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Masdar announces new cleaning system for desalination

New system places UAE in the forefront of clean energy and advanced technology solutions

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, yesterday (Saturday) announced a pioneering breakthrough by two faculty members in developing a novel membrane that can operate in an ‘in-situ’ cleaning system for desalination purposes.

The path-breaking innovation – a novel out-of-the-box concept in preventing membrane fouling – firmly places the UAE in the forefront in obtaining clean energy and advanced technology solutions, said a Masdar statement.

A patent application has been filed for the new system that is considered superior to other existing techniques. Dr. Nidal Hilal, Professor in Nano-membranology and Water Technologies and Dr Raed Hashaikeh, Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering, have together invented this system based on a new approach to tackle the challenges in fouling using novel nanomaterials.

In addition to cleaning the membrane, the novel system has the potential to even prevent fouling in the first place using a clean and simple periodic procedure without external additives. Instead, it utilizes the seawater as a component of the system and reduces the steps required for desalination. More importantly, this system allows cleansing of membranes without the need to shut down the water treatment unit, thus saving operational expenses and the exorbitant cost incurred by using other technologies for desalination.

Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, President, Masdar Institute, said: “Such inventions illustrate Masdar Institute’s unique interdisciplinary environment that facilitates collaboration among faculty members of various programs. It also reflects that we are on the right path, as mandated, to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s objectives in human capital development and scientific advancement for creating a knowledge-based economy.”

Dr Raed Hashaikeh said: “We have developed new materials to add new functionalities to the membranes, thus enabling this innovative solution to tackle the fouling problem. Based on the preliminary results at the lab on sample membranes, the new technique can provide extremely efficient cleaning of membrane fouling. Our next step is to evaluate the effectiveness and applicability of the technique at the pilot scale..”

Dr. Nidal Hilal said: “The degradation of membrane performance due to (bio) fouling and scaling is a major concern for membrane processes in desalination industry, water and wastewater treatment technologies. The membrane degradation involves the deposition of organic, inorganic and biological materials on the surface or inside the porous structure of the membrane. A number of physical and chemical techniques have been used for periodic regeneration of the membranes, which necessitate stopping of operations or removing the membranes from the structure. The new system developed at Masdar Institute addresses this key challenge and comes as a boon to the operators of desalination plants.”

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi alone desalinates about 900 million gallons of water per day using conventional fossil fuel technologies, according to statistics from Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA). Also, the demand for water in Abu Dhabi registers an annual increase of about 5 to 6 per cent. Such statistics reflect the enormity of the situation for water in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Current statistics indicate that the GCC region accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the world’s desalinated water. The GCC countries are also expected to invest more than $100 billion (Dh 367 billion) in their water sectors between 2011 and 2016. Some of these investments could be directed towards improving desalination technologies, which may involve solar energy or new ways of filtering out salt or making it evaporate.

The global desalination market is expected to reach $52.4 billion by 2020, up 320.3 per cent from US$12.5 billion in 2010, according to a report from energy research publisher SBI Energy. The report further specifies that membrane technology reverse osmosis segment will see the largest growth, reaching $39.46 billion by 2020.

Dr. Hilal is an international expert in membrane technology and desalination. He is globally recognized as a world-leader in developing and applying the force measurement capability of AFM to the study of membrane separation and engineering processes at the nano-scale level. He is also the Editor-in-Chief for the international journal Desalination. He recently co-authored two major handbooks titled ‘Atomic Force Microscopy in Process Engineering: An Introduction to AFM for Improved Processes and Products’ and ‘Membrane Modification: Technology and Applications’.

Dr Hashaikeh is internationally recognized for his contributions in material engineering. He is also on the editorial board of the international journal Desalination. Dr Hashaikeh was instrumental in leading a team of scientists that developed a new battery technology for which Masdar Institute has filed a patent application in the US. He additionally has four more patents to his credit jointly with different teams of scientists. Dr. Hashaikeh received his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering from McGill University. Before joining Masdar Institute, he spent two years at FP Innovations-Paprican division, Canada, as a scientist. He was also a visiting scholar at MIT between 2008 and 2009.

Serving as a key pillar of innovation and human capital, Masdar Institute remains fundamental to Masdar’s core objectives of developing Abu Dhabi’s knowledge economy and finding solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges such as climate change.

Established as an on-going collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change through education and research.