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Desalination Plant of the Year: Shortlist

For the desalination plant, commissioned in 2019, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.

Shortlisted Nominees


El Alamein, Egypt

What is it?

A €110 million seawater desalination plant with a capacity of 150,000 m3/d designed to serve a population of one million people at the New Alamein City in Egypt.

Who is involved?

The project was financed by the Egyptian government and delivered by lead EPC contractor FCC Aqualia, with constructed completed on 1st July 2019. The plant features high-pressure membranes from LG, Sulzer pumps, Energy Recovery, Inc. energy recovery devices, Belgicast valves, and a Siemens control system. The contract included one year of operations and maintenance, also undertaken by Aqualia.

What makes it special?

The plant is the joint largest in Egypt, and as the largest desalination plant serving Egypt’s northern coast its commissioning represents a pivotal moment for the sustainability of the country’s future water security at a time when access to water resources has become a critical matter of national security. As the first desalination plant to be brought online to support Alamein’s development it helps to soothe the country’s rapidly growing population and urban buildout.

Located on sandy coastal soil, the project had to overcome challenging construction conditions in order to successfully meet a rigid schedule for fast-track delivery of the desalination plant and associated facilities.


The project also deploys an environmentally conscious brine disposal system, featuring blending of brine with cleaning water and a 1,400m submerged discharge outlet to achieve better dispersion of salts, in compliance with stringent Egyptian environmental regulations and reducing widespread fears over the impact of brine disposal into the sea.


Neom Desalination Plant, Saudi Arabia

What is it?

A 125,000m3/d seawater reverse osmosis plant built to supply water to Saudi Arabia’s planned mega-development NEOM. The plant is a vital stepping stone to fulfilling the role of the “smart city” role in the Kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030 programme.

Who is involved?

The project was delivered on an EPC basis by Metito, whose scope covered civil, marine and electromechanical works delivered over a period of 12 months, including a 4MW solar power installation supplying power to the desalination plant. LG supplied the reverse osmosis membrane for the plant, and Energy Recovery, Inc. supplied energy recovery devices.

What makes it special?

NEOM’s inaugural desalination project was delivered on a breakneck schedule, involving air freight of the majority of large-scale equipment used in the project. The result was the delivery of 50,000m3/d of desalination capacity just five months after award, and the remainder delivered within 12 months, a truly spectacular achievement of contracting skill.

The project benefited from tight collaboration between Metito and Saudi water sources including the state-owned Saline Water Conversion Corporation, making the plant a truly national project for perhaps the country’s most high-profile development of recent decades.


The 4MW solar power generation system was designed and fabricated in Germany, and forms a crucial part of the plant’s cost-saving measures. Metito executed the system in record time, making use of roof space to save the plant footprint for further extensions. The solar power system has an estimated payback period of just five years, proving the case for integration of renewable power into even the most high-profile and high-pressure projects.


Rancho San Lucas Multi-Stage Multi-Purpose Desalination Plant

What is it?

A 360m3/d seawater desalination unit serving the Rancho San Lucas resort on Mexico’s Baja California coast, featuring the first successful field operation of the novel high recovery multi-stage multi-turbo seawater reverse osmosis configuration.

Who is involved?

The Rancho San Lucas MSMT project was a collaborative effort by FEDCO, Water Technologies de México (WTM), Hydranautics, and American Water Chemicals (AWC) for the client, Solmar Resorts. WTM built the skid using turbochargers optimised for high recovery operation with design input from FEDCO to implement the MSMT concept and recommendations from Hydranautics and AWC on membrane and chemical selections.

What makes it special?

Building upon lessons learned in managing high recovery seawater desalination at the turn of the millennium, the multi-stage multi-turbo desalination unit at Rancho San Lucas demonstrates that seawater recovery can be maximized with high reliability and energy efficiency with low capital and operating costs using standard pretreatment, RO membranes, membrane housings and instrumentation.

This first installation allowed the hotel operator to achieve required permeate production from limited well capacity. The unit has since racked up over one year of continuous operation without downtime or loss of performance. Built originally as a pilot, the hotel purchased the MSMT to serve as its prime source of potable water in lieu of an existing conventional SWRO system.


The MSMT is a fully integrated multi-stage desalination solution that uses turbochargers to provide a pressure boost to each stage, achieving balanced membrane flux and flow velocity for optimized performance throughout the membrane array. For Rancho San Lucas, the MSMT achieved 60% recovery and an enviable specific energy consumption. The success of the Rancho San Lucas MSMT has spurred cooperation with DuPont, Hydranautics, and others to usher in the next generation of RO process design based on ultra-high pressure membranes to take recovery to new highs.


Shoaiba 3 Exp. 2 IWP, Saudi Arabia

What is it?

A 250,000m3/d independently owned SWRO desalination facility, forming part of the Shoaiba 3 power and water complex in Saudi Arabia, and supplying water to meet the needs of more than one million residents in Jeddah, Mecca and Taif.

Who is involved?

The $253 million facility was developed and is owned 100% by ACWA Power, with the Saudi Water Partnership Company (SWPC) acting as the offtaker. Construction was carried out by a joint venture of Abengoa and Fisia Italimpianto and the plant is operated by ACWA subsidiary NOMAC. Equipment was supplied by Toray (high-pressure membranes), Torishima and Sulzer (pumps) and ERI (energy recovery devices).

What makes it special?

As the first project to be successfully completed under the new wave of water privatisation projects led by SWPC, the plant places a flag for PPP in Saudi Arabia, a crucial success at a time when the kingdom is looking to private finance to achieve its staggeringly ambitious water infrastructure goals. As the first major infrastructure project to be 100% owned by the private sector in the Kingdom, it shows a market that is opening up even as it is increasing the pace of success.

Despite having to cope with a wide range of hostile operating conditions, careful design work by EPC contractors mean the plant is deftly optimised to balance the highest levels of efficiency while keeping to the stringent capex requirements seen in today’s desalination market.


An ultra-compact design reduces footprint and unnecessary capital costs, while chemical dosing and post-treatment facilities are fine-tuned to keep the operating burden to a minimum.

The project was completed just 21 months after the signing of agreements with the client, a truly stunning achievement for a plant of this scale, complexity and importance, and a timeline which sets a standard for ambitious contractors across this industry.


The Global Water Awards 2020 is proudly sponsored by:

Dupont Water Solutions

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