Ensuring water security for sustenance and growth has been a constant challenge for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. With increasing population and growth in industrial and agricultural activities, pressure on existent water resources is further amplified. Focus of the water sector in the GCC is shifting towards sustainable practices, wastewater treatment, and recycling. According to Frost & Sullivan, innovation is the need of the hour in this scenario, with adoption of technologies like hybrid / solar desalination and reuse of Produced Water (PW) for non-potable purposes. Several utilities and water agencies are announcing noticeable projects, indicating the start of a technological turnaround. The GCC governments have allocated approximately USD 100 Billion towards the implementation of better water technologies and energy-efficient desalination.
Speaking about new technologies, Kshitij Nilkanth, Programme Manager, Environmental Technologies Practice, Frost & Sullivan, said,"In recent years, the market has seen a slew of new concepts, including forward osmosis (Al-Khaluf, Oman), membrane distillation, tri-hybrid applications using Nano filtration (such as the pilot project at the R&D Centre of the Saline Water Conservation Corporation) and low temperature distillation. These technologies all aim at energy-efficient desalination and lowering the energy footprint of plants. With increasing focus of the GCC to adopt environmentally sustainable practices, these new technologies will have promising scope."
Amongst the GCC countries, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have taken the first steps in developing solar desalination projects. The KSA, through its King Abdullah Initiative, is expected to produce 30,000 cubic metre (m3)/day of desalinated water in the first phase and will extended capacities to 300,000 m3/day by phase two. There are also plans to extend this initiative throughout the Kingdom in phase three.
Another practice, which is slowly gaining momentum in the region, is use of PW for non-potable purposes. Produced Water is a by-product of oil and gas extraction and needs special handling like any industrial waste. However, this "waste" has the potential to be recycled and reused for industrial as well as irrigational purposes. The GCC, being the global hub for oil and gas extraction, generates about 1.85 billion cubic metre (bcm) of Produced Water annually with Oman being the highest net PW generator. An average of USD 0.1-1 operational expenditure is incurred to treat one cubic metre of PW.
According to Frost & Sullivan, the PW management market in the GCC earned revenues of USD 288.0 million in 2012 and is estimated to reach USD 482.6 million in 2017, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.9 per cent. While the treatment equipment market is becoming competitive, the services market is relatively new in the GCC and will be a strong growth segment in the long run.
At present, use of PW is limited in the region. Higher costs and lack of sophisticated technology are the major hindrances in use of this potential resource at a mass scale. Access to potable and non-potable water has been the cornerstone of economic growth in the region. Development, utilisation, and success of water desalination and recycling technologies will provide a long-term elixir to the region’s water crisis.
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