While the GCC region has been generally utilising thermal desalination technology to meet its requirements for potable water, in recent years there has been a shift to a reverse osmosis (RO) process, according to Engie, a French multinational utility company.
Latifa Lahsine, Vice President Engineering, Engie, tells Gulf Construction that the shift is due to RO being less energy-intensive. When RO was first introduced, it faced the challenge of high Capex (capital expenditure) costs. “The proven reliability and robustness of thermal desalination and the industry’s expertise gained over the years of developing and operating large thermal plants, hindered the adoption of membrane desalination. But innovations in pre-treatment technologies, and the introduction of energy recovery devices reduced high pre-treatment costs and improved the overall energy consumption,” Lahsine explains.
These developments, combined with improvements in operational efficiency, reduced the costs of producing potable water using membrane technology and ultimately this led to the growth of RO desalination systems in the region, she adds.
Engie has been helping the region meet its growing water desalination needs. The company played a key role in the development of Oman’s largest independent reverse osmosis plant, Barka 4 Independent Water Project (IWP).
The 281,000-cu-m-per-day plant is located on the sultanate’s Batinah coast and claims a record for lowest electrical energy consumption for a facility of its size. The ultra-modern energy recovery process integrated into the design is said to offer more energy efficiency than the current state-of-the-art thermal desalination system.
“Barka 4 is a tribute to the success of reverse osmosis technology, and a new high point for desalination in the country,” Lahsine says with pride.
The Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWPC) floated a request for qualification for the development of the IWP in late 2015.
The project was delivered by Barka Desalination Company, a consortium comprising Itochu (36 per cent), Suez (27 per cent), Engie (27 per cent) and WJ Towell (10 per cent). The consortium executed the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) work.
“It was an enormous project with more than 2,000 people working on the construction at its peak. However, the successful delivery came less than 30 months after work started – a staggering achievement for a project of this scale,” she remarks.
“Technology will continue to evolve, and we can expect to see advances in RO technology particularly with regards to membranes configuration,” Lahsine concludes.