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UAEs water problem: why waste, waste water?

Dr Jaihan Fattah School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus Abstract
In the hot, dry climate of the Middle East, natural fresh groundwater is a precious, and rapidly fading, resource. This report focuses on the widely-used method of desalination, a process which converts seawater into potable drinking water, and its importance within the United Arab Emirates. Also included are the negative effects of desalination, and any viable alternatives to the process. A case study has been chosen to provide an in-depth analysis and description of a functioning plant in the United Arab Emirates. This report talks about the Fujairah desalination plant that was constructed in 2002 by DOOSAN.

1.0 Introduction
Although resources are limited, the UAE has one of the top water consumption rates in the world. The global national average water usage is 250 liters per person each day, but for UAE it is stated that water usage is 550 liters per person per day. The environment agency Abu Dhabi has reported that since 2003, the groundwater supply of UAE has been shortened, and the level of water consumption is 24 times the natural restore ability. For now 641 m2 groundwater resources are available, but unfortunately only less than 3% of it is fresh water. The reports also show that groundwater has 71.2% contribution to the total demand of the water. The water potentially available from non-conventional sources does not take into index consideration, such as desalination or reuse. Typically, cured sewage water cant be used for every purpose and it is used for irrigation. Though call for treated water should not be an issue, the limitation of supply channels stands in the way of a direct demand and supply mechanism, making a comparative part of the treated waste water to go to waste.[4] In arid and semi-arid parts of the world like United Arab Emirates, the attention has shifted to sea-water desalination. The very first desalination plant in the United Arab Emirates was built in 1969 and is located in Abu Dhabi. Desalinated water is subsidized by the government so it looks attractive from economic point of view. But for bearing the real cost of water desalination the government has spends billions of dirhams, The main focus of the UAE strategy has been on water desalination and skills for this movement have developed, and the costs have been reduced. [5]

2.0 Desalination
2.1 An overview In arid regions where ground water is very little and drinking water is hard to provide to the community; an alternative solution to meet the demand is by converting sea water to fresh water by the process known as desalination. This can be done by different treatments based on the salinity and turbidity of the water (drawn from the sea or underground sources). The processes remove excess

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chemicals like calcium carbonate or sodium chloride resulting in water; with generally less than 500mg/l [1] of dissolved solids; and seawater which is a high concentrate of salt solution. The process is mainly used in geographical locations where fresh water is in scarce supply. There are many desalination techniques (which include multi stage flash, reverse osmosis, nuclear desalination, freezing, geothermal desalination, solar humidification...etc.) However, multi stage flash technique, and reverse osmosis techniques are the main processes used in al-Fujairah plant (United Arab Emirates). [4] 2.2 Why use a desalination plant? It is a cost effective way and it is a non-rainfall dependent source of fresh water in regions with low availability of water. The Fujairah desalination plant provides 100 MIGD (million imperial gallons per day) [3] by using mainly two processes; the multistage flash (MSF) and the reverse osmosis (RO) process. In Fujairah the plant provides two thirds of the fresh water by using the multistage flash process and the rest is produced by the reverse osmosis process. [6]

3.0 case study

3.1 Fujairah desalination plant Al Fujairah plant primarily runs on natural gases. This plant is a hybrid plant because it uses both Reverse Osmosis (RO) and Multi-Stage Flash (MSF) process technologies to produce fresh water. It is Located close to Qaida power station in 5 kilometers to the south of Khor fakkan. The Fujairah plant is known as the first hybrid plant built in the Middle East, and the biggest desalination hybrid plant in the world. 3.1 plant description1 The Fujairah project is unique in the Middle East in that it uses a combination of two different desalination technologies, using reverse osmosis and multi-stage flash systems. It is also one of the largest plants in the world to use this combination of technologies. The Fujairah plant uses one two stage RO plant to produce a capacity of 37.5 million gallons per day [3]). According to this process a semi-permeable membrane of 0.0001 micron pore size [4] is used to diffuse fresh water from sea water under pressure. The remaining water is a high concentration of brine that will be removed at a constant rate; this is done so that the energy required to overcome the osmotic pressure is maintained at a controllable rate. MSF (Multi Stage Flashing process) is a distillation process used in the Fujairah plant to desalinate the seawater and generate freshwater from it. The water vapor pressure is reduced, in order to boil the water at lower temperatures and reduce the energy required. The seawater is heated and sent through different chambers and the water vapor, which is free of salt, can be removed and condensed to create freshwater, this is also known as flashing. The process continues until the water reaches atmospheric pressure. This hybrid desalination system is designed in a way so that it can provide major operational savings by decreasing consumption of fuel by up to 25% compared with a similar-sized plant based only on MSF technology. There are other key criteria which influencing the design of the desalination plant such as feed the quality of water, 2product water requirements and compatibility with the cogeneration of electricity.

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The system for manufacture water at the Fujairah desalination plant is comprised of five MSF units designed to produce 57 million l/day each and one RO unit with a design capacity of 171 million l/day. 3.2 plants impact on the environment The planets impact on the environment can be categorized according to different stages of the project, as construction, operation and waste disposal stage of the project. Initially, as for the construction stage, it is assumed that the site location of the plant would have an important environmental impact on delicate local ecosystems containing heritage listed sand dunes, sensitive wetlands and protected marine areas. Secondly, there are a number of environmental concerns associated with the operation of a desalination planet, including, high energy use and resulting greenhouse gas production, impacts to marine ecology and physical destruction to the marine environment. Its mainly because of the energy used in the desalination process is primarily electricity and heat. So, considerable amounts of greenhouse gasses are produced by desalination plants due to the high energy requirements. A desalination plant using reverse osmosis technology would require less energy than other desalination technologies such as distillation. Overseas research has showed that the more single ecological problem related with desalination plants that use seawater is that organisms living with in the vicinity of the desalination plant are sucked into the desalination equipment. And finally desalination plants produce liquid wastes that may contain high salt concentrations, chemicals used during defueling of plant equipment and pre-treatment, as well as, toxic metals (which are most likely to be present if the discharge water was in contact with metallic materials used in construction of the plant facilities). It is also to be noted that liquid wastes may be either discharged directly into the sea or combined with other discharges (e.g., power plant cooling water or sewage treatment plant effluent) before ocean discharge. Instead of being discharged into a sewer for treatment in sewage treatment plant, or dried out.3 3.3 Suggestions to reduce the impact of the plant on the environment In order to reduce the effect of the plant on the environment different methods that minimize energy consumption, harmful scaling and fouling effects on the membrane have to be developed and implemented. Although fuel is readily available in a region like Fujairah and running the plant on fuel is cheaper it is necessary to consider other effects of the plant on the environment. These new methods allow for increase in performance and efficiency for high production and also helps reduce excessive stress on water bodies. Another method that could lower the effect of the plant on the atmosphere is by using solar technology to run the plant. Use solar energy as a power source; the UAE has a high solar energy potential. Combining the technological advancements in capturing solar energy being researched and implemented in Masdar City, it is possible to maximize the amount of energy captured to be utilized for the processes in the plant. This can be an expensive process however desalination plants are situated in the outskirts of the city making it easier to capture and utilize solar energy. Alternative methods like carbon adsorption can reduce the effect of disposing harmful chemicals directly into the environment. Concentrated brine is unrecyclable and has negative effect on the environment hence methods to dispose it must be considered. A possible method to dispose the brine is by using evaporation ponds which are places where the toxic substances are stored. Another method would be by discharging the waste brine

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into special ponds that have gone dry over the years. Brine has a large number of valuable minerals but methods have to be developed to extract it. A possible way to recover certain minerals will be by using rotating disks within to create high centrifugal forces that could separate components of different weights [5] . An advantage of using this method is that there is no need for pre-treatment, chemicals or heat. Commonly brine is diluted with substances and sprayed onto golf course. A new method of brine disposal is by its chemical treatment with carbon dioxide that can be environmental friendly. By this method brine is converted into reusable sodium bicarbonate based on a modified Solvays process. The other by product is calcium chloride and ammonium chloride that can be recycled.

4.0 Conclusion
Throughout this technical report, the authors have described the process of desalination, in its various forms, the impact of seawater desalination on the Gulf region, and in particular the United Arab Emirates, and has examined in detail the case study of a combined power and water plant in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The authors of this text have concluded that desalination of seawater in the United Arab Emirates has had a huge positive impact on the success and stability of the country, and the region in general. Of course, the negative environmental impacts of the process of desalination were also outlined in detail, so a trade-off always occurs. The authors conclude that it is imperative that the governmental authorities in the United Arab Emirates continue to invest in the sector of Research & Development concerning desalination. So thats why it is suggested to take the precautionary principle while planning the future environmental policy in order to protect the marine environment while preventing potential risk.

5.0 References
1. UNEP-United Nations Environment Programme (1997) 2.1 Desalination by reverse osmosis [online] available from <> [22 January 2012] 2. Osman A. Hamed; Mohammad AK. Al-Sofi; Monazir Imam; G. M. Mustafa; Khalid Bamardoud; Hamad Al-Washmi (2001) 'SIMULATION OF MULTISTAGE FLASH DESALINATION PROCESS.' DESALINATION JOURNAL 134, (2001) 195-203 134, 12 3. Goetz-D. Wolff, Stefan Lauxtermann, Ramesh Kumar (n. d.) Plant Optimization [online] available from < 3c/$file/39-43%202m736_eng72dpi.pdf> [30 January 2012] 4. Muftah H. El-Naas (n. d.) Reject Brine Management [online] available from <> [2 February 2012] 5. Handbook of Drinking Water Quality." Journal of Environmental Health 1 Oct. 2003: 469. Print. 6. Majorie van Leijen. (2012). UAE's Water Problems. Available: Last accessed 25th Aug 2012.

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