Saudi invention holds immense promise for a water-scarce world

Saudi invention holds immense promise for a water-scarce world
‘Sun-rich’ countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand to reap the greatest benefits from the KAUST breakthrough in sustainable desalination technology. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 July 2019

Saudi invention holds immense promise for a water-scarce world

Saudi invention holds immense promise for a water-scarce world
  • Device built by KAUST researchers can turn seawater into potable water using solar power
  • Technology uses waste heat recovered from solar panels to power desalination process

DUBAI: The use of solar power to produce plentiful supplies of safe drinking water has long been seen as an answer to many of the Middle East’s pressing challenges relating to water and energy. Now a project at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has raised hopes of just such a solution.

Researchers at the university’s Water Desalination and Reuse Center in Jeddah say they have developed a technology that uses waste heat recovered from solar panels to power a desalination process that produces clean water from seawater.

“The global solar panel installed capacity is huge, so the quantity of waste heat produced is enormous,” said Dr. Peng Wang, a professor at the center.

“We can use this to give us fresh water and also show us a very attractive future.”

Few regions in the world stand to benefit from such an invention as much as the Arabian Gulf. Saudi Arabia, for example, is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of water resources per inhabitant, according to UN data. 


IN NUMBERS

 9% - Saudi Arabia’s electricity used for desalination of seawater

 38% - Middle East and North Africa’s share of global water-desalination capacity

40% - Saudi Arabia’s electricity from burning oil (2016)

40% - Saudi electricity demand rise expected over 2019-2030

40 gigawatts - Saudi solar PV energy capacity target for 2030

$100 billion - Investments needed globally by 2030 for solar applications


“Saudi Arabia produced close to 2 billion cubic meters of desalinated water in 2018, and it is estimated that by 2030, 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s local oil and gas will solely be used to meet the domestic demand for fresh water," Peng said.

“The production of drinking water in Saudi Arabia consumes a lot of fossil fuels, which is not sustainable. The solar potential that the Kingdom has is massive. We say it has the best solar energy in the world, but we are not using it. We have the energy, but on the other hand we don’t have fresh water. So if you can use this energy to give you fresh water, it’s the best solution,” he said.

For two years, Peng has been working on developing a new, more sustainable desalination system. “We know that solar panels have a big problem of wasted heat,” he said, referring to photovoltaic (PV) modules that convert sunlight directly into electricity. “We decided to combine these two together — the heat coming from the solar panel and our desalination process.”

Thanks to advancements in technology, modern solar panels are increasingly effective in harvesting solar energy. According to Peng, solar panels can absorb more than 90 percent of incoming solar radiation. However, only 10 to 20 percent of this energy can be converted by most commercial solar panels into electricity.

“This means that about 80 to 90 percent of the harvested solar energy is actually converted to heat,” he said. “It is also the reason commercial solar panels get very hot in the daytime.”

In fact, solar panels across the Kingdom are known to record levels of up to 40C above the ambient air temperature during summer months. “If it’s 30C (ambient temperature), the panel can be as hot as 80C,” Peng said. “This means the solar panel suffers from some kind of drawback.”

Put another way, there are limits to the amount of sun’s heat that can be converted by a solar panel into electricity. “People have been working on various ways of cooling down solar panels, but so far it hasn’t been very successful,” he said. “At this stage, our device utilizes the waste heat (from solar panels) to give us something useful, which is drinking water.”

The device built by the research team can make both seawater and contaminated groundwater into drinking water. As of now, it can produce almost four liters of drinking water per hour using the heat from solar panels. “We believe this is a significant number, especially when you think of all the solar panels you have installed in the entire world,” he said.




‘Sun-rich’ countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand to reap the greatest benefits from the KAUST breakthrough in sustainable desalination technology. (Shutterstock)

“The calculation we have is also very attractive. It tells us that if every solar panel uses our device, we can have at least 10 percent of the world’s drinking water in about six years’ time — and this is a conservative estimate.”

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the wider Gulf region are among the 122 “sun-rich” countries that lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In theory, at least, the amount of potable water production available to these countries could be doubled if sufficient numbers of solar installations were set up.

“You should expect drinking water coming out of these devices for the entire country,” Peng said, referring to Saudi Arabia, which has set ambitious renewable energy production goals for itself. According to the National Renewable Energy Program’s website, the target for energy from solar photovoltaics alone is 40 GW in 2030. “If by that time every panel in the Kingdom (includes) our device, by our conservative calculation is that they will produce more than 50 percent of the drinking water for Saudi Arabia.”

The research center’s breakthrough looks even more promising if the technology is adopted on a large scale. To this end, the scientists behind the device will have to carry out more work to enhance the system’s scalability and stability.

A scientific paper published on July 10 said the largest device the team was able to build so far measured 10 sq. cm. “At this point, we can double that size, but our target is to make it one square meter within the next 12 months,” Peng said. “This is the next step in our project.”

Stability is of equal importance since desalinating seawater is no easy matter given the harmful impact of high salt concentrations on the device. Scale formation due to salt precipitation inside the device is a problem that scientists are currently trying to solve, with answers including a system that can operate for long periods without major maintenance.




Prof. Peng Wang

“It’s a very attractive drinking-water production system, especially in decentralized facilities,” Peng said. “By decentralization, we mean producing drinking water in places where you have low-to-medium population density, such as off-grid small villages, small tribes, islands, all kinds of maritime activity and small towns with populations of about 10,000. Our technology is attractive to places in need of niche applications.”

Once the device is able to produce fresh water on such a scale, the next step could include dryland agriculture to grow plants or grass for sheep. “Farmers see an opportunity there,” he told Arab News. “With our device, you can have significantly more water. When you have water in a dry place and in arid to semi-arid regions, you can do many things that were once challenging.”

However, keeping the device’s manufacturing cost as low as possible will be critical if it to be affordable for impoverished areas. Although research is still in its early stages, the research scientists will have a clearer idea of the costs when they are able to build large-scale devices.

“Hopefully by next year, we will have a pilot-scale demonstration to show the world,” Peng said. “One branch under Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy has already contacted us to express interest and they are talking about the possibility of granting us funds to help speed up the process. We are in negotiations with the government and other companies that are also interested in helping us.”

Looking to the future, Peng sees vast scope for the device, which has drawn attention to KAUST’s research expertise in water desalination and reuse.

“We will all run out of oil reserves at some point and solar is easily the most renewable energy known to us,” he said. “There are more than 800 million people in the world who have no access to clean water. Living in rural areas in underdeveloped countries, where the best infrastructure isn’t available, they look for decentralized drinking water solutions. Our technology should match this need very nicely.”

 


Saudi Arabia’s diverse topography attracts stargazers amid summer vibes

Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabia’s diverse topography attracts stargazers amid summer vibes

Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
  • Its mountains, valleys, plains, deserts are perfect escape for people trying to avoid bright city lights to observe night sky
  • Stargazing offers an obvious opportunity for the Kingdom to further diversify its tourism offering as it seeks to boost non-oil industries in line with Vision 2030

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s size and diverse topography make it an ideal location for astronomy enthusiasts. Its mountains, valleys, sand dunes, hills, plains and large deserts are a perfect escape for people trying to avoid the bright city lights to observe the night sky.

Mulham Hindi, an astronomy researcher, told Arab News that the best place to observe the night sky is far away from light pollution caused by human settlements.
“It is also best in locations where cloud cover is low. With its different terrains and huge size, Saudi Arabia is a suitable place for observing stars and even building observatories,” Hindi said.
He added that there are many locations in Saudi Arabia that are perfect places for astronomers and stargazers, citing Bani Malik, 150 kilometers south of Taif as a prime example.
“The (height above sea level) of that mountainous area reduces the percentage of moisture and atmospheric impurity,” he explained. “Its throughout-the-year cloud cover is less than 25 percent.”
Hindi also mentioned Al-Figrah mountain, west of Madinah, as one of the best areas for stargazing, as the mountain stands an estimated 6,000 feet above sea level.
“With their moderate weather, the northwestern regions of the Kingdom — which include AlUla, the Red Sea Projects, and NEOM — are among the areas with the least light pollution, (so) stargazers regularly visit,” he added.
Hindi explained that the observation of the stars and planets is deeply rooted in Saudi culture, particularly in the nomadic lifestyle prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula before the discovery of oil.
“Stars are (mentioned in) many Arabic poems that were composed hundreds of years ago and are still cited today,” he said. “It is also part of Saudi culture to observe stars while moving from one place to another, especially in the desert areas.”
Hindi also noted that the night sky above the Kingdom has become a popular subject for photographers in recent years. “These photographers have enriched exhibitions with very beautiful photos of the starry sky of the Kingdom, its distinctive terrains and heritage sites,” he said.
From a scientific perspective, he pointed out, the development and growing popularity of astronomy have encouraged Saudi astronomers to examine the planets, galaxies and stars more thoroughly than ever before, producing “scientific studies and research (that) can significantly contribute to the study of astronomy.”
A few days before his death earlier this month, the head of the astronomy and space department at King Abdul Aziz University (KAU), Dr. Hasan Asiri, spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the difference between the three main types of terrain for stargazing in the Kingdom — deserts, plains and mountains.
“Deserts are characterized by their aridity and lack of light pollution. They include the desert of the Empty Quarter, the Nafud desert, Al-Dahna desert and Bajada desert, which is located to the west of Tabuk region,” Asiri said.
He added that plains are characterized by stable atmospheric layers and low temperatures and humidity levels. “These include the plains of NEOM, AMAALA the Red Sea islands, Al-Wajh, Al-Shuaibah and Al-Silaa region located to the south of Al-Wajh province.”
Mountains, he explained, typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust. He listed Al-Figrah Mountains, west of Madinah; Taif’s Al-Shafa and Al-Hada Mountains; and Mount “Ral,” near Al-Wajh’s Al-Manjor Center as good spots for astronomers. “Several cities can also be added to the list of sites suitable for observational astronomy, namely the northwestern city of AlUla, which is considered one of the Kingdom’s most prominent tourist destinations, in addition to Hail and Tayma, found to the southwest of the city of Tabuk,” he added.
Asiri said that ‘stargazing tourism’ offers an obvious opportunity for the Kingdom to further diversify its tourism offering as it seeks to boost non-oil industries in line with Saudi Vision 2030.
“This issue interests many people, especially now that the Kingdom is steadily moving forward towards establishing an actual tourism sector and ensuring its sustainability through a comprehensive national development plan,” he said.
“Establishing additional stargazing reserves allows us to create new and exceptional tourist destinations that are at the same time entertaining and educational,” he continued. “It also enables us to organize astronomical events, such as world space weeks or astronomy days, activate public and private space domes, and participate in scientific activities related to astronomical events — such as observing solar and lunar eclipses, shooting stars and planets. This approach would combine science with the joy of observing the night sky.”
The Kingdom is already home to several observatories, he noted, including those in Makkah, Al-Wajh and Halat Ammar, as well as the mobile observatories in Sudair, Tumair, Shaqra, Qassim, Dammam, Madinah and Hail. Meanwhile, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Center for Crescents and Astronomy, located at the top of Makkah’s Clock Tower, is considered the largest network of astronomical telescopes in the world.
According to the head of the Qatif Astronomy Society, Dr. Anwar Al-Mohammed, the Milky Way is one of the best astronomical phenomena to observe.
“It is the galaxy in which our sun and the solar system are located. It (consists of) more than 100 billion solar masses,” he explained. “At night, the Milky Way appears as a band of light in the sky and its appearance differs between one region and another based on the level of light pollution.”
Al-Mohammed noted that the Red Sea Development Company is currently working on turning an area of the Tabuk region between the provinces of Umluj and Al-Wajh into an “International Starlight Reserve,” by limiting the use of unnatural lighting in the Red Sea Project at night.
This, he said, could qualify the area as an International Dark Sky Reserve (a region characterized by “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment”), which requires the approval of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
If it were to be granted membership, he explained, “it would be joining more than 100 international sites that have abided by strict measures when supporting their communities to achieve this goal, and restore the amazing relationship between mankind and the stars.”


Saudi study documents safety of AstraZeneca

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi study documents safety of AstraZeneca

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
  • No major side effects were observed, no breakthrough infection was reported

JEDDAH: A Saudi study has documented the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine used to protect people against the coronavirus.

The results of the study, titled the “Safety and Reactogenicity of the ChAdOx1 (AZD1222) COVID-19 Vaccine in Saudi Arabia,” were shared on Friday by the deputy minister of preventive health, Abdullah Assiri.
The cross-sectional study, conducted on 1,592 randomly selected vaccinees, measured the “estimated the safety and reactogenicity of the ChAdOx1-S vaccine as administered to adults after the first dose.”
No major side effects were observed and no breakthrough infection was reported during the observation period.
The results showed that 34.7 percent of the studied group reported a reaction after the first dose while none of the group had any reaction after the second.
Some of the side effects reported among the group were injection site pain in 30.5 percent, musculoskeletal symptoms in 27.5 percent, while 62.4 percent of males experienced more fever than females (37.6 percent).
The study also concluded that the rate of post-vaccine COVID-19 infection was 0.5 percent with zero hospitalization.

INNUMBERS

524,584 Total cases

505,003 Recoveries

8,226 Deaths

11,355 Active cases

“The data showed that the vaccine is well tolerated with differences in the reactogenicity between males and females. In the follow-up period, there was no reported COVID-19 infection, hospital admissions or death,” the study found. “However, the prevalence of the different variants in Saudi (Arabia) is not reported. In an international phase clinical trial, a single dose of the Ad26.COV2.S vaccine showed 67 percent efficacy in preventing moderate to severe–critical COVID-19 as evaluated 14-28 days after the dose administration. The efficacy against severe–critical COVID-19 was 77-85 percent as evaluated 14-28 days post after administration.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Friday reported 14 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 8,226.
There were 1,187 new cases, meaning that 524,584 people in the country had contracted the disease. A total of 11,355 cases remained active, of which 1,395 patients were in critical condition.
In addition, the ministry said that 1,176 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 505,003.
Meanwhile, 26,395,789 people in the country to date have received a jab against COVID-19, including 1,458,482 elderly people.


Saudi Arabia will not tolerate human trafficking crimes, says attorney general

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabia will not tolerate human trafficking crimes, says attorney general

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
  • “The system stipulates a number of severe penalties for those who carry out any of the criminal descriptions”

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution will not tolerate trafficking in persons and will take legal measures against the perpetrators of such crimes, the Kingdom’s attorney general has said.
Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib said that the victims of such crimes would receive special attention from the competent care authorities.
His statement was made in response to World Day Against Trafficking on July 30.
“The Saudi state, since its inception, has been protecting rights and freedoms from all forms of crime and exploitation, emphasizing the Basic Law of Governance and all the systems in force in the Kingdom and international treaties and charters, and designated an independent system concerned with this crime — the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law,” Al-Mujib said.
“The Public Prosecution is responsible for filing a criminal case against violators of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, as well as inspecting and monitoring shelters for victims of trafficking in persons in order to protect them,” he said. “The system stipulates a number of severe penalties for those who carry out any of the criminal descriptions.”
The bureau has also allocated an independent department to investigate such crimes and undertake the related procedures to deal with them.


Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics
Updated 24 min 44 sec ago

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Naif Mosallam Alblawi has been the general manager of international relations and cooperation at the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) since August 2017.

Alblawi is in charge of developing and implementing strategies with international statistics offices and organizations and monitoring assigned deportment at GASTAT on the international statistical press release to ensure the information and data included for Saudi Arabia is accurate and up-to-date.

He also served as the director of partnerships and statistical coordination at GASTAT from August 2017 to March 2020 and was responsible for supervising and developing a methodology and framework for strategic partnerships as well as preparing the agreements and the special memorandums of understanding and ensuring the clarity and quality of these agreements.

Alblawi also held the position of international data supply unit supervisor, and who established this unit to provide international organizations with data.

He worked as the team leader of the united-ethylene department at the Saudi Arabia Basic Industrial Co. from July 2007 to February 2013. He is known as a highly motivated and professional individual, with an ability to communicate and handle the corporate and multinational environment.

Alblawi attended several international conferences and events. He is a member of the MASDAR committee, a member of the coordinating committees of GASTAT, a member of the Sustainable Development Goals, a member of the Global Innovation Index committee and a member of the UN Statistical Commission that created the high-level group.

He received double majors in international business and a management minor in economics from King’s College, in the US.


Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo
Saudi Minister Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh visits the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo as part of his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo
  • The minister gave instructions to furnish the mosque — one of the most important Islamic monuments in the Balkans — with 4,000 square meters of the highest-quality carpets

SARAJEVO: Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh recently visited the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo as part of his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was accompanied by Saudi Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Osama bin Dakhil Al-Ahmadi and the director of the King Fahd Cultural Center, Dr. Mohammed bin Hassan Al-Asheikh.
The minister gave instructions to furnish the mosque — one of the most important Islamic monuments in the Balkans — with 4,000 square meters of the highest-quality carpets.
He also urged that the mosque increase its education and advocacy programs to disseminate moderation, promote a culture of tolerance and coexistence, in accordance with Islamic values.