Three major contractors in the global desalination business – Abengoa, Degrémont and Sidem/Veolia – together with forward-osmosis developer Trevi Systems, were awarded contracts on 5 May 2014 by Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, to each start the construction of a 1,500 m³/d desalination plant as part of Masdar’s pilot project announced in 2013.

Masdar – the development company owned by the Abu Dhabi government – aims to develop and demonstrate seawater desalination technologies efficient enough to be powered by renewable energy. The new technologies are expected to allow the implementation of cost-competitive large-scale seawater desalination plants powered by renewable energy in the UAE and abroad.

“We look forward to working with these four leading companies as they break ground on new desalination technologies,” said Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, chairman of Masdar. “Seawater desalination is an energy-intensive process that, if left unchecked, will become unsustainable over time. We must innovate and discover commercially viable solutions to meet our long-term water needs.”

Each company, selected for the project, says Masdar, because of their leadership and innovation within the desalination sector, will build and operate its own test plant to develop and demonstrate desalination technologies over the course of 18 months. This timeframe will enable the companies to gauge which desalination technologies emerge as the most efficient and therefore have potential to be powered by renewable energy.

All of the four test plants will demonstrate innovations in advanced membrane technologies, such as reverse osmosis and forward osmosis, which are more energy-efficient processes than the thermal processes currently in use in most desalination plants in the UAE. As part of the pilot project, each of the four companies will collaborate with the Masdar Institute of Science & Technology.

The entire pilot project test facility will be located in Ghantoot, 90 km northwest of Abu Dhabi, which has easy access to deep seawater and the availability of existing utility connections from a now-decommissioned desalination plant. During the course of the project, the test plants will also provide 1,500 m³/d of potable water to Abu Dhabi’s water infrastructure.

Abengoa said that its plant would use a membrane distillation technology designed by Abengoa, which would optimize the desalination process. Its project would have a budget of US$ 7.9 million.