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People Meter: Membrane Matters

Klaus Kallenberg is a veteran of the desalination industry

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Klaus Kallenberg, general manager at Toray Membrane Europe.
Klaus Kallenberg, general manager at Toray Membrane Europe.

Klaus Kallenberg, general manager at Toray Membrane Europe is a veteran of the desalination industry who started doing business in the Middle East over twenty years ago.

A qualified chemical engineer, he became an entrepreneur in 1983 by starting membrane supplier Ropur as a joint venture with Mitsui in Switzerland. “Alongside Dow Filmtec, we became the leading membrane supplier in Europe by the late eighties, “ says Kallenberg.

Ropur was doing business in the Middle East soon after, working on drinking water projects in Iraq in 1987, and penetrating the Saudi Market in 1989.

In 1994, he became the sole owner of Ropur. He ran the independent company for the next ten years, before he realized that further growth necessitated the integration into a larger structure.

Kallenberg sold Ropur to Toray Industries Japan, packed his bags, and relocated to Dubai, where he is now running the Toray’s Middle Eastern business. In the region, the company is still registered as Ropur, “there were some problems with the name registration process.”

Utilities Middle East caught up with Klaus Kallenberg on a sunny spring day at the Dubai Marina.

Mr Kallenberg, has business in the region recovered from the global economic downturn?
The crisis is not over yet, that’s for sure. But it has bottomed out, and we are starting to see some green shoots. Even the UAE is showing signs of recovery, with very large RO projects coming up. Saudi Arabia is going strong, the infrastructure projects there were never stopped.
Qatar, Kuwait, Oman are all investing in infrastructure, and we are of course getting business from the oil industry.

In which Middle Eastern markets do you see further growth?
We are very well positioned in Saudi Arabia, and expect to benefit from future growth there. Besides seawater reverse osmosis, there is a huge market for purifying brackish water, and a lot of potential in the wastewater sector.

In a country like Saudi Arabia, which relies one hundred percent on desalination, there is naturally a huge interest in reusing wastewater.

We can offer the whole spectrum of products for this process, and are already engaged in big projects in Saudi Arabia where we make use of the membrane bioreactor technology to turn wastewater into relatively high-quality water for industrial and agricultural use.

We then often use advanced reverse osmosis technology to filter out the salt that found its way into the water as part of the clarification process.

You specialise in reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. Has this become the dominant method for desalination in the Middle East?
No. The switch to RO desalination hasn’t happened yet. Most of the big plants currently operating and under construction will be fitted multi-stage flash (MSF) or multi-effect distillation (MED) thermal technology.

We are of course hoping for this to change. Apart from the fact that MSF is very energy intensive, RO has the advantage that it provides flexibility.

In an Integrated Water and Power plant (IWPP) relying on MSF or MED, the output of desalinated water is coupled to the power production, desalination cannot be done independently.

So we are seeing a trend towards hybrid plants, for instance in Abu Dhabi, where both MSF-MED and RO membranes are used.

Researchers have developed a new, efficient and more fouling resistant desalination process based on nano technology, hailed by some as a breakthrough. Are you excited by this development?
This technology is still in the development stage, with the first products being tested now. It is too early to speak of a breakthrough yet, but it is something with big potential. We are expecting better results in terms of fouling behaviour and salt retention, which makes this the process less energy intensive, and thus cheaper.

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