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Water

Introduction

Water is one of the most important substances on earth​, especially in the Kingdom where deserts cover a large portion of its area. Hence, it is crucial to develop new technologies that not only deliver pure water but also utilize less energy and resource​.

Introduction

KACST has great interest in the development of desalination technologies and has also funded several projects that aim at developing water technologies such as osmotic membranes, porous membranes, and ultrafiltration membranes that are used in several water technologies related fields.

Water technologies are divided into several types, such as water desalination, and each has many branches and divisions. Each technique is applied depending on the amount of water to be produced, to the energy needed for operation as well as water quality needed, and several other considerations. Water treatment technologies are considered important for the purpose of removing various contaminants that are harmful to humans, or to agricultural or industrial purposes. Water treatment technologies, on the other hand, are divided into several branches, depending on the required quality of water produced. For example, filtration technologies using organic and inorganic membranes are the most widely used technologies for removing particulates and organics with large molecular weights. Physical and chemical oxidation treatment technologies are also important and can be used for removing harmful chemical compounds in water.

The goals of the National Center for Water Treatment and Desalination Technology at KACST are:

  • Development and localization of water treatment and desalination technologies.
  • Research collaboration with local and international research institutes.
  • Establishment of a database for water treatment and desalination technologies.
  • Development of efficient pilot plants, experimental rigs and technical products for water treatment and desalination.
  • Recruitment of talented scientists and engineers in water technology.

Projects

The aim of this project is to find a reliable method for evaluating different sites for water treatment and desalination that can be applied for commercial plants. The project will also evaluate different types of reverse osmosis membranes with different sizes and different operational conditions. For this reason, a smart mobile pilot plant was designed in a way that can be used for multiple kinds of water treatment and desalination processes. This mobile pilot plant can be used to study multiple locations either for seawater or well water, to assess the pretreatment process based on sand filtration or modern methods such as ultrafiltration. This pilot plant is operated by a fully automated system (SCADA) to control and monitor the operational parameters.

For this purpose, a mobile pilot plant has been designed with a production capacity of 3 m³/day to test and check suitable sites for desalination plants as well as testing the pretreatment process using various types of chemicals and feed water in order to reduce the treatment cost and produce high quality water.

Rare earth metals, such as cobalt, vanadium and indium or the more abundant lithium became the limiting bottleneck of several new technologies. Lithium is a components of Li-Ion-batteries such as an electric vehicles. Also, Vanadium is a strategic metal for large-scale energy storage (Redox-Flow-Batteries). The aim of the project is the development of new concepts for the efficient recovery of valuable compounds (e.g. lithium and vanadium) from concentrated brines as by-product of desalination plants. Electrochemical concepts will be targeted, as an ionic separation is expected to be more efficient if an electric field is applied. The selectivity towards lithium will be managed through lithium-ion-conductive membranes.

Advanced materials are the key components for the proposed technology. Ion-selective membranes and electrodes will be developed and tested in electrochemical cell set-ups towards selectivity, stability, efficiency and costs.

In case of success, this project will be able to provide the technology for exploiting the most abundant source for rare metals (seawater) or even recovering valuable metals from waste (brines as by-product of desalination plants).

For water desalination, we aim to develop anti-fouling barriers for commercial polyamide (PA) membranes based on novel supramolecular and hybrid covalent/mechanically interlocked architectures. Our goals are to (i) promote and support water security, public health and economic development for the Kingdom, (ii) improve the current technology to reduce cost, enhance performance, and increase the efficiency of water treatment, and (iii) minimize the environmental impact.

Fuel cell technology is an alternative and renewable clean energy source that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. It is unique in being both a method and portable energy as well as a mass energy production. Proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) are one of the most promising candidates, for their high performance and environment-friendly properties (producing water as the only byproduct). The efficiency of PEMFC rely mostly on proton exchange membranes (PEMs), which are more efficient than a traditional engine. Indeed, in comparison to the 30% efficiency observed for the internal combustion engine, PEMFCs exhibit high power conversion efficiencies of up to 60%.

The aim of this project is to synthesize friendly and efficient water soluble antiscalant materials that can be used to prevent or minimize scale formation in thermal desalination plants.

Different polymerization processes will be applied to develop these materials that work in an efficient way.

A comprehensive evaluation of these polymers will be performed and compared with commercial materials. Chemical and physical characterization methods will be used to evaluate the physical properties and chemical composition of these materials. The inhibition process of the synthesized materials will be evaluated experimentally at different parameters similar to the desalination conditions. Researchers at the National Center for Water Treatment and Desalination Technology at KACST will be trained on the preparation procedure, characterization and evaluation methods.

The outputs of the project are the synthesis of antiscalants from local materials and its application in desalination plants in the future. The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) and oil drilling companies will benefit from these materials.