Does Size Really Matter?

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Tom Freyberg,  

As well as the commissioning of Saudi Arabia's "world's largest" desalination plant, Singapore is set to announce Phase 2 of its DTSS project. With projects getting bigger, does this mean better?

Browsing though the news feed of LinkedIn, I saw an interesting picture posted by a colleague. It showed two hands, each holding an SD card (the type used in a digital camera). The picture on the left was taken in 2004 and showed 128 megabyte card. The hand on the right, holding the same size card, was taken in 2014. Yet it was 128 gigabytes – more than a thousand times more memory than the one from 10 years ago. This image didn't need words. And you didn't have to be a technogeek to understand it. It showed evolution, technology development and progress. This same principal could be applied to the water industry.

Size has always been a gloating point in the Middle East. If it's not the world's tallest building (Dubai), or world's fastest rollercoaster (Abu Dhabi), it will be what is being planned to be the world's most elaborate FIFA World Cup in 2022 (Qatar).

Towards the end of April there was another "world's largest" but this time it was a desalination plant in Saudi Arabia. The Ras Al Khair IWPP is a hybrid desalination plant with a capacity of 1.03 million m3/day (306,000 m3/day SWRO membrane capacity and 727,000 m3/day thermal capacity). Constructed by Doosan Heavy Industries, the facility is 60km northwest of Jubail on Saudi Arabia's Gulf coast.

It was only in the third quarter of 2013 when Israeli company IDE Technologies set the benchmark for mega-sized membrane desalination with the opening of its 624,000 m3/day Sorek plant. The Israeli plant even managed to surpass Singapore firm Hyflux's Magtaa 500,000 m3/day project in Algeria, which finished its construction phase in January.

Not to be left out, Asian water hub Singapore is also set to announce a multi-billion dollar decision in June at the Singapore International Water Week. As can be read on page 38, WWi can exclusively reveal which of the three tenderers (CH2M Hill, Arup and joint venture Black & Veatch/AECOM) has secured Phase 2 of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS).

Singapore's minister for environment and water resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan – on the cover of this issue's WWi and centre of our Leader Focus on page 12 – calls the DTSS a "super highway for used water management".

Other articles in this issue include a look at a Norwegian project to rescue old oil & gas tankers destined for the shipping graveyard by retrofitting them with water treatment technology (page 26). The end result? Mobile treatment facilities. It's certainly "thinking outside the box" and makes for interesting reading.

The topic of graphene – a super material said to be stronger than steel – recently grabbed water headlines after researchers at MIT made progress looking at how it could be applied to water filtration. So we decided to ask several membrane companies (page 16) how such material developments will improve or change membrane desalination in the future.

Whichever area of water treatment these developments fall into, it's clear there is no shortage of innovation still coming out of what some assume is a non-innovative industry. Similar to the SD card example mentioned earlier, will we look back 10 years from now and think the Sorek and Ras Al Khair projects are indeed small?

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