Environment minister reveals winners of Saudi Arabia’s $10m desalination innovation prize

Environment minister reveals winners of Saudi Arabia’s $10m desalination innovation prize
Environment minister reveals winners of Saudi Arabia’s $10m desalination innovation prize

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: American Syed Shah picked up the top award at the Global Prize for Innovation in Desalination at an event in Jeddah on Saturday.

The ceremony, which saw the presentation of $10 million worth of awards, was hosted by Saudi Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli.

Shah, who is chief operating officer at Aqua Membranes, was recognized for a project titled “Transforming Reverse Osmosis through 3-D Printed Spacers.”

“Winning feels fantastic,” he told Arab News. “Especially given the opportunity of showcasing our innovative technology to the leaders in Saudi Arabia. It’s truly an honor for myself and for our company.”

Shah was one of six prize-winners on the night, all of whom had earlier showcased their innovations and ideas to the judging panel. More than 100 individuals from private companies, research centers and universities in 27 countries took part in the contest.

The award ceremony took place in the presence of Abdullah Al-Abdul Karim, governor of the Saline Water Conversion Corp., and other senior officials and dignitaries. It was held on the sidelines of the “Innovation Driven Desalination” conference.

Al-Fadhli said the awards were aligned with the Kingdom’s water strategy, which had seen it play a leading role in tackling water issues regionally and internationally.

He also praised plans announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to set up a global water organization, based in Riyadh, that would help to strengthen cooperation between nations in dealing with related issues.

Speaking about his winning project, Shah said: “We have devoted countless years to developing this technology, essentially taking the conventional and outdated RO membrane technology and introducing a groundbreaking printing approach to it.

“What we discovered was that to achieve energy savings, plastic reduction, increased water recovery and a decrease in wastewater going down the drain, we needed to address a major culprit, which is the plastic mesh feed spacer found in every reverse osmosis element. For many years, we focused on finding a way to eliminate this component.

“Our breakthrough came in the form of an innovative 3D spacer technology, augmented by artificial intelligence to determine various patterns that could be directly printed onto the membrane. By eliminating the plastic mesh, we witnessed remarkable results: reduced energy consumption, decreased fouling, improved water recovery and enhanced membrane durability. This not only translates into significant financial benefits but also aligns with environmentally friendly practices.”

Sultan Al-Rajhi, a spokesperson for Saline Water Conversion Corp., said: “The Kingdom is the leading entity in the water desalination industry. It takes the initiative to create an award through which everyone competes to reach the latest innovations.

“As a result, the Kingdom embraces the winning innovation by applying it on the ground, which will contribute to the Kingdom’s access to the latest technologies before its counterparts in the field.”

The ideas presented by other winners in the contest looked at areas such as reducing energy consumption and lowering capital and operational costs.

The desalination conference, which runs until Tuesday, serves as a global platform for sharing the latest ideas and thinking in the industry.

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