Crystal Lagoons has introduced in the UAE its new four-step sustainable cooling system that recirculates and cools water continuously from the same onshore pool of water Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: An estimated four trillion litres of raw Gulf seawater is used every year to cool down UAE power plants, foundries and desalination plants before it is returned to the sea.

To put that into perspective, that's enough water to fill 1.6 million Olympic-sized swimming pools each 50 metres long, 25 metres wide and 2 metres deep.

Marine ecologists argue that the hot effluent soup being piped back into the Gulf is hindering, not helping, coral reefs and sea grass already under threat by warmer summer water temperatures.

Laurence Vanneyre, project manager with Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG), said warming waters in the Gulf is a growing concern that needs to be addressed given recorded sea water temperature spikes in 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2010 that bleached coral and damaged sea grass areas.

Seasonal seawater temperatures now hover between 18 degrees Celsius in the winter to as high as 39 degrees Celsius in the summer, she said.

"If we add more warm water from these [power] plants, it could have a very bad effect," Vanneyre told Gulf News.

Enter Crystal Lagoons Corporation, which believes that its new patented technology may strike the perfect balance between maintaining high output of electricity and desalinated water whilst protecting marine life in desert countries in the region from reef-damaging effluent.

The company says its patented manmade onshore ponds or lagoons systems is the preferred option of the future to cool down large industrial complexes while generating greater volumes of electricity and potable water to meet growing demands.

The UAE's primary energy demand is expected to grow by 71 per cent by 2019. According to latest International Energy Agency statistics, the UAE produced 90,573 GWh of electricity in 2009.

Cooling system

Crystal Lagoons has introduced in the UAE its new four-step sustainable cooling system that recirculates and cools water continuously from the same onshore pool of water.

Joaquin Konow, development director at Crystal Lagoons, said his company is now engaged in 19 projects around the world providing a "closed-circuit cooling system that avoids the environmental impact generated by current cooling technologies."

Konow told Gulf News that the key to his firm's patented technology is "obtaining and maintaining excellent water quality using any type of water … eliminating biofouling problems and increasing heat transfer efficiencies."

Introducing the self-sustaining lagoon system effectively nixes the need to keep going to the Gulf for fresh sea water, he said.

"Our sustainable cooling technology allows complete disconnection from the sea, therefore avoiding all environmental impacts associated with the withdrawal of large volumes of water, killing trillions of marine organisms, and also related with the discharge of hot water back into the natural sources, affecting the aquatic ecosystem," Konow said.

"Our sustainable cooling system allows the relocating of power stations away from the sea or other natural sources thereby reducing the impact on the coastline."

Creating onshore recyclable water pools, he said, "eliminates marine pollution from cooling-dependent industries, something critical for the Arabian Gulf that today is under pressure from industrialization, and has put in risk its extensive coral reefs, pearl oysters and marine ecosystems."

UN report

A report released by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health late last year confirmed that rapid growth in the Gulf has "contributed to considerable degradation of natural habitats, including mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and marine life".

Co-author of the report and New York University of Abu Dhabi assistant professor John Burt said in a statement late last year that to counter the damage, there "needs to be a balance between meeting the needs of a developing economy and managing the impact on the marine environment."

Minister of Environment and Water Dr Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahd announced last week that the UAE will launch its own International Water Summit to be inaugurated in early 2013 in Abu Dhabi.

"As a result of the increased pressure on this valuable resource due to various factors including over population, agricultural and economic growth and the unsustainable consumption patterns, various countries around the world are currently facing real problems with water resources," Bin Fahd said.

"Moreover, climate change has increased the pressure on this resource as well."