“A more affordable approach to desalination can help reach a long-term solution to water scarcity”
Apr 29 2021
The non-profit organization Suqia not only provides potable water to those in need but recognizes that the water crisis demands different approaches and innovative solutions. Therefore HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched a USD 1 million global award to find sustainable solutions to water scarcity. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water Award is now celebrating its third cycle, inviting corporations, research centres, institutions, innovators and youth to apply and present their latest technologies and solutions to address water scarcity. In this interview, HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Suqia UAE, explains the need for this type of international events and the importance of financing pioneering ideas in water desalination and purification systems to overcome the world’s water crisis.
Question: Why is the UAE organising the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water Award?
Answer: The UAE launched the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water Award based on our strong belief in the potential of innovative and sustainable technologies being able to address the global water crisis. The current scale of the water crisis calls for different approaches that go beyond just providing water to those in need. This is why His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, launched this USD 1 million global award to award prizes to encourage individuals, research centres and organisations from around the world to compete in finding sustainable and innovative solutions to water scarcity.
The previous Award winners recognised bright minds for their pioneering ideas in water desalination and purification systems
The biennial Award supports research and development of new and innovative technologies that harness the potential of renewable energy sources to produce, distribute, store, monitor, desalinate and purify water. These efforts also consolidate the UAE’s global position in the development of solutions to address challenges faced by poverty-and disaster-stricken communities worldwide. The previous Award winners recognised bright minds from around the world for their pioneering ideas and innovations in water desalination and purification systems.
Q: What does this award mean for the global water sector?
A: Although water is a basic life necessity and a driver for sustainable growth, water scarcity affects 40% of the world’s population and this keeps growing. For many communities in rural and poor urban areas around the world, clean water is a luxury. Therefore, providing access to clean water is synonymous with giving hope, as it provides an opportunity for better health and wellbeing.
The UAE’s and the world’s efforts to achieve this are considerable and this award is part of His Highness’ vision for the UAE to be one of the most innovative nations in the world. It fulfils this vision by creating a means to find cost-effective and renewable energy-powered sustainable solutions to address the challenges presented by water scarcity in many unprivileged communities. The most important keyword here is sustainability, as the solutions to address this challenge need to be sustainable. Only then can it keep pace with the growing global demand for clean water without affecting the longevity of our natural resources.
Q: The 3rd cycle of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water Award has expanded the scope of the award. Could you tell us a bit more?
A: The first two cycles of the award recognised 20 innovators, including individuals, pioneering organisations, and research centres from around the world for their innovative models that produce clean water using solar power. Building on that success, Suqia UAE announced the expansion of the scope of the award this year to include new technologies that produce, distribute, store, monitor, desalinate and purify water using renewable energy. If you look around, renewable energy sources are plenty and include solar, wind, biomass, ocean, gradient salinity and geothermal technologies.
Governments in developing countries need to increase the resilience and sustainability of the water supply and sanitation industries
Furthermore, the Award also introduced a new category, the Innovative Crisis Solutions Award, that recognizes innovations that can provide relief within the most critical 48 hours after internationally declared emergencies occur. This is significant as rapid access to safe drinking water is a crucial element for survival when crises and natural disasters occur.
Q: How can innovation and new technologies help solve the global water crisis?
A: Owing to the impact of climate change and rising population, the water supply and sanitation industries continue to face mounting pressures and increasing demand. This is why governments in developing countries need to increase the resilience and sustainability of these industries. Technology and innovation are key elements that can help us improve water, sanitation, and water resources management. A wide range of functions such as achieving water safety, efficiency, utility operations, monitoring and treatment and data and analytics can be accomplished by integrating technology and innovation into our day-to-day operations. Seawater desalination in particular is an area that is experiencing interest and innovation. Although salt water is abundant, desalination is considered too costly and energy-intensive for many to invest in. However, recent attempts have aimed to reduce the resources required in the process. A more affordable approach to desalination could be instrumental in reaching a long term solution to water scarcity. Today, there is a greater willingness by utilities and businesses to test and adopt promising technologies developed by innovators and entrepreneurs, and this is what we want to facilitate through the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water Awards.
Q: What is the role of innovative and sustainable technologies that use renewable energy to produce clean potable water?
A: Through the Award, we witnessed how innovative and sustainable technologies have a strong potential to address many of the challenges presented by the global water crisis. Many of the winners in the previous cycles of the Award have demonstrated simple and innovative solutions that either produce, purify and distribute clean water to communities in need.
Take for instance during the first cycle, Elemental Water Makers from the Netherlands, a first-place winner of the Innovative Projects Award – Small Projects came up with a solar-powered Reverse Osmosis (RO) plant capable of producing clean drinking water. In addition, their innovative placement of the plant on an elevated hill reduced the energy cost of operating the plant, thereby generating savings equivalent to 63% compared to conventional RO systems.
Through the Award, we witnessed how innovative and sustainable technologies can address the challenges presented by the water crisis
Another unique solution from the Masdar Institute in Khalifa University that won the Innovative Research and Development Award – National Institutions in the first cycle used a perforated black fabric placed under a solar collector to drive a Humidification de-humidification (HDH) solar desalination process. The use of this fabric helped overcome the barriers of low water production and high equipment costs associated with conventional HDH Systems.
In addition, Dr. Marta Vivar from Spain, winner of the Innovative Individual Award – Youth in the first cycle, submitted a new concept for a hybrid solar photovoltaic photochemical system to disinfect water. The system integrates photovoltaic solar cells and solar natural ultraviolet (UV) disinfection by using UV and infrared red light. The photovoltaic cells also generate electricity to power the pump that circulates water through the system.
Yet another notable innovation was the BLU Drop Solar Water Farm from GivePower Foundation, which won 1st place in the Innovative Projects Award – Small Projects in the second cycle. This is a solar-powered containerised desalination unit located in Kiunga, Kenya, produces about 37,000 litres of clean water a day at a highly efficient energy cost of 4Wh per litre of water. The unit runs on 50 kW of solar power, and can store up to 120 kWh in Tesla Powerwalls to ensure the steady operation and can serve a community for up to 20 years.