Large scale desalination with renewable energy: Breakthrough in Saudi Arabia

imagesThe fresh water-short desert kingdoms of the Middle East have long been the largest installers of desalination technology. How large can be deduced from the fact that the Saudis use 1.5 million barrels a day of crude oil to supply energy to its distillation-based desalination units. Long term this was seen as an untenable amount of oil use, considering that even the Saudis, who use another 1.3 million B/D for other energy uses, don’t have an unlimited amount of oil reserves. A recent issue of  Chenected, the AIChE blog, reported that the Saudi firm Advanced Water Technology (AWT) teamed up with Abengoa, the Spanish renewable energy firm, to build the world’s largest desalination plant.  It will use ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis for salt removal and solar power for the energy required to push the treated salt water through a new type of membrane that is highly resistant to chlorine, salt blockage and accumulation of bacteria.Desal For an excellent representational video of the desalination plant click on the Chenected link in the previous paragraph.

The plant is estimated to cost $ 130MM and will supply 60,000 cubic meters a day to the city of Al Khafji in north-eastern Saudi Arabia. The solar array will have an installed capacity of 15MW and will be also be connected to the national power grid, though the combined plant will be entirely self-sufficient in energy.

Since Aramco sells oil to the Saudi Electricity Company at four dollars per barrel, Aramco’s income will rise of the order of $ 10 billion annually if it can eventually stop supplying oil for desalination and sell the oil for $ 30-40 per barrel to the market(!). This is also an important part of the Saudi’s strategy to become less dependent on crude oil.

Note: This post is a propos, since I am leaving for Dubai this Friday to give a keynote speech to the Third Annual Research and Innovation Summit of the Gulf Coast Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association(GPCA). My speech is on Historical Technology Development in the Petrochemical Industry.


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