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Saudi megacity Neom to build world’s first solar dome desalination plant


More areas of the world are suffering from water scarcity, and while desalinating seawater is a solution it also has its issues that this goes some way to solving.


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By 2030 the United Nations estimates that over 129 countries in the world will fail to meet their UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets for clean and sanitary water, and that globally we need to double our efforts, literally, if we’re going to stand a chance of staving off water shortages for billions of people around the world – bearing in mind that even in the prosperous state of California over 87% of the region is now in “severe drought” conditions which is just one of the reasons why they are splurging over $750 million on new water recycling technologies.


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This state of affairs hasn’t gone unnoticed by Saudi Arabia who announced plans to use a radical new solar technology to desalinate seawater at Neom, a giant $500 Billion dollar mega-city project that it is developing along the country’s northern Red Sea coast.

The city’s developer has signed a deal with UK-based Solar Water to build its first-ever ‘solar dome’ desalination plant.


See how it works


It is claimed that the technology generates no carbon emissions, produces less brine than facilities using conventional reverse osmosis technology and will process drinking water more cheaply than traditional plants.


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The technology involves a dome – a hydrological sphere – constructed from glass and steel into which sea water flows. The energy to heat the continuous inflow of water and to create a constant water cycle is produced by concentrating solar radiation, from a large number of parabolic mirrors, Heliostats, surrounding the domes, onto the glass and superconductive steel frame structure. Through this process, the sea water evaporates, condenses and is precipitated as fresh water.


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The brine gathers at the bottom of the dome’s basin, is extracted and sold commercially for industrial use in lithium batteries, grit for roads, fertiliser or detergents. According to Solar Water, 90 per cent of desalination plants dispose of brine through ocean discharge, causing damage to marine ecosystems.

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of Neom, said: “Easy access to abundant seawater and fully renewable energy resources means Neom is perfectly placed to produce low-cost, sustainable fresh water through solar desalination. This type of technology is a powerful reminder of our commitment to supporting innovation, championing environmental conservation and delivering exceptional liveability. Working together with the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture we can expand the implementation of this technology beyond Neom.”


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Neom is the vision of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and is central to Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision to grow and diversify the Saudi economy. The $500 billion project has promised everything from robot workers and flying cars to beaches with glow-in-the-dark sand and an artificial moon. However, many have questioned whether the initiative is realistic politically or economically.

Solar Water says it will start work on the first dome this September and the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

David Reavley, CEO of Solar Water, commented: “Our game-changing desalination technology is 100 per cent carbon neutral and entirely sustainable. In NEOM we have found a partner who has a strong vision of what a New Future looks like in harmony with nature.”


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“With over one billion people around the world lacking access to clean water every day, Solar Water and Neom’s desalination project will also serve as a test case for other water-scarce countries that are struggling to generate environmentally safe and sustainable sources of fresh water,” he added.

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