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Desalination Plant of the Year

For the desalination plant, commissioned in 2022, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.

Taweelah IWP, Abu Dhabi

What is it?

The world’s largest operational membrane-driven desalination plant, with an unprecedented capacity of 909,000m3/d, located in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and capable of supplying potable water to more than 350,000 households. The seawater reverse osmosis (RO) plant features a 50MW on-site solar PV power generation facility and was delivered as an independent water project (IWP) under the build-own-operate model.

Who is involved?

The Taweelah IWP was delivered by a development team comprising Taqa and Mubadala (60%) alongside ACWA Power (40%), with an EPC team comprising Abengoa (desal) and Sepco III and Power China (civil works) for the client, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy. Toray supplied the plant with RO membranes for the ROPV pressure vessels, alongside Flowserve pumps, TALIS valves, ERI energy recovery devices, and a Siemens control system.

What makes it special?

On top of being the world’s largest operational membrane desalination plant, the Taweelah IWP is also one of the most efficient. Through the use of state-of-the-art technologies and intelligent design, the plant delivers its mammoth production capacity at an incredible 2.81kWh/m3, the lowest figure ever at a desalination mega-plant. The energy design represents a shining example of how efficient modern desalination can be.

The plant is the first mass-scale greenfield seawater RO plant to be built in Abu Dhabi and represents a landmark step towards decarbonising the emirate’s historically thermally-driven desalination portfolio. The new IWP, which uses a solar PV plant to supply more than 30% of its energy, will reduce Abu Dhabi’s carbon footprint by 2.5 million tons CO2e per year, marking the dawn of a new era of environmentally sustainable desalination in the emirate.

 

The project involved significant financial innovation. By leveraging the benefits of co-located solar power generation, the development team was able to overcome the challenge of comparatively high energy prices in Abu Dhabi and deliver water below $0.50/m3. Taweelah is also the world’s first desalination project to hold a “sustainable loan” qualification.

Distinction

Shuqaiq 3, Saudi Arabia

What is it?

A 450,000m3/d seawater reverse osmosis plant located on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, providing potable water to 2 million people in the areas of Asir and Jizan and delivered on a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis. The plant is one of the first desalination mega-projects to address its carbon footprint directly with a captive solar PV power facility.

Who is involved?

The BOOT project was delivered by a development team comprising Marubeni (45%), Abdul Latif Jameel Energy (30%), Rawafid Holding (15%), and Acciona (10%) for the client, the Saudi Water Partnership Company. Acciona was chief plant supplier. Equipment was supplied by companies including LG Chem (RO membranes), ROPV (pressure vessels), Flowserve and Sulzer (pumps), and TALIS and Rotork (valves), while ERI supplied the energy recovery devices.

What makes it special?

The client’s requirement that the project must have a maximum specific energy consumption (SEC) of no more than 3.5kWh/m3 presented a major challenge for the project team. However, by using a pressure centre approach, optimising the membrane configuration, and applying efficiency improvements in every corner of the design, the target was not only met but significantly surpassed. The team delivered the plant with an SEC of just 3.23kWh/m3 and a water price of $0.52/m3, demonstrating the potential of canny design.

With the global pandemic causing major disruption to project timelines all around the world, Shuqaiq 3 was delivered with only a nominal delay of 6.5%. Despite the shutdown of factories for core equipment, unreliable component shipping, and a complete ban on international flights in Saudi Arabia at times, the project team was able to adapt to and overcome these unexpected challenges and deliver the project within the original financial budget.

 

The project has opened new opportunities to develop local talent in the world’s largest desalination market, maximising local involvement in construction (40%) and operations (70%), as well as the use of locally sourced components. With the development team now offering academic and practical training at the plant for locals, Shuqaiq 3 has become a new centre for the development of water industry professionals in Saudi Arabia.

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