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The Future of Water

BY: Rami Ghandour, managing director of Metito

As the global population races towards 9.8 billion people by 2050, it has never been more important to produce more with less.

Technological innovations are a key facilitator to help support and strength­en water resource management. They will be especially instrumental in helping governments achieve national water security, while working towards realising the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particular­ly SDG6 – ensuring the availability and sustaina­ble management of water and sanitation for all.

Minimum requirement

The Middle East is one of the most water-stressed regions on Earth, given the arid climate, limited freshwater from rivers and lakes, and dwin even further given population growth, industrialisation and economic development.

To bridge this gap between supply and demand, desalination remains to be the solution of choice. In fact, the Middle East now accounts for nearly half the world’s desalination capacity.

However, while desalination gives ac­cess to clean water, the overall process is quite energy intensive. This makes imple­mentation of green technologies of great value, and one that needs to be embed­ded into water management solutions.

As governments accelerate efforts to achieve water security – a critical part of many national visions – there is more interest in hybrid projects where both traditional and alternative energy sourc­es are being used in desalination.

Metito is working on several projects across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region to implement not just the most advanced technologies in the sector, but also coupling this with re­newable energy – specifically solar. This guarantees the most innovative, sustain­able and cost-effective solutions to our clients and, in general, the most shared value for all the relevant stakeholders.

A good example would be the sea water reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant in Saudi Arabia’s Duba city. The 125,000 cubic-metre-a-day (cm/d) desalination system serves the under-construction city of Neom. The plant is partially pow­ered by solar energy and is an exempla­ry project for the region and beyond.

Using photovoltaic panels, the plant has integrated augmented reality tech­nology for all the supplied equipment, a first in the region. This, along with state-of-the-art automation systems, advanced monitoring, and control plat­forms, reporting and analysis tools, and energy management software, ensures operational efficiencies that optimise energy usage.

The Duba plant also uses big data to boost operations and implement a predictive approach to maintenance, resulting in a 6 per cent reduction in the plant’s energy usage and halving the amount of time required to resolve any equipment issues.

In the GCC, such hybrid projects are sustainable given the abundance of solar energy. We expect the trend to adopt renewable, more eco-friendly technol­ogies and energy to continue to grow well beyond 2021 and regardless of the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recycled water

Reusing wastewater is another cost-effective, sustainable solution that conserves water resources. Processes such as RO, membrane filtration, micro- and ultra-filtration enhance the value of water resources for all applications.

Egypt’s El-Hammam agricultural wastewater treatment plant, a joint venture (JV) between Metito, Egyptian contractors Hassan Allam, the Arab Contractors and Orascom Construction, is a great example of this in practice.

Led by the Egyptian government, the project was developed to achieve water security in the country as part of its national vision and is scheduled to be operational by 2023. With a delivery capacity of 7.5 million cm/d, the project is the biggest of its kind in the world.

This capacity will be achieved by collecting and transporting agricul­tural drainage water from the north of the Nile Delta to the plant through a 120-kilometre-long course. The treat­ed water will then irrigate up to 2,084 square kilometres west of the Nile Delta.

As the technology lead in this JV, Metito is providing the process design and engineering, sizing and selection, installation, testing and commissioning of the overseas equipment and local electromechanical items.

The industry needs to take bold­er steps to integrate new processes, technologies and solutions. Despite the extensive progress, the water sector has historically been slow to adopt new tools and processes. Given the impacts of globalisation, climate change, pollu­tion and increased water demand, new solutions are critically needed, and the water and wastewater industries are ripe for disruption.

Undoubtedly the many social and environmental challenges we face are daunting. But the SDGs provide a rele­vant framework to bring about the vital changes needed.

By working closely with governments to adopt the latest sustainable technol­ogy and international best practices in innovation, water management solution providers and engineering and con­struction firms can positively address the issues to ensure clean, high-quality water for generations to come.

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