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Desalination Plant of the Year

For the desalination plant, commissioned in 2020, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.

Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant, Singapore

What is it?

A 137,000m3/d dual-feed reverse osmosis desalination plant, drawing water from the Marina Reservoir and the Singapore Strait. The plant is Singapore’s fourth major desalination facility and a key part of the city-state’s water security strategy.

Who is involved?

The project was delivered under a 25-year design-build-own-operate contract by project developer Keppel Infrastructure for its client, Singapore’s Public Utilities Board. Key equipment was provided by Nijhuis (DAF units), Amiad (strainer systems), Pentair(UF membranes), Hydranautics (RO membranes), and Xylem (UV disinfection). AECOM and subconsultant ILF supported Keppel on engineering, while Black & Veatch advised the client on technical works.

What makes it special?

The unique dual-mode design means the plant can switch from the reservoir water supply to seawater at the drop of a hat, responding to fluctuating weather and availability. This helps optimise operation costs during reservoir mode, when only lower-pressure RO treatment is needed. In the face of increasingly erratic weather conditions, the option to switch to reservoir supply also makes the plant a crucial line of defence against the risks of stormwater flooding.

The plant is a model of efficiency. The use of DAF as a pretreatment stage reduced the footprint by 30%. The direct coupling configuration retains booster pressure and minimises pumping cycles, significantly reducing energy consumption. Meanwhile the first use of UV for drinking water disinfection in Singapore eliminates the need for dedicated chemical handling.


As well as being the most compact plant in Singapore to date, the plant’s site is dedicated to public benefits. The entire facility and pumping station are located underground, with park space on the roof made available for public recreation. Rainwater harvesting and irrigation further improve the site’s energy efficiency, while reducing the load to the drainage network in the vicinity.


Khobar I SWRO, Saudi Arabia

What is it?

A 210,000m3/d reverse osmosis desalination plant serving around 350,000 people in the city of Khobar, on the east coast of Saudi Arabia, as well as providing water for national oil company Saudi Aramco.

Who is involved?

The plant was designed and supplied by lead contractor Acciona for its client, the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), which will own and operate the facility. Key components were supplied by Energy Recovery Inc. (ERDs), LG Chem (RO membranes), ROPV (pressure vessels), Andritz (high-pressure pumps) and Piedmont (filtration), among others.

What makes it special?

In a year when the pandemic made international travel and work on the ground difficult or impossible for many projects, the innovative use of a digital twin approach meant a team of specialists from Madrid was able to test and commission of the plant remotely. This saw the project delivered to schedule, hugely reduced the number of personnel on site and offered a glimpse into the future of project management.

The speedy and safe commissioning of the Khobar plant marked the start of a massive rehabilitation programme for SWCC. By replacing its huge portfolio of ageing thermal desalination plants with ultra-modern thermal devices, Khobar and its following projects will massively reduce the energy footprint of the world’s largest desalination body and result in annual operating cost savings running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.


The plant ably copes with the mixed demands of municipal and industrial water users at a time when demand from both is growing rapidly. After being brought online at a time when housebound families were using more water the plant made a huge contribution to the utility mix, and soon after commissioning was comfortably supplying in excess of its nominal capacity.

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