Innovation drives Middle East water solutions

Experts discuss various water management solutions viable for the Middle East market

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INTERVIEWS, MEP

Water resources are becoming increasingly scarce in the Middle East, especially for the millions who lack access to sanitary water. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are facing a water crisis that require immediate attention.

Fady Juez, managing director at Metito, says:  “The MENA region is one of the most arid regions in the world and this means that efficient water management is a mandate and not a luxury. In a water-scarce environment, it is paramount for the water supply chain to be as efficient as possible. We must ensure that we are making the most of the water available, and avoid wastage where possible. Water management solutions require the latest engineering technology in order to safeguard this finite resource, and thus promote long-term security by building a more sustainable future for the populations and industries in the Middle East and Africa.”

He adds that the rapid population growth, industrialisation and urbanisation of the MENA region has put a strain on water resources. However, the gap between the supply and demand of water can be bridged through sustainable water management; recycling and reuse; continuous awareness by increasing activities among the general public; and the pursuit and adoption of new innovative technologies that have the ability to improve the water landscape.

Another expert who adds to the conversation is Gassan H. Mutwali, director of strategy & business development, at Xylem. He says: “Studies show that managing water accounts for the consumption of about 8% of global power production. As such, the management, delivery and application of water and wastewater need to become more energy efficient. At Xylem, addressing the water-energy nexus is a critical part of our long-term strategy. For us, it is all about reducing the energy consumption across the water cycle. This progress does not require new technologies – it’s simply a matter of adoption.” 

Mutwali gives an example by saying that Xylem deployed highly energy efficient products at Burj Khalifa that pump water more than a half a mile straight up to keep the building’s HVAC system operating at maximum efficiency. 

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Elaborating more on wastewater treatment, Mutwali says that wastewater treatment plants face issues of aging infrastructure, a need for operational efficiencies and a dynamic regulatory environment.

He says: “Utilities are increasingly prioritising asset optimisation, efficient non-revenue water solutions and intelligent networks and systems. This has led to a shift and drive towards smarter systems and digital solutions.”

He adds that Xylem’s recent acquisitions of companies like Visenti and Sensus enable it to create a differentiated offering with regards to leakage management, communication systems, metering technologies, applications and data analytics that improve utility operations worldwide to achieve operational efficiencies. 

Mutwali says: “Water security is important for a region that has around 5% of the world’s population but less than 1.5% of the world’s renewable freshwater resources. Water security needs to be addressed from both a demand and supply point of view. We need more awareness programmes and conservation, as well as more stringent regulations. Every year, around 1.7 trillion gallons of water is lost because of leaky and broken pipes. And 10 billion gallons of raw sewage is released into waterways, as a result of insufficient infrastructure. Investing in new infrastructure, and updating existing infrastructure, is a quick win with big benefits. 

“Water re-use is another exciting area that is gaining momentum. Governments can achieve better water security by investing in wastewater collection systems and water re-use technologies. In Kuwait, for example, Xylem supplies solutions to a wastewater treatment and reclamation plant in Sulaibiya that processes 600,000m3 of wastewater per day.

“Our technologies are utilised to help Kuwait draw maximum value from its limited water supplies, a process that is of particular importance for a country that receives less than 120 mm of annual rainfall. Another instance is a treatment plant in Saudi Arabia, where an integrated wastewater treatment system from Xylem will help the facility generate 200,000m3 of treated water per day.”

Some of the other technological innovations, according to Juez, include Low Temperature Distillation (LTDis). He says: “One of the technologies we are advocating at the moment is LTDis, which utilises waste heat or solar energy in desalination and other processes. This method reduces the carbon footprint of desalination plants as it significantly reduces operating costs.

“We have also recently supported and adopted a third-generation bioreactor technology for water recycling and biological manufacturing. This technology works with lower power consumption and low sludge production. In addition, as water from the bio-reactor can feed straight to the disc filter, it is capable of avoiding settling in tanks. Also, as the IFAS (Integrated Fixed-Film Activated Sludge) reactor, commonly used in mainstream wastewater management, is covered with plants, this new technology will give an entirely new look and feel to the treatment plant.”

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As the Middle East and North Africa region has less than 1.5% of the world’s renewable freshwater resources, most of the region’s water supply comes from desalination.

Sea water reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination technology was previously one of the most common technologies used in the region, but it uses a large amount of power. Metito claims to have applied new techniques that have less of an impact on the environment. 

For example, Juez says that LTDis works on an average electricity consumption of 1kW.hr/m3 to 1.5kW.hr/m3 utilising waste heat (or solar energy) to desalinate water. 

“This is approximately four times lower power consumption than that used in SRWO,” Juez says.

Juez concludes: “We use zero-liquid discharge (ZLD), a treatment process that purifies and recycles all wastewater; we overcome the risks of damaging the sea water environment and provide higher water security to the Middle East. Safely utilising treated sewage effluent (TSE) and other industrially treated wastewater increases water security.” 

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