Abu Dhabi: An initiative to test three pilot projects, with the aim of developing a commercially viable seawater desalination technology by 2020, was launched in the capital on Thursday.
The initiative, by Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar, was announced at the first International Water Summit in Abu Dhabi.
As part of a three-year programme, three pilot plants will be developed to test different desalination technologies, said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Masdar’s chief executive officer and UAE Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change. “With the UAE’s growing economy and rising population, it is crucial that we identify a sustainable desalination solution to meet our long-term water needs,” Al Jaber said.
“Our objective is to scale up the findings of the three pilots into one commercial plant by 2020. By the end of 2015, we hope to have finalised the testing of the three pilot desalination programmes. By 2016, we will begin our planning and construction for the commercial scale project, with the aim that by 2020, we have a commercial-scale water desalination plant completely powered by renewable technologies,” he added.
All three pilot plants will be constructed in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, but in a variety of geographical locations to test differing technologies.
The capacity of each plant will also vary depending on the technology used, said Dr Corrado Sommariva, president of the International Desalination Association that is supporting the Masdar pilot.
“This programme is unique because it not only focuses on desalination research and development … but also hopes to overcome financial barriers [in implementing renewable energies for the process]. It will therefore improve the bankability of such technologies,” Dr Sommariva said.
“Any new leading-edge technologies that have emerged in the past five years will be considered for the pilot plants, including electrolysis deionisation and membrane distillation,” he explained.
According to Masdar, the Gulf region accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the world’s desalinated water. In the UAE, seawater desalination requires about 10 times more energy than surface fresh water production, and its costs are projected to increase by 300 per cent in the future.
Abdullah Saif Al Nuaimi, director general of the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), said on the sidelines of the conference that Abu Dhabi desalinates about 900 million gallons of water per day using conventional fossil fuel technologies. “The demand for water in Abu Dhabi emirate increases by about 5 to 6 per cent annually,” he added.
When asked about the investment costs for the project, Al Jaber said that 50 per cent of the cost of each pilot project will be funded by Masdar, while the rest of the investment will be made by partnering technology providers. “The exact cost…can only be announced once we have identified a group of partners for the [pilots],” Al Jaber said.
Many technology providers have already expressed their interest to partner with Masdar.
“We received more than a 100 letters of interest from international companies that claim to have the required technologies [and are interested in becoming partnering with us for this programme]. Proposals from 48 companies have been short-listed, and both a technical committee, and a parallel commercial committee, have been established to evaluate these proposals,” the Masdar executive said.
ADWEA, the Regulation and Supervision Bureau, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company will coordinate with Masdar to realise the long-term goal of water desalination using renewable technologies.