GE Water steps it up
The US giant is rising to the water challenge in the Middle East.
GE Water and Process Technologies is building on its already significant footprint in the Middle East to help tackle the water challenges confronting the region. The US giant is in the process of expanding its Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence in Dubai, a regional commercial hub that supports its activities in the water sector.
“We look at this as a growth region and about 10-12% of our sales come out of here,” says Robert Hultz, regional executive of GE Water & Process Technologies for Middle East & Africa.
“Industry continues to invest and you see more and more plants being built in the region and they need technical service companies like GE Water to help them meet their water needs. So we’re bullish on the region and that’s why we made the investment to expand our facility in Jebel Ali.”
First opened in 2006 and spread over a land area of 38,000 square metres (m3), the Centre of Excellence is the largest-of-its-kind purpose-built water-related technology plant owned by GE. The facility is the company’s base for operations in the Middle East as well as Africa and comprises two divisions: Engineering Systems and CMS (Chemical Monitoring Solutions) or chemical division.
It is home to engineers, commercial leaders and technical staff as well as GE Water’s chemical production blending facility. The 1,500 m2 expansion project will increase the landmass of the warehouse by 52% and the overall capacity by 62%.
Research & Development is done elsewhere in the region but an on-site lab helps with quality control on manufacturing as well as some of proposals, basic water analysis or oil water separation techniques.
Article continues on next page ...
The site is also home to GE Water’s fleet of mobile equipment such as rental reverse osmosis (RO) and rental filtration. The machines are stored in 40ft containers and can be mobilised to customers at short notice for temporary use of anything from a day to a few years. GE Water operates the world’s largest fleet of mobile water solutions spread across a number of depots in strategic locations across the globe.
The mobile solutions can help meet the water treatment or supply needs of a range of industrial clients. “Right now we have two jobs going on in Libya,” says Hultz. “One of them is for mobile water for a fertiliser plant, another is for a power plant. We have a job with Aramco in Saudi Arabia and some other jobs in Egypt for a cement factory. Essentially the gamut of industrial uses.”
A typical desalination unit would have a capacity of around 1,000 m3/d and a filtration unit would have 2,000 – 2,500 m3/d, Hultz explains.
“Each unit is different and if the customer needs five or 10 thousand m3 we can bring 10 units and put them in parallel together like lego blocks to generate a solution for the customer on a temporary basis.”
GE Water is seeing strong demand for its services in Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia and a pick-up in industrial activity in Egypt and the Iraqi oil sector.
“There are opportunities throughout the region. We have a pretty good footprint in Iraq. We recently won a job to provide chemicals for (Malaysian state oil company) Petronas in oil fields and we’re mobilising to support that customer. We have a number of refinery customers in Iraq and we have about 70/80% of the installed base of the water treatment systems needed for the power plants in Iraq.”
Article continues on next page ...
GE Water’s most recent major contract win in the public utilities space is for the expansion of the Sulaibiya wastewater treatment plant in Kuwait. The company will add 225,000 m3/d of capacity to the existing plant, taking its overall capacity to 600,000 m3/d of recycled wastewater for agricultural and landscaping use.
The expansion will see the plant regain the crown of the largest reverse osmosis facility in the world that it held when it was first built in 2004. The contract does not include any upgrade or overhaul to the original plant which is still working well.
“When it was first built it was the largest recycled water treatment plant in the world and this expansion will make it the largest again,” says Hultz.
“The expansion will utilise GE Zeeweed membranes and GE operates and maintains the recycled part of the plant so it’s also an O&M contract for us. Originally it was a company called Ionics that built the plant and GE bought Ionics (in 2005) as part of building our platform.”
Hultz has seen a dramatic improvement in the cost and efficiency of water technology over the course of his career. “If you compare water treatment today versus 15-20 years ago, we’re operating at higher fluxes, lower energy consumption and there’s been incremental improvement in every water system out there,” he says.
“Just 2-3 years ago GE introduced LEAPmbr and it’s a different way to apply air scouring to the membranes that drastically reduced the energy required to operate them.
“Incremental improvement in water treatment is the only way to stay competitive,” he adds. “At GE we probably spend as much or more than anybody in R&D and we’re committed to improve the offerings to our customers to drive efficiency.”
Hultz concedes that it will take more than technology improvements to tackle the water challenges facing the Middle East however. A White Paper released earlier this year title ‘Addressing Water Scarcity in Saudi Arabia: Policy Options for Continued Success’ outlines a number of policy options for improving water reuse in the Kingdom.
“After I left Sulaibiya I went to Saudi Arabia where we presented a White Paper on sustainability,” Hultz says.
“It’s a combination of education, conservation, technology and government policy. It’s not one thing but a combination of those four. It’s not easy but it needs to be done in this region.”
- 12% of GE Water’s global sales come from the region
- 600,000 m3/d - the capacity of Sulaibiya once expansion is complet