The Future of Desalination in the United Arab Emirates

Discuss about The Future of Desalination in the United Arab Emirates.

Introduction:

Desalination refers to a process that eliminates minerals from saline water. Particularly, desalination highlights the removal of mineral and salts from a target substance, as it happened in the soil desalination process (Dindi, Quang and Abu-Zahra 2015). For that reason, it creates direct adverse impact on the agriculture sector. In the present time, importance of fresh water is increasing continuously. For that reason, the entire world is focusing on the distribution of freshwater so that it can able to fulfill the demand of the world properly.  The discovery of oil and gas in the entire world has helped them to become among the world’s top exporters of fossil fuel. The discovery of oil and gas has contributed hugely in the economic prosperity of the GCC countries. In the past decade, GCC countries GDP has able to increase at the average rate of 5.2% whereas the population of the countries has grown at an average rate of 14% annually. In present time, many countries of the world and particularly the GCC countries face the most scarcity of water among all countries of the world. Natural fresh water resources are expected to reduce by 20% in the near future due to change in climate in the entire world. As a result, desalination has become backbone of the GCC countries in providing fresh water. For that reason, it is expected that GCC countries will feel the requirement of advance technologies in near future to fulfill all the demand through the desalination process. Furthermore, the entire world is focusing on the effective distribution of the freshwater so that people do not have to face too many difficulties in fulfilling their necessary requirements.

Global challenges of desalination:

In the present situation, fulfilling the requirement of freshwater has become an immense challenge for the countries from all across the world. For that reason, they have no other choice than to implement desalination process for the effective fulfillment of the requirements. For instance, discovery of oil in the GCC countries has influenced foreign investor to invest huge amount in the process of oil exploration. For that reason, GCC countries are filled with foreign workers that influences in the development of major Gulf cities. At the initial stage, Gulf countries have able to fulfill the requirements of water through the existing underwater. However, increasing population in the entire world have created huge amount of difficulties in fulfilling all the requirements of the water. For that reason, many countries have unable to fulfill all the requirements of water of the increased population from the existing source of groundwater. Therefore, it was creating additional burden on the groundwater along with its additional quality degradation highlighted the requirement of technical solution so that it can able to fulfill the additional requirements of water. In the early stage, thermal desalination technologies like Multiple Effect Boiling (MEB) were utilized in the several countries in the world. The process of desalination has able to gain significant amount of attraction in several areas of the world (Odu et al. 2015). The following figure highlights the cumulative capacity of the installed desalination process in the GCC states since 1970. 

The prime cause of this sudden boom in the desalination process was the hike of oil price that provides many GCC countries necessary funds to make massive investment in the development of water and energy infrastructure. However, desalination process requires too much energy sources. As a result, many studies have highlighted the negative impact of the utilization of desalination process. Furthermore, it also creates negative impact on the environment of many countries in the entire world as well. However, scarcity of fresh water sources has provided GCC countries no other option than to consider desalination process. However, states of GCC focusing on utilizing process that can actually reduce the adverse impact of desalination in the environment.

Different methods of desalination:

As highlighted by the Global Water Intelligence, the primary objective of desalination process is to generate portable drinking water from either brackish water or seawater. Furthermore, the desalination process is also utilized to generate ultrapure water for specific industrial processes. As per the article by Al-Nory et al. (2014), greater the salinity of feed water greater is the desired purity. However, it also required greater energy input for the effective utilization of the processes. In the context of desalination, measure of the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) or salinity is the generally measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L), parts per million (ppm) and parts per thousand (ppt). The salinity ranges from different water sources are as follows:

  • Brine water: >55,000 mg/L TDS or >45 ppt
  • Seawater: 16,000-40,000 mg/L TDS or 31-45 ppt
  • Brackish water: 1,200-16,000 mg/L TDS or 0.40-25 ppt
  • Pure water:

There are several desalination processes available in the same scale applications. On the other hand, large-scale seawater desalination process are often classified into two groups namely membrane and thermal based. Thermal processes include Multiple Effect Distillation (MED) and Multiple Stage Flash (MSF) that firstly evaporate the saltwater then re-condense the fresh water. On the other hand, Membrane based processes like Reserve Osmosis (RO) channel saltwater through a semi permeable membrane so that it can able to block different particulates and also dissolved the amount of ions (Loutatidou and Arafat 2015). Over the years, these processes of desalination are explained, outlined and compared so that it can able to identify the best possible process that the GCC countries can utilize for fulfilling the requirement of people.

Necessary improvements required for enhancing the desalination process:

As per the article by Fath, Sadik and Mezher (2013), several factors have to be considered in order to enhance the desalination process. One of the prime factors that countries from all over the world has to consider is the amount of energy required for the effective utilization of the desalination processes. Many studies have highlighted the fact that several countries are utilizing too much energy for fulfilling the requirements of the people. Although changing saltwater of the ocean into fresh water is important for fulfilling the requirement of freshwater in the countries, present desalination technique has made huge amount of adverse impact on the ecological footprint as well. For that reason, Zhou et al. (2015) have highlighted the significance of utilizing solar energy system for the effective utilization of the desalination process. Implementation of solar energy system can actually reduce the amount of poisonous gas produced in the process. Furthermore, it will also help to neutralize the acidity of the ocean. On the other hand, utilization of solar energy will also help the several countries to maintain the level of oil and energy at the appropriate level.

As per the article by Chandrasekharam et al. (2016) several countries from the entire world can utilize magnesium chloride in the waste brine is hydrolyzed by the energy developed by heliostat field, which is released in the ocean. It removed carbon dioxide and neutralized ocean acidity gradually through the transformation of magnesium oxide to bicarbonate. However, this approach increases the approximate energy requirements of the plants by up to 50% but this approach offset the absorption capacity of carbon dioxide. Many studies have highlighted that reducing the required energy to dewater brine before the decomposition will provide a major environmental benefit. Since, decomposition of magnesium chloride does not require too much energy. For that reason, utilization of solar energy system will be very viable for many countries in the entire world. In addition, if another way can be identified for dewater of the brine, solar system will become very energy efficient. Furthermore, it has also been assessed that technology utilized in the desalination process is also growing in a considerable manner.

From the above figure, it can be assessed that many countries from the entire world will face huge increase in the requirement of water in near future. For that reason, it has become essential for the countries to enhance the present level of the technology even further so that it can able to fulfill the requirements effectively. For instance, GCC countries will have to consider its present level of technology that is utilized in the thermal process. Furthermore, factors like salinity, high temperature and turbidity has contributed hugely in increasing the cost for the implementation of RO process. Availability of low-grade steam developed from the gas-fired power plants highlighted the dominance of thermal technologies in several countries. However, utilization of excessive energy sources and negative environmental impact of desalination process is still the major concern for the GCC countries. Many countries have invested huge amount for the development of more effective technique so that people not only can able to have fresh water but also can able to intake fresh air at the time breathing. Government of many countries has utilized several techniques so that people can able to understand the significance of pure water. Recently several changes have been implemented in the reserve omission (RO) technique in order to minimize the amount energy consumption at the time of desalination process (Ghaffour, Missimer and Amy 2013). Furthermore, many other technologies have also been used so that it can reduce the adverse impact on the ecological system of the ocean at the time of desalination process.

Main constraints of desalination:

As per the article by Al-Hamahmy, Fath and Khanafer (2016) several environmental concerns are associated with the current desalination processes. It can be categorized in to three parts including output concerns, input concerns and process concerns. In terms of input concern, the present use of non-renewable energy, primarily natural gas is problematic for both its sustainability as well as the output of the energy source. Now, many countries heavily depend on the desalination process for fulfilling the requirement of freshwater. Therefore, sustainable energy source for desalination process will ensure that the water is developed is also renewable. Furthermore, it also has been assessed that if renewable energy sources are coupled up with the desalination process, it will minimize the environmental load by up to 85% (Eshoul, Agnew and Mnider 2016).

In case of output concern, fossil fuels are the major input in the present environmental concern from the perspective of the climate. Since, greenhouse gases are spread into the atmosphere resultant from the gas fired power plants that affect the purity level of the air. Based on the present production technique, desalination plant in Qatar requires around 1.55 billion kWh of electricity annually, which is equivalent to 670,000 metric ton of CO2. The percentage of energy utilize for the desalination procedure from cogeneration facilities is also huge. Cogeneration plants utilized 5 to 9 million tons of carbon dioxide that affects the environmental condition of the Asian region hugely (Bahar and Hawlader 2013). Brine management is another significant factor that create huge amount of impact on the environmental condition of different countries. Discharge of brine is often is the mixture of chemical and thermal added pollutants along with saline concentrate. For that reason, desalination process will have to consider the technique that can reduce the possibility of adverse impact on the environment.

As per the article by Nair and Kumar (2013), many countries in the Asia and European region presently have more than 27000 plants that are capable of utilizing desalination process. As a result, it can greatly affect the marine ecosystem of different region of the entire world. As a result, many environmental specialists have raised questions against the utilization process of desalination. It has been identified that mangrove and coral species survive with the narrow space of environmental parameters. On the other hand, it affects greatly on the survival of the other species. Brine discharge can create huge amount of negative impact on the marine fauna. In fact, it has been assess that too much utilization of seawater for the desalination process can actually reduce the salt level of the sea. As a result, it actually affects the marine of organisms (Palenzuela, Alarcón-Padilla and Zaragoza 2015). Thus, it highlighted the fact that GCC countries will have to be extremely careful at the time of implementing any technique for the desalination process.

As per the article by Khan et al. (2016), desalination can actually create difficulties for the coastal communities. Since, it can be assessed that high-energy requirement will increase greenhouse gas emission in the coastal region. Thus, countries will have to measure the impact of desalination on the marine ecosystem and also have to gain idea about the required change in processes so that it can able to reduce the adverse impact on the environment. Furthermore, countries will also have to focus on the alternative technique in future in order to reduce amount of energy consumption so that it can reduce the level of greenhouse emission in an appropriate manner.

Major hopes for desalination:

As per the article by Shatat, Worall and Riffat (2013) different countries from the entire world will have considered several factors so that it does not have to face too many difficulties in utilizing desalination process. The factors are as follows:

Technical efficiency:

In present time, technological evaluation has helped GCC countries to effective technique so that desalination process does not have to face too much difficulty. For instance, Qatar has utilized Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) so that it can able to utilize the freshwater effectively. Furthermore, utilization of transmission networks will increase the efficiency of the water. In Abu Dhabi, transmission water loss is measured at the level of 17%  but GCC countries is trying to reduce the number up to 10% within next five years. Distributor organization of freshwater is presently installing automatic smart meters to have a better account for the water loss. Thus, it will help to improve the desalination process in future.

Behavioral change:

Behavioral changes within the water sector are connected highly to consumptive patterns. Many countries have implemented several rules and regulation so that it can able to restrict the consumption level of the water at an attainable level. For instance, government of different GCC countries is looking revoke the provided subsidies so that it can able to reduce the over consumption of water in an appropriate way (Bennett 2013). Furthermore, government has also increased the tariff level that the people of many countries from the world will have to pay for consumption of fresh water. Thus, it will help to create a balance between demand supply in desalination process. 

Environment:

As per the article by Dawoud (2012) desalination process will never become 100% environmentally friendly. However, several techniques have been innovated in recent time that can actually reduce the level of adverse impact on the environment. For instance, Gulf countries primarily focused towards a dual approach of regulation and technology application in reduce the adverse impact on the environment. UAE and Qatar has able to utilize renewable energy sources for the utilization of the desalination process. On the other hand, environmental ministry of the GCC countries has implemented strict regulations so that it can have lesser impact on the environmental condition.

Human capital:

As per the article by Al-Karaghouli and Kazmerski (2013), proper utilization of desalination process requires fare amount of skilled human resource capital. For that reason, Gulf countries have made huge amount of investment so that desalination process does not have to face any difficulties in executing any processes effectively. Furthermore, enough information has been provided to the desalination plants regarding several rules and regulations so that it can able to utilize its human capital in a positive way.

References:

Al Hashemi, R., Zarreen, S., Al Raisi, A., Al Marzooqi, F.A. and Hasan, S.W., 2014. A review of desalination trends in Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. Int. Interdiscip. J. Sci. Res, 1, pp.72-96.

Al-Hamahmy, M., Fath, H.E. and Khanafer, K., 2016. Techno-economical simulation and study of a novel MSF desalination process. Desalination,386, pp.1-12.

Al-Karaghouli, A. and Kazmerski, L.L., 2013. Energy consumption and water production cost of conventional and renewable-energy-powered desalination processes. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 24, pp.343-356.

Al-Nory, M.T., Brodsky, A., Bozkaya, B. and Graves, S.C., 2014. Desalination supply chain decision analysis and optimization. Desalination,347, pp.144-157.

Bahar, R. and Hawlader, M.N.A., 2013. Desalination: conversion of seawater to freshwater.

Bennett, A., 2013. 50 th Anniversary: Desalination: 50 years of progress.Filtration+ Separation, 50(3), pp.32-39.

Chandrasekharam, D., Lashin, A., Al Arifi, N., Al Bassam, A. and Varun, C., 2016. Desalination of Seawater using Geothermal Energy to Meet Future Fresh Water Demand of Saudi Arabia. Water Resources Management, pp.1-12.

Dawoud, M.A., 2012. Environmental impacts of seawater desalination: Arabian Gulf case study. International Journal of Environment and Sustainability (IJES), 1(3).

Dindi, A., Quang, D.V. and Abu-Zahra, M.R., 2015. Simultaneous carbon dioxide capture and utilization using thermal desalination reject brine. Applied Energy, 154, pp.298-308.

Eshoul, N.M., Agnew, B. and Mnider, A.M., 2016, March. Parametric study of mult-effect desalination with thermal vapour compression plant. In 2016 7th International Renewable Energy Congress (IREC) (pp. 1-6). IEEE.

Fath, H., Sadik, A. and Mezher, T., 2013. Present and future trend in the production and energy consumption of desalinated water in GCC Countries.International Journal of Thermal & Environmental Engineering, 5(2), pp.155-165.

Ghaffour, N., Missimer, T.M. and Amy, G.L., 2013. Combined desalination, water reuse, and aquifer storage and recovery to meet water supply demands in the GCC/MENA region. Desalination and Water Treatment, 51(1-3), pp.38-43.

Khan, S.U.D., Khan, S.U.D., Haider, S., El-Leathy, A., Rana, U.A., Danish, S.N. and Ullah, R., 2016. Development and techno-economic analysis of small modular nuclear reactor and desalination system across Middle East and North Africa region. Desalination.

Loutatidou, S. and Arafat, H.A., 2015. Techno-economic analysis of MED and RO desalination powered by low-enthalpy geothermal energy.Desalination, 365, pp.277-292.

Nair, M. and Kumar, D., 2013. Water desalination and challenges: The Middle East perspective: a review. Desalination and Water Treatment, 51(10-12), pp.2030-2040.

Odu, S.O., van der Ham, A.G., Metz, S. and Kersten, S.R., 2015. Design of a process for supercritical water desalination with zero liquid discharge.Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, 54(20), pp.5527-5535.

Palenzuela, P., Alarcón-Padilla, D.C. and Zaragoza, G., 2015. Large-scale solar desalination by combination with CSP: Techno-economic analysis of different options for the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf.Desalination, 366, pp.130-138.

Saha, B.B., El-Sharkawy, I.I., Shahzad, M.W., Thu, K., Ang, L. and Ng, K.C., 2016. Fundamental and application aspects of adsorption cooling and desalination. Applied Thermal Engineering, 97, pp.68-76.

Shatat, M., Worall, M. and Riffat, S., 2013. Opportunities for solar water desalination worldwide: review. Sustainable cities and society, 9, pp.67-80.

Zhou, D., Zhu, L., Fu, Y., Zhu, M. and Xue, L., 2015. Development of lower cost seawater desalination processes using nanofiltration technologies—A review. Desalination, 376, pp.109-116.

 

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