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Masdar Desalination Pilots Move Into Optimization Phase

In early 2014, Zach covered an exciting desalination project that Masdar kicked off which specifically focused on improving the energy efficiency of the desalination process while also supporting it with renewable energy. Pulling the background from our previous article forward, CEO of Masdar Dr. Ahmad Belhoul shared some specifics: “Today, the Gulf region accounts for over 50% of global water desalination.” Specifically, in the United Arab Emirates, desalination accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions. Further complicating the matter, there is a known challenge with regards to how the resulting brine is discharged into the Arabian Gulf, which is currently causing large problems in that ecosystem.

“Not only are we funding new technology but we are also testing it and deploying it,” Masdar CEO Dr Ahmad Belhoul told the Gulf News. “By using solar power, we are cutting the carbon footprint to zero.”


Desalination presents a large energy savings opportunity | Image Credit: Masdar

Given the extreme scarcity of water in Gulf countries, and with climate change increasing the severity and frequency of droughts across the globe, the problem is only expected to get worse. Her Highness Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi, shared that, “By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in absolute water scarcity.  of the global population will be facing some level of water scarcity.” The recent drought in California serves as a timely reminder that drought is no longer just a topic for hyper arid climates like the Gulf region to take on but is also becoming a very real challenge in many areas around the world.

The pilots were to run from April 2014 through July 2016, after which, winners would be selected to move on to install a full-scale desalination plant. The pilot installations are working with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to achieve an electric energy consumption of less than 3.6 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter of produced water. The four winning companies that were awarded contracts from Masdar are as follows:

  • Abengoa — 1,080 m3/day installation
  • Degrémont (Suez) — 100 m3/day installation
  • SIDEM (Veolia) — 300 m3/day installation
  • Trevi Systems — 50 m3/day installation

Pilot Inauguration | Image Credit: Masdar

November 23rd was the official inauguration of the pilot installations and officially announced the end of construction and the start of the formal operational phase. This is an exciting milestone given the huge impact this work can have on the industry and the broader Gulf region,  and gives us an opportunity to see what each company has chosen to implement and any results to date.



A full-scale Abengoa Seawater Desalination Plant | Image Credit: Abengoa

Abengoa is focused on developing and delivering sustainable solutions across a wide variety of focus areas, including solar electricity, energy transmission, biofuels, cogeneration, and water technologies. Its water technologies division has two other desalination projects in the Middle East in addition to the pilot installation: “a plant in Oman with a capacity of 45,000 m3/day that it has operated and maintained since 2014 and another under construction in Saudi Arabia, which will be the first large-scale solar-powered desalination plant.”

The pilot installation includes the latest Abengoa water treatment technologies, including improvements specifically designed to make the plant more sustainable with a smaller environmental footprint:

  • The pilot plant uses an ultrafiltration pre-treatment phase
  • The most advanced reverse osmosis filtration technology available
  • Proprietary innovative membrane distillation system

Abengoa continues work to further improve and optimize these new innovations, in partnership with Masdar. The pilot plant is currently reporting excellent results in optimizing the drinking water production process.



Suez Pilot Installation | Image Credit: Suez

Suez is the current leader in reverse osmosis desalination and has built over 250 plants. For this key demonstration project, all of its most advanced and innovative technological desalination partners have been pulled in to achieve the high performance standards and sustainability objectives:

  • Dow Water and Process Solutions which brings its advanced and innovative Ultrafiltration and Reverse Osmosis membrane technologies
  • ADIONICS® with its innovative liquid/liquid deionisation technology

Suez believes that we are at the dawn of the resource revolution and is focused on delivering sustainable energy and water treatment solutions for the next generation. Suez supplies drinking water to 92 million people, delivers wastewater treatment services to 65 million, collects waste produced by almost 50 million, recovers 14 million tons of waste each year, and produces 5,138 GWh of local and renewable energy. Impressive statistics that keep me interested and looking for game-changing innovation coming out of this pilot.

Veolia Water Technologies / SIDEM


Veolia Water Treatment Pilot | Image Credit: Veolia

Veolia and Masdar have partnered in the startup of the pilot, sharing the costs to build and operate the pilot plant, which has been designed to include all the features of a full-scale desalination plant while also adding on the latest innovative and low-energy-consumption technologies. The Veolia/SIDEM desalination pilot has been producing potable water since August and can process even the harshest high-salinity water.

To date, the results coming from the Veolia installation are positive:

  • Electrical consumption is 7% less than the reduction built into the contract and still improving.
  • A new pretreatment design has been developed that reduces the footprint of the plant and can save 25% on civil works.
  • New high-performance seawater pretreatment methods have been developed that combine air floatation and filtration with a new osmosis membrane feed configuration that is able to handle high treatment fluxes.
  • Veolia has also implemented new Energy Recovery Devices (ERD) that were developed by a Swiss company engaged by Veolia for the pilot.

Moving forward into the optimization phase, the Veolia team will work to optimize the innovations implemented to date to ensure scalability and longevity in the pursuit of even better power efficiency while also extending the lifetime of the plant.

Trevi Systems


Trevi Systems has an innovative “forward osmosis” (FO) desalination process that is able to desalinate water in an energy-efficient manner. Importantly, in the Abu Dhabi application, when the proprietary technology is combined with solar/thermal or waste heat applications, Trevi’s FO system is able to desalinate at 1/8th the electrical cost of current RO systems, which seems to make this technology a strong contender in the competition.

Time to Optimize

“Masdar Institute is pleased to have leveraged its expertise in sustainable technologies towards the inauguration of this landmark project. The water and energy nexus is at the core of our research agenda, and by working to make the UAE’s production of fresh water more sustainable, we are pursuing contributing to the long-term welfare and sustainability of the UAE,” said Dr. Behjat Al Yousuf, Interim Provost at the Masdar Institute.

Through the pilot program, Masdar is bridging the gap between advanced R&D and providing commercially viable solutions that can be implemented globally. The second stage of the program looks towards optimizing one or more of the energy-efficient desalination technologies used in the pilots for large-scale deployment and implementation in the UAE and beyond. We will keep you apprised as future milestones are achieved.

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Written By

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.


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