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Who was at IDA 2009?

Dow Water & Process Solutions GM Ian Barbour looks at new technologies

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Dow Water & Process Solutions general manager Ian Barbour.
Dow Water & Process Solutions general manager Ian Barbour.
Shoaiba Barge
Shoaiba Barge

Dow Water & Process Solutions

GM Ian Barbour reveals which technologies his company is now exploring

Optimising performance is the phrase of the day for Dow Water & Process Solutions (DW&PS), which sees the meteoric rise of membrane technology as a great opportunity to garner greater market share.

The company is already very active in the Middle East and is particularly proud of its participation in the Shoaiba Barge project, the largest desalination plant in the world (see box on this page).

As part of its drive to improve its research and development into the unique challenges of the local desal market, Dow recently announced an investment into the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Riyadh. Part of that research will involve tweaking the properties of the membrane with different chemistries. “We’ll also have rolling capabilities to look at changing the dimensions and configurations of the element itself, to make it more suited to the Middle East’s particular water quality,” says DW&PS general manager Ian Barbour. “We’re also looking at pre-treatment so we can see the effects of ultrafiltration (UF) on different water qualities.”

Barbour explains that customers tend to look at the various water technologies – pre-treatment, UF and desalination – separately, but that the plan right now is to integrate those technologies to drive the cost of water lower. “For example, if we know the kind of water quality we’re getting from our pre-treatment, we can change the configuration of the reverse osmosis (RO) membrane allowing us to use a thinner feed space, for example,” he remarks. “If the fouling potential has dropped because of the quality of the pre-treatment, using a thinner feed spacer allows you to put more membrane into the canister, which gives you more surface area and more productivity.”

DW&PS has expertise in four fundamental water technologies – UF membranes, RO membranes, nanofiltration (NF) membranes and ion exchange membranes. “Our customers build the actual system, but they require multiple technologies so we’re trying to build up a portfolio,” Barbour states.

“Each of our products are world-class in their own right, but we’re trying to work out how they can be used together and understand their interactions.”

In terms of new technologies that would rework the way the water industry sees desalination, Barbour doesn’t see a ‘magic bullet’ on the horizon. “If we could disrupt our own technologies to drive the cost of water down, we’d do it,” he says. “But generally, what you’ll see in the future is added growth of large-diameter modules, improvements in flow and flux due to polymer chemistry, and improvements to the membrane itself.” The Dow executive says that many technologies are being discussed, such as biological cell-type filtration, but that a new disruptive technology within the next five-10 years is unlikely.

In wider terms, Barbour says that the issue of wastage remains a key issue and claims that there are three solutions. “One is to use less, another is to reuse water - which is a massive issue right now - and the third is to develop new water sources, because in some cases, we are removing water from our aquifers, using it inefficiently and then just flushing it into the ocean.”

In tandem, the industry has to answer its critics on the environmental side. “Perth [the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant, which uses Dow elements] is a fantastic example of doing it right,” explains Barbour. “They had a lot of environmental activism, and used underwater cameras and other technologies to examine the issue of brine discharge and its impacts. Furthermore, the energy used in that plant is sustainable, as the power is offset by building a wind farm.”

But solving the world’s water problems is not something seawater desalination alone can achieve, and Barbour believes it would be irresponsible to say that it could. The next move is to clean wastewater to the point where it is potable, as is the case in the US and Europe, for example, but the Middle East is still behind in this respect.

Shoaiba Barge: Fast facts

The largest sea-based desalination plant in the world

Membranes: FILMTEC SW30HRLE-400i and FILMTEC BW30-440i
Two-pass design
Quantity: 5,656 (8-inch elements)
Capacity: 52,000 m³/day
OEM: WETICO Saudi Berkefeld

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