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A new approach to water production and conservation

Now is the time to take action and connect the silos of water production, says by Rolf Keil, project development manager of Besix concessions & assets

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Rolf Keil, project development manager of Besix concessions & assets
Rolf Keil, project development manager of Besix concessions & assets

Today, we need the water supply capacity of more than five times that of Earth, if every human of our planet would consume the same amount as is being used by residents and industries in the Middle East.

Desalination of seawater remains the most accessible and sustainable upstream source for potable water production, to feed an integrated total water management system. The Middle East has been spearheading a technology transition, driving the potable water production industry into application of new and competitive technologies, such as reverse osmosis. But, we must not rest here...

Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) is the adopted state of the art technology today at an average recovery rate of 45%, supplying to municipalities. Desalination technologies are bound to be continuously improved to become even more competitive; innovative solutions such as RED (Reverse Electro Dialysis) and ceramic membranes are two considerable highlights in this range, reaching piloting stage already today.

Today, less than 10% of water used is being treated to a level that it can be reused for industrial, agricultural and governmental application, recovering 3% of production into a circular economy.

For many years, Private Public Partnerships (PPP) and Built Operate Transfer (BOT) models have been adopted by governments across the region, to cope with the immense capital expenditure and operating skills required to supply reliable water services to a growing population and economy, diversifying into non-carbon industrialisation.

In recent days, the arrival of renewable and nuclear energy sources has allowed to decouple water and power production. Decoupling is considered state-of-the-art for water and power production and involves the separation between power and water production. Whilst certain technologies currently used do not allow for independent gearing of production quantities, decoupling is the way forward to allow such flexibility.

Today, this seems to be true also for the status quo of aspirations for an integrated total water management system, may it be for a city, a state, a country or a co-operative region.

Now, we have the responsibility to take that action, to connect the silos of water production, manage allocation for human and industrial use, collection and advanced treatment for dedicated reuse.

Together, based on successful cooperation track record in single projects, both public and private sector are ready to replicate a successful integrated model and embed it to its local needs.

The first step is for industrial water consumers to be allocated advanced Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) and single source, allowing a transition period equivalent to PPP project timeline to develop and sustainably avail the required water quantity and quantity for competitive and controlled industrial development.

The second step is aquifer storage of seasonal surplus of advanced treated TSE, i.e. lower irrigation requirements during winter season, reducing expensive SWRO water to be allocated for such strategic use.

These two initiators are to come in parallel with the progressive and carefully planned decentralisation of advanced treated TSE stations to the vicinity of sewage production and industrial reuse customers to minimise non-revenue transmission losses.

Integration of the total water management in this way needs to come from top and is in line with the visions devised by the Executive Council of the UAE, as well as individual leadership of the Emirates. Taking a closer look, we are not far away from realisation today.

This is the call to the private sector, to pro-actively participate and implement advanced emerging technologies contributing to a sustainable upstream and downstream realisation of efficiencies.

Reduction of power consumption and conversion of water production process by-products into valuable products such as biogas, industrial salts and many more offer such opportunities today.

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