Research into innovative wastewater treatments in Abu Dhabi are set to not only improve the United Arab Emirates’ critical water infrastructure, but also strengthen the emirate’s position as a global leader in treated wastewater reuse.

Leading the research are academics at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate-level university dedicated to providing real-world solutions to issues of sustainability. Created in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the institute draws upon the fields of engineering, science, economics and management to address the challenges of advanced energy and sustainable technologies. It plays a key role in supporting Abu Dhabi’s economic diversification, nurturing intellectual capital and enhancing its position as a leader in sustainable water management.

“In a water-scarce region that relies heavily on costly and energy-intensive seawater desalination to provide over 80 per cent of the country’s freshwater, innovations for effective wastewater treatment are critically important to help meet the country’s growing demand for water,” says Dr Behjat AlYousuf, Interim Provost, Masdar Institute.

Abu Dhabi’s water innovation knowledge hub is not only benefitting the UAE, but achieving global recognition: In January, Abu Dhabi hosted the International Water Summit 2016; and in April it was host to The Global Water Summit 2016: Water 2050, an event ‘breaking new ground for the sustainability of water as a source of business and economic growth’.

In Abu Dhabi, water consumption is now more than 24 times its natural recharge rate – the ability to naturally replenish groundwater reserves. Currently, Abu Dhabi uses 60 per cent of its treated wastewater for landscaping and industrial purpose, with the remaining 40 per cent released back into the Gulf, due to limited capacity of the resupply distribution networks.

Faculty and students from Masdar Institute’s Center for Water and Environment (iWater) and the Institute Center for Smart and Sustainable Systems (iSmart) are developing a range of solutions to treat Abu Dhabi’s municipal and industrial wastewater in a sustainable and cost-effective way to help the country meet its various freshwater needs.

This includes: new tools to characterise pathogens to ensure that treated wastewater is clean enough for crop irrigation and use in the food production chain; and the use of underground managed aquifer recharge (MAR) systems to store treated wastewater underground in emptied natural aquifers, reducing evapotranspiration rates and improving water quality. Work is also underway to create a submerged membrane electro-bioreactor (SMEBR) – a water treatment process that uses an electric current to remove various contaminants from water – that can withstand the UAE’s harsh environment. Another Masdar Institute project, sponsored by the National Research Foundation, aims to support the development of more efficient nitrogen removal from Abu Dhabi’s high temperature and saline wastewater.

Masdar Institute is also leveraging its expertise in nanotechnology to advance water purification technologies. One project, led by Dr Linda Zou, Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, seeks to produce freshwater suitable for agricultural use through a hybrid approach, combining nano-filtration membranes and reverse osmosis. The approach removes salt and other pathogens from the wastewater, while retaining the nutrients – such as plant fertilizers, calcium, magnesium and sulfur – needed to promote healthy plant growth.

Another project harnessing nanotechnology is a bid to produce high quality freshwater by coupling nanowire filtration – filters made of thin, manganese dioxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles – as a post-treatment process with bio-electrochemical treatment – whereby microbes break down organic matter in anaerobic conditions, producing free electrons for electricity. Yet another aims to remove pharmaceutical contaminants from wastewater using a filter made of carbon nanotubes and titanium dioxide nanospheres.

“Masdar Institute aims to stay at the forefront of wastewater treatment research given its pivotal role in developing a robust water system in the UAE,” adds Dr Steve Griffiths, Vice President For Research, Masdar Institute.

(via Masdar Institute)