Saudi Desalination Investing

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted July 3, 2013

Saudi Arabia plans on upgrading its desalination industry.

French utility company Veolia Environment (NYSE: VE) announced a contract win with Marafiq, a leading Saudi Arabian water and electricity provider, in the construction of an ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis desalination facility in Saudi Arabia.

water drop$310 million will be devoted to design and construction of the plant, and an additional $92 million will go toward its operation for the next 10 years. There is also the option of extending the contract for an additional 20 years.

The facility will benefit the Sadara petrochemical complex, jointly owned by Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) and Aramco, which provides glues and solvents for packages and automotives. The water supplied from the plant will be used as boiler feed water in the Sadara facility. Production is scheduled to begin in June of 2015.

In order to meet Marafiq’s high water standards, Veolia plans to use ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis to purify the water. There are four total steps for the water treatment process.

Number one involves using air flotation to capture water particles in the air. Second, the ultra-filtration method will take place, which involves water being forced with hydrostatic pressure through a semi-permeable membrane that produces low water.

The third step requires reverse osmosis, the process of reversing low water potential back to high potential. And the final process involved demineralization.

According to projections, 148,800 cubic meters per day of water could be treated, with 178,650 cubic meters per day during peak times.

Scientists and researchers are hoping this form of desalination technology will be upgraded to provide a greater source of drinking and irrigation water. It can also be more helpful in the fracking industry.

Desalination Water Advances

Desalination will play a more substantial role in providing people in the third world with access to clean drinking water while sustaining crops and keeping livestock alive.

The method used by Veolia involves the traditional membrane method of desalinating water, but the reverse osmosis method is one of the leading techniques of purifying water. A classic and more nature-driven method also involves distillation, which involves converting water into vapors from heat and using condensation to produce purified water.

But there are developing techniques that could make desalination cheaper while achieving the same results. Under a method being developed by university researchers, water can be desalinated using electric fields without the use of membranes. The membrane filters would be replaced with microscale electrodes. This electrochemical method is so efficient it could be powered using store-bought batteries.

As of now, scientists have been able to achieve a 25% desalination process, but drinking water needs 99% desalination. However, scientists are hopeful they will be able to reach the 99% in the near future.

Aside from human consumption, this form of cheap desalination would grow by leaps and bounds in the energy industry.

Desalination & Energy

Desalinated water will play a more important role in providing an extra source of water to energy companies not otherwise accessible in previous years. And various countries around the world are looking to extract vital shale oil and gas resources to imitate the current drilling successes in North America.

Fracking is the key to unlocking shale reserves, and the only way to pull off a successful frack is to have highly pressurized sand, water, and other chemicals blasting shale rocks. But even fracking water needs to be purified to prevent salt and other chemicals from mixing in with energy resources.

A typical fracking job requires millions of gallons of water, and there is also a concern that a water shortage in Texas could forestall operations, which would be a devastating blow to the U.S. energy boom.

The United States and Canada are two nations that could make better use of new desalination technologies, since they are the only two countries engaging in commercial shale extraction. But developing countries, and nations new to the shale revolution, could benefit in the future.


China, a place with over 30 desalination plants, is one country looking to invest in fracking and extracting shale resources in the country. But certain parts of China are suffering from water scarcity. New desalination methods would allow more Chinese villagers to get access to clean water, and the Chinese government could expedite various fracking plans across the country without interruption.

Veolia had good business sense to partner with Marafiq in the Middle East, since that part of the region holds most of the world’s desalination plants to combat water scarcity and to solve water rights issues. Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait, among others, have looked into investing more in desalination plants.

Kazakhstan and Japan also have a fair share of desalination plants for their nuclear sectors, but Japan’s desalination industry remains uncertain, since the country has shut down most of its nuclear reactors.

Regardless of the country, a new form of desalination technology could be helpful in providing companies with an extra source of water for oil and gas fracking or other energy uses.

Desalination Companies

Mainline companies like GE (NYSE: GE) and Dow Chemical have been involved in traditional water distillation, but there are lesser known companies you might not have heard of.

Atlantis Technologies has created a cost-efficient method of extracting salt from oil and wastewater using super-capacitors and traditional membranes. This form of desalination technology came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to give valuable drinking water from the ocean to troops overseas. Atlantis Technologies has a specific eye for the North American market because of the shale oil and gas booms in Canada and the United States.

Altela is also engaged in the desalination water process, with a diverse clientèle ranging from farmers who need irrigation sources and drinking water for livestock to energy companies that need frackable water. Altela takes a more natural approach by doing away with pumps and other forms of mechanical-ware, instead mimicking Mother Nature by using solar power to separate distilled water.

Oasys Water also uses the natural process, or forward osmosis, to help energy companies properly dispose of wastewater.

These companies may have different methods of desalinating water, but it is going to be a $17 billion industry by 2016, and desalination will tap into many fields going forward.


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