Desalination Technology - Countries of Desalination Activities

Taking Desalination to the Next Step

January 2018

Desalination Technology - Countries of Desalination Activities

Taking Desalination to the Next Step

January 2018

The dynamics between desalination, reuse and traditional water sources depend heavily on differing regulations, costs and political climates from local to regional contexts. 

Local water scarcity issues, along with water reuse and recycling policies that can be difficult to design and implement, meaning that navigating this fragmented market remains a challenge. However, with new technologies, shifting public opinion and developing water recycling programs to enhance existing utility systems, there are now major opportunities to provide cost-effective and sustainable innovative solutions.

Understanding these solutions will become increasingly critical as more competitors enter the market. As concerns of water scarcity intensify across the globe, the Middle East is being prudent in dealing with this hypercritical resource. Nations in the Gulf consume an average 816 cubic meters of water per person per year, which is 65 percent more than the world average.

At the same time, the region is widely recognized for being the vanguard of new technology adoption, deploying thermal desalination, reverse osmosis (RO) membrane desalination, and eco-friendly, solar-powered desalination plants for generating potable and process water. Soaring Demand for Water in the Middle East, a recent white paper from Frost & Sullivan's Environment & Water group, finds that technological innovation, improved efficiencies, and supportive policies will shape the region's water odds.

The UAE and other GCC states are global leaders in desalination, and have proved the value of the technology in underpinning water security worldwide, said a report released at the International Water Summit (IWS) 2017. The report found that the UAE uses thermal processes for around 88 percent of its desalination needs, based on figures from Global Water Intelligence.

The UAE and other GCC states are global leaders in desalination

A review of recent research into water security, has demonstrated significant potential for innovative desalination technology to improve sustainability in the UAE's water supply. Now Masdar is leading efforts to link desalination to renewable energy, investigating the latest advances in technologies such as reverse and forward osmosis, which use a high-tech membrane to filter seawater, and integrating this with solar power generation.

"Innovative desalination technologies have the potential to make a significant contribution to the energy goals of the UAE and Mena region," remarked Mohamed Al Ramahi, the chief executive of Masdar. "This region has led the way in proving desalination as a viable and secure source of fresh water, and we are now at the forefront of researching new solutions which are both sustainable and commercially viable," he noted.

Clean energy desalination will be a key topic on the IWS conference agenda, including discussion of progress from Masdar's Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Program. As part of the pilot program, Masdar has been operating four small-scale desalination plants since 2015, with each plant testing a different desalination process. Three are based on reverse osmosis, while one uses forward osmosis. The world uses almost 87 million cu m of desalinated water every day, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region accounts for 44 percent of that figure, according to the International Desalination Association.

Governments and policymakers have already begun measures to promote efficient water usage. "The Middle East has shifted gears swiftly to address the water demand-supply gap and change its path of economic growth to incorporate sustainability," noted Frost & Sullivan Program Manager, Energy and Environment, Kshitij Nilkanth. "Like other parts of the globe, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is looking to desalination and wastewater reuse and recycling to bridge the supply-demand gap.

The Middle East has shifted gears swiftly to address the water demand-supply gap and change its path of economic growth to incorporate sustainability

GCC must have balanced focus towards reducing water consumption and increasing recycled water usage, as well as incorporating advanced water and wastewater treatment technologies. "The strong political will of governments in the GCC, to tide over the water scarcity issue and promote economic growth, will continue to expand growth opportunities for water and wastewater technology and solutions providers," noted Nilkanth. "For instance, water has traditionally been heavily subsided in Arab countries. However, this is changing with new and revised water tariffs and slabs announced by Abu Dhabi, which is likely to begin a trend of sustainable consumption in the region."

Such hikes in tariffs can spur research and development and commercialization of smart meters and smart water grids. Rise in electricity tariffs would mean that desalination water plants will be under pressure to reduce energy consumption by resorting to energy-saving devices or shifting to energy-efficient pumps. Overall, the Middle East water solutions market is set for strong growth with Commercialization of new concepts for desalination, including forward osmosis, membrane distillation, tri-hybrid applications using Nano-filtration, and low-temperature distillation, is increasing.

These technologies will step up efficiency and lower the energy footprint of plants according to Frost and Sullivan. According to Water and Wastewater International, the market for water public-private partnership (PPP) projects is set to nearly triple between 2016 and 2020. New market activity will add an average 6 million m3/day of treatment capacity annually versus approximately 6 million m3/day between 2010 and 2015.

Bluefield Research said its findings show total investment is expected to surpass USD58 billion, of which 80 percent will target new seawater desalination and wastewater treatment plants. Dramatic declines in oil and commodity prices, low water tariffs, groundwater overdrafts, and untreated wastewater discharges are prompting governments to tap the private sector, the company said. The global adoption of the water PPP model will come to the fore in the next five years through a combination of continued growth in markets where the model is well-established (China, Brazil), resurgence in markets that have stalled (Indonesia, Philippines, Mexico, Egypt), and new markets opening up (Persian Gulf countries, Vietnam, Peru, the United States). "Particularly in emerging markets, led by China, municipalities are hard pressed to match the financial capacity and operational expertise that the private sector can provide," said Phuong Pham, senior analyst at Bluefield Research.

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