A critical element in food and energy production, ensuring water security and sustainable access to water is critical for social and economic development, sanitation and healthy ecosystems, as underlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, notably SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation.
Only 0.5% of water on Earth is available freshwater for use. In many parts of the world, access to safe drinking water and sanitation is not guaranteed. According to UNICEF, at least 2 billion people rely on contaminated drinking water sources and 4.2 billion lack safely managed sanitation services.
In a bid to ensure the security of water supply and promote sustainable water management in the United Arab Emirates, the Mirfa 2 Reverse Osmosis (M2 RO) Independent Water Project (IWP) is set to harness reverse osmosis technology to deliver roughly 550,000 cubic metres of potable water capacity per day.
Based in Mirfa, in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi, the seawater desalination project will be 60% owned by Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA), the UAE listed diversified utilities and energy company, and 40% owned by ENGIE, the French multi-national low-carbon energy solutions and services company. The plant is expected to commence commercial operations in 2025, and will provide local economic benefits and job creation for the Mirfa area.
Commenting on the announcement, Frederic Claux, Managing Director, Flexible Generation and Retail AMEA, ENGIE, says: “The ENGIE Group’s extensive expertise in desalination focuses on developing assets that use reverse osmosis membrane technology. M2 RO will utilise an efficient reverse osmosis desalination process, which is up to six times more efficient compared to traditional thermal desalination.
“With a global target to achieve net zero by 2045, ENGIE continues to explore ways to decarbonise our current operations while researching new membrane technologies and asset configurations to optimise energy efficiencies”, he continues.
Reverse osmosis (RO) is an effective means of desalinising seawater through a separation technique forcing water through a semipermeable membrane with pressure. The membrane allows the passage of small solution components such as fresh water, and prevents the passage of larger molecules like salt and other impurities.
This technology also enables reduction of carbon emissions for plant operations by decoupling power and water generation processes to achieve sustainability targets and cost efficiencies.
Farid Al Awlaqi, Executive Director of Generation, TAQA, explains: ‘’Investment in the development, ownership and operation of this critical water project will contribute to water security and TAQA’s own emissions reduction targets.
“In line with our ESG and growth strategies to expand investment in and deployment of high efficiency RO technology to reach two-thirds of our capacity by 2030, M2 RO enables us to accelerate how we decouple power and water operations across our assets to further reduce our carbon impact”, he concludes.
The desalination plant will benefit from a 30-year water purchase agreement (WPA) for 100% of the water output with Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC). EWEC is the sole procurer of water and power in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. EWEC is part of ADQ, the Abu Dhabi Government holding company with a diverse portfolio of businesses across key sectors.
Othman Al Ali, CEO of EWEC notes: “It gives us great pleasure to support our partners in the financial closing of the Mirfa 2 RO water desalination project. Mirfa 2 RO is EWEC’s fifth low-carbon intensive RO desalination project to date and will be the third largest RO plant in the UAE once fully operational. Achieving this significant milestone demonstrates EWEC’s leadership in enabling world-class utility-scale projects backed by strong local and international partners that accelerate at pace the UAE’s energy transition, while ensuring a sustainable, affordable, and secure supply of water in line with UAE Water Security Strategy 2036.”
“Creating a pipeline of RO projects that attract investment in the sector is an integral part of EWEC’s strategic initiative to decouple water and power generation, which in turn will enable us to realise the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Strategic Targets 2035 to reduce carbon emissions by up to 75 per cent. Through our initiatives, we forecast that over 90 per cent of our water production will be from RO technology by 2030, resulting in an 88 per cent reduction in carbon emissions associated with water production.”
A syndicate of banks including BNP Paribas, acting in the role of Mandated Lead Arranger, provided US$483 million of debt financing to fund the development and construction of the desalination plant.
Amine Bel Hadj Soulami, Head of Middle East and Africa, BNP Paribas comments: ‘’In addition to water security, M2 RO will play a key role in enhancing production efficiency and furthering decarbonisation efforts in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This transaction underlines BNP Paribas’ commitment to accompany our clients on their sustainability journeys and goals to transition to net zero.’’