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The world's largest solar powered desalination plant is under construction in one of the world's leading oil-producing countries...what gives?

Clean Power

World’s Largest Solar Powered, Jellyfish-Fightin’ Desalination Plant To Be Built In Saudi Arabia

The world’s largest solar powered desalination plant is under construction in one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries…what gives?

If Saudi Arabia and solar power don’t look quite right together, it’s time to shake off that 1970s oil crisis dust and take a look at the country’s recent forays into renewable energy. The latest move is a solar powered desalination plant aimed at treating 60,000 square meters of seawater daily for the northeastern city of Al Khafji. According to the developer, this will be the world’s first utility scale, solar powered desalination plant.

We were just talking about the potential for Saudi Arabia to export its solar technology last summer, as the solar industry revs up in competition with the global market for diesel. The new desalination plant is more evidence that the country is serious about weaning itself off diesel fuel domestically as well.

Saudi Arabia solar powered desalination

Jellyfish filter for solar powered desalination plant (enhanced screenshot, courtesy of Triarena).

Solar Powered Desalination

Seawater is becoming a critical resource as global freshwater supplies come under increasing stress, but conventional desalination is an expensive, energy-sucking process. Renewable energy offers a chance at lowering both costs and emissions, and renewable-powered desalination was a hot topic at the 2013 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Well, it looks like the future is here. Yesterday, the company Abengoa announced that it has been tapped to partner in the development of the Al Khafji desalination plant by TAQNIA, Saudi Arabia’s innovation investment agency, through its newly formed company Advanced Water Technology (AWT).

If Abengoa rings a bell, you might be thinking of the world’s largest parabolic trough concentrating solar system. That’s just one among many high-profile renewable energy projects under the company’s umbrella, so it looks like Saudi Arabia went to the A-list for this project.


According to AWT, the plant will have a 15 megawatt solar array using polycrystalline solar cells engineered by the research agency King Abdulaziz City Science and Technology.

Speaking of going to the top, Spain’s Triarena also lists the desalination plant among its projects. Energy efficiency goes hand in glove with renewable energy, so it looks like the system includes energy recovery, energy storage, and other efficiency systems to complement the solar array. Here’s a video from Triarena that spells it all out:

The only question we have for now is, what are they going to do with all that brine?

As for the jellyfish, the population of the ubiquitous critters appears to be on the rise, so your first order of business in seawater desalination is to find an efficient way to keep them from gumming up your works.

The plant itself is already under construction and is scheduled to be up and running in early 2017.

Drinking Our Way Out Of Rising Sea Levels…

Renewable-powered desalination is just one pathway under exploration for recovering seawater resources. We’re especially interested in a “quadruple play” water treatment process under development at the  University of Colorado  based on a microbial fuel cell that can desalinate water, treat wastewater, and generate electricity all in one process.

That’s three if you’re keeping count. The fourth part is that the process generates hydrogen gas, which can be recycled back into the system for increased efficiency.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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