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GE Water & Process Technologies

The US giant explains why pre-treatment is so critical

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Upen Bharwada, executive business general manager, filters and membranes.
Upen Bharwada, executive business general manager, filters and membranes.

As an attendee at IDA conferences over the last 20 years, Upen Bharwada can track better than most the shifting trends in the worldwide esalination market. As executive – business general manager, fi lters 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 ‘pretreatment, 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 ultrafi ltration (UF) technology, which discussed the understanding of total organic carbon (TOC), turbidity of bacteria and other kinds of submicron 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 unifi ed design,” says Ralph Exton, GE Water & Process Technologies global sales executive.

“It’s a solution set that’s pre-engineered, predesigned 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 fi nish 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 pretreatment 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 fi rm 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-fi bre 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-fi lm 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 confi dence.

“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.”

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