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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.

Shortlisted Nominees


Bahri desalination barge, Saudi Arabia

What is it?

A 50,000m3/d barge-mounted seawater reverse osmosis desalination plant, currently located off the Red Sea coast of Shuqaiq, Saudi Arabia. It is the first of three barges set to be delivered under a SAR760 million ($203 million) programme. The barge was built in Dubai and arrived in Shuqaiq in January 2022.

Who is involved?

The barge was built by water and wastewater specialist Metito for the client, the Saudi National Shipping Company (Bahri). Saudi Arabia’s Saline Water Conversion Corporation is the current offtaker for the plant under a 25-year water purchase agreement. Ultrafiltration (UF) pre-treatment systems were provided by Fluytec, while UF membranes were supplied by DuPont.

What makes it special?

The radical mobile solution to desalination supply offers a bold new way to address changeable demand for water in arid areas. By creating a source of water that can be moved to any coastal area at short notice, it allows water planners to cope with seasonal or changing patterns of water use in a flexible and financially sound way.

While the plants can at need be operated entirely remotely, the on-board operating team means that onshore requirements for manpower, offices and systems are kept to a bare minimum, freeing up valuable shoreline space. Taking away the need for a large seaside land footprint for desalination removes at a stroke one of the key capex and regulatory hurdles for the technology.


By disposing of brine through a perforated outlet pipe on the sea bed, at a moving location more remote from coastal waters, the mobile facility minimises the impact of brine disposal on the marine environment – one of the key arguing points from desalting opponents. This is a particular issue in sensitive coastal areas like the Red Sea, and the barge offers a more public relations-friendly way to handle brine disposal in other sensitive areas going forward.


Qingdao Baifa Phase 2, China

What is it?

The second 100,000m3/d phase of the existing 100,000m3/d Qingdao Baifa seawater reverse osmosis desalination project, located in China’s Shandong Province, providing potable water to municipal end-users. The new capacity makes the plant the largest municipal seawater desalination plant in China.

Who is involved?

The project was developed by the city-owned Qingdao Baifa Seawater Desalination Company with construction managed by a consortium comprising Qingdao Yishui Engineering, China Construction Eighth Engineering Division, and Sepco III. Equipment was supplied by Andritz and Sulzer (pumps), LG Chem and Vontron (RO membranes), Beijing Origin and Qingdao Qingshujinmo (UF membranes), BRAY (valves), and ERI (energy recovery devices).

What makes it special?

In an unprecedented approach to project financing in the region, the Qingdao Baifa Phase 2 project was primarily financed by China’s first-ever blue bonds, which were issued by the developer’s largest shareholder, Qingdao Water Group, to support construction of the plant. The bonds raised more than two thirds of the project’s total RMB744 million ($108 million) cost, representing a new era for project financing in one of the world’s largest desalination markets.

Taking full advantage of modern digital technology, the plant’s treatment process is completely automated. Through the use of digital automation, asset management and safety control, the development team was able to reduce the plant’s physical footprint by 30%, as well as reduce labour costs by around 6%. The savings demonstrate the strength of digital optimisation in unlocking new efficiencies at some of the water industry’s most costly assets.


The project makes extensive use of technical innovations, using on-site solar PV power generation to reduce carbon emissions and for the first time employing fusion-bonded epoxy coatings to provide an effective layer of corrosion protection for the plant’s pipes. With the plant also featuring China’s first scientific research platform for pilot testing seawater desalination equipment, the facility represents an important asset in driving desalination forwards in China.


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.


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.


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