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Large-scale solar thermal desalination plants will benefit UAE, says Masdar Institute faculty

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The UAE and the GCC region will enormously benefit from large-scale solar thermal desalination plants as the thermal desalination (MSF/MED) and hybrid (integrated MSF/MED and RO) are still the most suitable technologies, according to Dr Hassan E. S. Fath, Professor of Practice - Water and Environmental Engineering, at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

Dr Hassan E. S. Fath was delivering a presentation on 'Novel Integrated Green Complex for the Sustainable Living of Small Communities in Remote Areas' at the Fulbright Academy's Seventh Annual Conference titled 'Sustainable Cities - Sustainable Development'. It addresses a green solution to the rising scarcity of life necessities such as water, food, and energy, as well as lack of job opportunities and lack of development of arid and remote areas.

Organized under the Patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology, the event is being held from 30 September - 3 October in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. A Fulbright Academy delegation is scheduled to visit Masdar Institute during the event.

The Conference has brought together international sustainability experts, Emirati and key government leaders, as well as global pioneers in business, banking, science, education and non-profit organizations. The conference is expected to serve as a catalyst to influence how cities and communities of the future are studied, planned and managed. Some of the session topics will include 'Natural Resources', 'Water', 'Public Policy', 'Education', 'Energy', 'Building & Urban Design'.

Dr Fath said, "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-I (100 MW thermal) and is building Noor-I (100 MW PV). What we are looking for is new solar thermal desalination plant such as Salsabeel-I with 100,000-m3/day capacity. We have the expertise capable of building such a leading solar desalination plant."

The use of the solar driven-desalination with patented integrated MSF/MED technology targets 30% reduction of water cost through 'sustainable energy production, as well as 'efficient energy delivery and/or use'. Because of the high availability of solar energy intensity in the UAE, the proposed system has the capacity to produce sustainable electrical and thermal energy from solar energy sources, in addition to partially storing it for cloudy conditions for post-sunset operations.

In addition, the proposed high performance system optimizes the use of available solar energy and minimizes the specific thermal / electrical energy consumption for water production application. Since solar desalination system produces fresh water in a clean environment, it reduces the UAE's carbon emission and footprint, while the MSF/MED technology also enables low water production cost.

Dr Fath added, "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."

Dr Fath concluded, "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 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."

The Masdar Institute professor pointed out that new technologies such as Forward Osmosis (FO), Membrane Distillation (MD) are still in the R&D stage or at pilot-scale and cannot compete with existing time-tested technologies.

In addition, there are many other applications where desalination can be directly used including the development of agriculture greenhouses self-sufficient in energy and irrigating water. Such a project will help the UAE address the food security challenges as the country currently imports 80% of its requirements. Integrating the latest in solar energy, desalination, and engineering systems and management will also help design a greenhouse that does not take electricity or water from the UAE's utilities, he remarked.

An expert with wide academic and industrial experience in desalination and energy technologies as well as author of two filed patents in MSF/MED desalination technologies, Dr Hassan Fath has published a book titled 'Desalination Technology'. He is also the co-author of the Encyclopedia of Desalination & Water Reuse (DESWARE). In addition, he has published over 150 papers in desalination and energy technologies. Holder of a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering, from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Dr Fath earned his doctorate from the same university.

A new analysis titled 'Assessment of the Water and Wastewater Sector in the United Arab Emirates' by from Frost & Sullivan finds that the market earned revenues of $2.75bn in 2011, which are estimated to reach $5.61bn in 2015. According to the report, the total installed capacity for desalination in the UAE is 8.9 million m3 per day, which is set to expand at a higher rate with many of the emirates turning towards privatization. The government is looking for 100% water connectivity to all the UAE residents; hence, investments in water distribution are anticipated to increase, says the report.

Established as an on-going collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change through education and research.

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