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Masdar develops solar-powered desalination plants

Masdar appoints four companies to build trial plants at Ghantoot.

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Four companies will each build a trial solar desalination plant.
Four companies will each build a trial solar desalination plant.

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Masdar has awarded four companies – Abengoa, Degrémont, Sidem/Veolia and Trevi Systems – with contracts to each start the construction of a desalination plant as part of Masdar’s pilot project in Abu Dhabi.

First announced in January 2013, the project aims to develop and demonstrate energy-efficient seawater desalination technologies efficient enough to be powered by renewable energy.

The new technologies are expected to allow the implementation of cost-competitive large-scale seawater desalination plants powered by renewable energy in the UAE and abroad. This will in turn help the country achieve a stated goal of long-term water security.

“We look forward to working with these four leading companies as they break ground on new desalination technologies,” said HE Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, chairman of Masdar. “Seawater desalination is an energy intensive process that if left unchecked will become unsustainable over time. We must innovate and discover commercially viable solutions to meet our long-term water needs.

“Water security is one of the most pressing issues around the world,” added Dr. Al Jaber, “but with the Gulf region’s climate we have limited natural options. Combining best-in-class desalination technologies with our abundant solar resources is a logical step toward securing our country’s water supplies.”

Each company, selected for the project because of their leadership and innovation within the desalination sector, will build and operate its own test plant to develop and demonstrate desalination technologies over the course of 18 months.

This timeframe will enable the companies to gauge which desalination technologies emerge as the most efficient and therefore have potential to be powered by renewable energy.

All of the four test plants will demonstrate innovations in advanced membrane technologies, such as reverse osmosis and forward osmosis, which are more energy efficient processes than the thermal processes currently in use in most of the desalination plants throughout the UAE.

As part of the pilot project, each of the four companies will collaborate with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology – a research-driven, graduate university in Abu Dhabi.

The entire pilot project test facility will be located in Ghantoot, 90 kilometers northwest of Abu Dhabi. Masdar selected Ghantoot because of its easy access to deep seawater and the availability of existing utility connections from a now-decommissioned desalination plant.

During the course of the project, the test plants will also provide 1,500 cubic meters of potable water per day to Abu Dhabi’s water infrastructure, enough to meet the water requirements for around 500 homes.

The Gulf because the region accounts for 50 percent of the world’s desalination capacity. Turning seawater into potable water currently requires substantial amounts of energy.

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