greatest interest towards desalination remains, added Dr Sommariva.
‘The Middle East has been historically linked to thermal technologies and has been always generally conservative towards the introduction of new desalination technologies; to some extent this approach is comprehensible for a region where there is no buffer water storage and therefore any failure in the desalination process would immediately result in a shortfall in supply.”
Nowadays, however, seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) has been gradually introduced also in the Middle East along with new contracting mechanisms such as Design Build and Operate where an equitable share of the risks is taken by each party.
There are of course a number of principle projects underway in the region that demonstrate innovation in the field of desalination. On October 8, Watersolutions AG, a Swiss-based firm focused on developing clean-water technology in an ecological and economically sustainable way, announced the Watersolutions Low-Thermal Distillation (LTD) system.
The Watersolutions LTD system condenses water at low temperature and pressure, using waste heat (50-110° C) from thermal processes including renewable energy sources such as solar energy or geothermal energy.
The system requires significant amounts of low grade waste heat (6 - 30 MW), which can be derived from any source including thermal power plants, district cooling systems, general industry, mining and waste incineration.
“The starting principle is to make the whole process as simple as possible,” says Espen Mansfeldt, CEO of Watersolutions. “Other systems have extensive tube bundles. We don’t have any of that as the process takes place on the water itself. Therefore the system is much less prone to scaling and clogging.
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