IBM, KACST to slash desal costs with solar power

A new desal plant will slash water, energy costs by using solar power

Conventional desal tech such as this could soon be boosted by solar power.
Conventional desal tech such as this could soon be boosted by solar power.

IBM and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Saudi Arabia’s national research and development organisation, has announced a research collaboration aimed at creating a water desalination plant powered by solar electricity, which could reduce water and energy costs significantly.

A new, energy-efficient desalination plant, with an expected production capacity of 30 000 m3 a day will be built in the city of Al Khafji to serve 100 000 people. KACST plans to power the plant with the ultra-high concentrator photovoltaic (UHCPV) technology being developed jointly by IBM and KACST.

The desalination process itself hinges on another IBM-KACST technology, a nano-membrane that filters out salts as well as potentially harmful toxins in water, while using less energy than other forms of water purification.

The two most commonly-used methods for seawater desalination are thermal technology and reverse osmosis, both at a cost ranging from 2.5 to 5.5 Saudi Riyals per cubic metre. By combining solar power with the new nano-membrane, the goal of this project is to significantly reduce the cost of desalinating seawater at these plants.

“Currently, Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world, and we continue to invest in new ways of making access to fresh water more affordable,” said KACST VP: research institutes Dr Turki Al Saud.

“Our collaborative research with KACST has led to innovative technologies in the areas of solar power and of water desalination,” said IBM Big Green Innovations VP Sharon Nunes.

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