Who was at IDA 2009
GE Water & Process Technologies and Degremont
As an attendee at IDA conferences over the last 20 years, Upen Bharwada can track better than most the shifting trends in the worldwide desalination market.
As executive – business general manager, filters and membranes, at GE Water & Process Technologies, Bharwada is at the forefront of the sector’s evolution. So what are the technologies that are driving the market today?
“I sense that there has been an ‘a-ha’ moment at IDA this week,” the GE executive says. “Whereas the real estate industry has the phrase ‘location, location, location’, this sector is recognising that the secret to managing seawater reverse osmosis (RO) as a unit process that delivers what it promises relies on the phrase ‘pre-treatment, pre-treatment, pre-treatment’. All of the challenges associated with making an RO membrane work are traced back or are endemic in the pre-treatment process.”
Bharwada adds that there were two particular sessions during the course of the week that particularly caught his eye. One was on seawater intakes, which covered the mechanical technologies that assist with the understanding of micro-organisms, location of intake points and analysis of marine life.
Another was a session on pre-treatment for seawater RO ultrafiltration (UF) technology, which discussed the understanding of total organic carbon (TOC), turbidity of bacteria and other kinds of sub-micron organisms, which he believes will go a long way towards making UF the preeminent treatment technology.
With regard to GE’s own technologies, the emphasis appears to be on integration. “What we’ve done is take our UF technology and integrated it with RO, all in one unified design,” says Ralph Exton, GE Water & Process Technologies global sales executive.
“It’s a solution set that’s pre-engineered, pre-designed and on one skid. In today’s market you often can’t wait 12-18 months for a seawater RO system, but we’ve got solutions that we can deliver in less than half that time period. In some cases we have containerised systems that are on the shelf and ready to deploy.”
“On the equipment front, a number of our pre-engineered systems allow for a shorter lead time, so from start to finish our clients can almost have a plug-and-play option,” continues Bharwada.
“A truly integrated multi-unit process allows for a single control panel, one type of software and a true integration of synergies, and that’s what we’re introducing.”
The expert adds that for conventional older systems where the water chemistry has changed since the system was put in, GE has introduced cartridge filters that can assist when the pre-treatment for conventional media filtration malfunctions.
Lastly, the company is also introducing new chemicals into its analytical system portfolio. “So it’s not old wine and new bottles; we are either adding line extensions or delivering truly new products,” Bharwada says.
The GE executive believes that some of the biggest opportunities in the desalination market currently reside within Saudi Arabia, and it’s clear that the firm has close ties with the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC).
“Saudi Arabia has been somewhat special if not unique in its use and endorsement of hollow-fibre RO,” Bharwada observes.
“Now, as the local industry evolves, they are using spiral-wound composite, an area in which GE is more active.” GE has also been working closely with the Tamimi Group, supplying a number of containerised seawater systems.
“From a technological standpoint, I think Saudi Arabia is moving forward in accepting spiral-wound thin-film composite polymeride RO as the preferred method of desalination, either as a primary method or in the second pass,” Bharwada states.
“So GE looks forward to working with SWCC and other components in the decision-making process as the country carries on evolving further.”
Needless to say, big challenges lie ahead if the Gulf is to sustain what the GE executive refers to as its ‘economic miracle’.
With locations like Abu Dhabi laying down ambitious markers to recycle 100% of its water by 2015, GE believes it has a huge role to play in the region.
“This really plays well with our core competencies, so we look forward to working closely with Abu Dhabi’s planning department to help them reach this goal,” remarks Bharwada, with some confidence.
“GE has been the globally recognised leader with regard to membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology, for example. The technology we have features in the largest and the most successful installations, and it also provides the lowest lifecycle costs overall.”
GE’s Middle East experience
- GE helped build the Sulaibiya facility in Kuwait, the world’s largest membrane-based water reclamation facility. This plant treats 375,000 m³/day (99 MIGD) of municipal wastewater from Kuwait City and the surrounding area.
- The company has provided a fleet of mobile water treatment systems to Al Tamimi Group for the rapid deployment of onsite treatment systems for both sea water and brackish water treatment, water reuse and water filtration with emergency response time of as little as 72 hours.
- GE has supplied the International Medical Centre in Jeddah with an advanced membrane bioreactor wastewater treatment system to treat and recycle 250m³/day of wastewater, reducing freshwater usage.
- GE supplied advanced reverse osmosis solutions for the Hamma Seawater Desalination Plant in Algeria to purify up to 200,000 cubic metres of seawater per day - providing as many as two million residents with a reliable and drought-proof supply of fresh water.
CEO Remi Lantier is hoping to build on his firm’s long relationship in the Middle East.
What are your reasons for optimism with regard to the regional desalination market?
Firstly, we are especially active in reverse osmosis (RO). Initially the thermal process was more active in the Gulf, but RO is relatively new in this segment.
Our experience at the Fujairah IWPP proved that we could operate in very difficult water, and overall, I’m proud to say that plants built by Degremont worldwide are now providing more than a million cubic metres of desalinated water a day.
What’s your history in the region?
We have three major achievements here. Firstly, there’s Fujairah 1, which was the largest seawater RO plant on the planet when it was built. In addition, the Barka II plant is under commissioning, and that facility will eliminate or mitigate certain environmental elements in terms of discharge.
Lastly there’s the Al Dur IWPP, which is the biggest seawater RO plant in the Gulf. It’s a challenge for Degremont, but we’re very much looking forward to meeting the needs of the Bahraini community.
What challenges does the desalination industry face?
You have to be able to match technologies of a very different nature. If we start from the beginning of the treatment chain, pre-treatment is crucial and there are a number of different processes, including dual-media filters, membranes, dissolved air flotation systems for all types of water.
We’ve also mastered the RO process, so we can adapt the best products of several large suppliers of RO membranes to suit client needs, and last but not least, the energy recovery products are hugely important.
Even if here the cost of energy is not as high as other parts of the world, it’s incumbent on the client to have a minimal carbon emission footprint. Therefore, it’s clear that energy consumption should be as low as possible.
How important is sustainability to your company?
It’s absolutely central to us. We want to bring to the client exactly what they want in terms of processes, guarantees and competitiveness, but we need to support the client on the sustainable side as well. Why?
Because our clients are communities – ministers, states, municipalities, and so – all of which have a responsibility towards their citizens. We can also provide a long-term guarantees for these processes as we are also an operator, not just a builder, of these systems.
Even if the client doesn’t want us to operate the system we build, the fact that we carry out operating work all over the world is proof of our experience.