The UAE, and the GCC region at large, will benefit “enormously” from large-scale solar thermal desalination plants, according to Masdar Institute’s Dr Hassan Fath. Dr Fath was speaking at the Fulbright Academy’s seventh annual conference in Abu Dhabi, which was titled ‘Sustainable Cities – Sustainable Development’.
“Abu Dhabi needs, now, to build its own solar-driven water production facilities for the UAE to lead the region in green water production as it did for nuclear and solar power generation. Abu Dhabi’s multifaceted renewable energy company Masdar has already built solar power plants – Shams 1 (100 MW thermal) and is building Noor 1 (100 MW PV). What we are looking for is new solar thermal desalination plants such as Salsabeel-I with 100,000 m3/day capacity. We have the expertise capable of building such a leading solar desalination plant,” Dr Fath said.
Solar driven desalination with integrated MSF/MED technology targets a 30% reduction of water cost through ‘sustainable energy production’ and ‘efficient energy delivery and/or use’.
Dr Fath also discussed the continued role that thermal desalination will play in providing for the region’s water needs.
“For the GCC region, thermal desalination (MSF/MED) is and will continue as the leading technology. The reason is the well-known ‘four Hs’ of the Gulf water – high temperature, high salinity, high turbidity and high marine life. In addition, the presence of radioactive material because of warships and nuclear power plants, still needs to be addressed.
“Moreover, the toxic boron level comes out of RO requires another stage of product water treatment, which further adds to the cost. Also, the presence of ‘red tide’ in the Gulf waters forces the membrane plants to shut down, reducing the plant availability and production, leading to higher water cost,” he explained.
The professor emphasised that new technologies such as Forward Osmosis and Membrane Distillation are not yet able to compete with proven technologies.
“Thermal desalination (MSF/MED) represents nearly 75% of the water produced in GCC countries with many of the recent plants in the UAE and GCC using this route. Membrane technologies such as RO are recently added to represent only 30% of the plant capacity for water blending to replace the post-treatment plant. RO may suit the clean and clear seawater of the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, but not the Gulf waters.
“One cannot also ignore the reliable operation of MSF/MED and the operational and maintenance (O&M) expertise developed in the region for over 60 years,” he concluded.