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NEOM inks deal to construct first 'solar dome' tech desalination plant

The ‘smart’ approach harnesses solar power to produce low-cost, eco-friendly water without any damage to marine life

NEOM inks deal to construct first desalination plant with 'solar dome'
NEOM / Solar Water
NEOM inks deal to construct first desalination plant with 'solar dome'

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund-backed (PIF) flagship NEOM gigaproject has inked an agreement with UK-based Solar Water to build the first ever desalination plant based on “solar dome” technology in NEOM, which is located in the northwest region of the kingdom.

Work on the first “solar dome” will begin in February and is expected to be completed by end-2020.

The first-of-its-kind technology will be 100% carbon neutral, and is likely to shape the future of water desalination in the kingdom and the Middle East region, and addresses a key issue – access to fresh water.

The use of the “solar dome” technology – touted as a ‘smart approach’ to desalination – harnesses solar power for water extraction, producing low-cost, environmental-friendly water, which is in line with NEOM’s aim to be an emerging hub for conservation and innovation.

At an estimated $0.34/m3, the cost of producing water through the “solar dome” technology will be significantly lower than desalination plants that use reverse osmosis methods.

The desalination process, which can also operate at night due to the stored solar energy generated throughout the day, will reduce the total amount of brine that is created during the water extraction process.

The solar dome process helps prevent any damage to marine life as no brine is discharged into the sea.

The approach, which was developed at the UK’s Cranfield University and is being implemented by Solar Water, represents the first large-scale use of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology in seawater desalination.

The process sees seawater pumped into a hydrological “solar dome” made from glass and steel, before it is superheated, evaporated, and precipitated as fresh water.

Commenting on the project, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, HE Abdulrahman Al-Fadli, said: “NEOM’s adoption of this pilot supports Saudi Arabia’s sustainability goals, as outlined in the country’s National Water Strategy 2030, and is fully aligned with the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations.”

The chief executive officer of NEOM, Nadhmi Al-Nasr, added: “Easy access to abundant seawater and fully renewable energy resources means NEOM is perfectly placed to produce low-cost, sustainable fresh water through solar desalination.”

Al-Nasr added: “This type of technology is a powerful reminder of our commitment to supporting innovation, championing environmental conservation and delivering exceptional livability. Working together with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture we can expand the implementation of this technology beyond NEOM.”

NEOM’s solar desalination project will serve as a test case for other water scarce countries that are struggling to generate environmentally safe and sustainable sources of fresh water.

Commenting on the project’s future potential, the head of the Water division at NEOM, Gavin van Tonder, said: “We’re really excited by the prospect of bringing cutting edge water technology and fresh industry thinking to NEOM. By using solar dome desalination techniques, we can build a highly effective, efficient water utility that is both future-oriented and environmentally responsible.”

NEOM is being built on a 26,500 km2 area in northwestern Saudi Arabia. It offers unique investment opportunities in economic sectors and real-estate development.

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