Saudi Arabia has been in the news a lot in regards to building desalination facilities, on which the Kingdom depends for most of its fresh water supplies. This includes what has been hailed as the worlds’ largest desalination facility in the Jubail Industrial Zone, on the shores of the Persian Gulf. But now, something different is in the works, as the Kingdom has reached an agreement with two Japanese companies, Toyobo, and Itochu corporation, to build a plant in Saudi Arabia to construct the equipment used in the desalination plants, making it much easier to construct new water producing facilities as needed.
The new plant will be called the Arabian Japanese Membrane Company, and will combine the expertise of Toyobo, an expert in the manufacture of desalination membrane material with that of Itochu, which builds large manufacturing facilities. The two Japanese companies will work together with the Saudi infrastructure developer ACWA Holding to construct the plant, which will be located 150 km north of the port city of Jeddah in the Rabigh Technical Park on the Red Sea Coast.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2011, and when completed, the company will manufacture reverses osmosis membrane elements for seawater desalination for the Kingdom’s increasing desalination needs. The technology in the plant will include using “hollow fiber” membranes which are not only used extensively in desalination, but in other uses as well, including the medical field (blood fractionation), water purification, gas separation, and azeotropic mixture separation using pervaporation.
Toyobo’s famous membranes technology is already utilized in most of the largest desalination plants in the Middle East; and boasts 80% of the seawater desalination membrane market in Saudi Arabia and over half the share in the Middle East/Gulf region. The third partner ITOCHU has considerable experience building seawater desalination plants in Saudi Arabia since 1970’s.
Estimated total investment in the giant facility will be around $352 million and will be the first plant of its kind to manufacture reverse osmoses desalination elements in the MENA region.
While this idea will be a big boost to the region’s ability to produce fresh water from desalination, little mention was made as to what power source will be used to manufacture these membranes, as well as to power future desalination themselves. We did mention the idea of using solar power for desalination plants in a previous article, however, in which the Kingdom is planning to integrate solar energy to power future desalination facilities, and is in line with the Kingdom’s desire to become a member of the international renewable energy group IRENA.
But the new venture between Saudi Arabia and Japan, does point the importance of international cooperation in projects which will help increase the supply of fresh water supplies to a region where this resource is sorely lacking.
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