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“Privatization in infrastructure projects plays a strategic role in sustainable development”

Al Mahsamma agricultural drainage treatment, recycling and reuse plant in Egypt.
Al Mahsamma agricultural drainage treatment, recycling and reuse plant in Egypt.
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Metito delivered the first of three floating desalination barges in Saudi Arabia last year, an iconic project integrating the latest technologies that will enable KSA to achieve national water security targets, and the first floating desalination project in the Middle East.

A pioneering company on all fronts, Metito was the first company to introduce the Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology for desalination outside the USA in 1972 and the first company to pioneer concession contracts through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in the Middle East and Africa. Driving the expansion of the company in the GCC is Fady Juez, Managing Director of Metito and global expert in the water industry.  Smart Water Magazine had the opportunity of speaking with him about some of the company’s unique recent initiatives.

Published in SWM Bimonthly 18 - June 2023
SWM Bimonthly 18

Metito launched the MENA’s first floating desalination plant in KSA in 2022, with the first of three barges starting trial operations. Can you give us an update on this project?

To meet Saudi Arabia’s rising water demand in a sustainable manner, the Barge-mounted Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) Desalination Plant was developed by Metito in partnership with The Saudi National Shipping Company (Bahri).

Three barges, with a capacity of 50,000 m3/day per unit, were delivered starting in January 2022. Currently, the first of the three barges has been completed and is under operation.

What advantages/disadvantages do these types of facilities provide compared to traditional land-based desalination plants? Can you comment on their environmental costs and benefits?

While desalination facilities are typically built onshore, floating desalination plants provide the same benefits but stand at an advantage from several perspectives. The cost of transferring seawater to the plant onshore (feed-water intake) and the price of the land area holding the plant are significantly lower. In addition, they have the strategic advantage of being easily moved (towed) to other locations as needed. Floating barges also carry a lower environmental footprint with the waste liquid further diluted onsite using existing seawater, thus offering additional protection to marine life. 

The Barge-mounted SWRO Desalination Plant was developed by Metito in partnership with The Saudi National Shipping Company (Bahri)

Furthermore, the high degree of modularized design and delivery based on the pre-assembled plant modules of the floating barges minimizes the manpower required at the shipyard. Along with this, it reduces the installation and commissioning time prior to commencing commercial operation.

Can you tell us about the technologies used at the floating desalination facilities? How is the water produced transported to shore and stored?

Metito integrated the barge desalination units with power generators which results in quick mobilization, expedited construction timelines, fewer marine works, and reduced adverse impacts of climate change. The barges are equipped with in-house power generation facilities that produce power of up to 21 Mega Watts (MW) with full redundancy facilities. Additionally, each barge is designed meticulously with a complete marine system to ensure that it can last for 20 years without dry-docking and to maintain safe operations. The Barges are equipped with an independent intake and outfall system as well as a three-engine unit including a dual fuel system for Light Fuel Oil (LFO) and Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) supply to be used depending on the location of operation.

Floating desalination plants have several advantages, from lower land costs, to being easily towed, to reduced commissioning time

Metito also utilised an innovative technology offered by the chemicals company DuPont called i-UF, a combination of ultra-filtration and self-cleaning filtration in the pre-treatment package. This optimizes the space allocation and power consumption according to the environmental standard.

The water transmission system of the barge is connected by a header system with a common submerged water pipeline connecting to the common onshore potabilization, quality monitoring and metering systems. These provisions allow the plant to be ready to relocate to any other coastal city as swiftly as can be and when needed.

Furthermore, the barges are scalable due to their modular design depending on individual client requirements with the possibility of supplying post-treatment facilities in a modular configuration too. This enables them to be installed either onshore or for future applications, to be located on the barge itself. Not only is this approach innovative, but it also provides greater flexibility in meeting individual client needs.

What is the significance of the barges project in the context of efforts to increase water security in the region? How do you see the future of this type of solution? 

The floating barges project is a true testament to the Kingdom’s progressive vision of achieving national water security targets through sustainable projects and highlights the Government’s efforts to further engage the private sector with mega infrastructural projects.

The barges are scalable due to their modular design, with the possibility of post treatment facilities in a modular configuration too

The project enables Saudi Arabia to meet Vision 2030 and KSA National Water Strategy goals to provide high-quality water supply efficiently in line with SDG 6 in enabling access to clean and safe water globally. It aims to contribute sustainably to the supply of high-quality potable water in compliance with all applicable international and local codes and standards and using the most advanced treatment technology, Integrated Ultra Filtration. It also protects householders from extended water outages during peak demand or as supply constraints loom.

These new developments enable more flexibility to design and construct the desalination plant with built-in power generation projects resulting in increased reliability, less EPC duration, and minimized marine works. It will also enhance the potential to improve the performance and economics of water scarcity due to the rapid growth of the population.

Can you comment on the KSA and regional governments’ efforts to further engage the private sector with mega infrastructure projects?

The announcement of KSA Vision 2030 marked a pivotal moment aimed at fostering transformative changes within both the crucial public and private sectors to enhance their cooperation on a grand scale.

It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia currently produces 20% of global desalinated water, making it the largest desalination market worldwide. This presents a significant opportunity for privatization, one that holds tremendous potential.

The project enables Saudi Arabia to meet Vision 2030 and National Water Strategy goals to provide high-quality water in line with SDG 6

Privatization in infrastructure projects plays a strategic role in driving sustainable development for nations. It strengthens competition, elevates the quality of services and economic growth, enhances the business environment, and eliminates obstacles that hinder the private sector from assuming a more prominent role in the region's overall development.

Metito and British International Investment, the UK’s development finance institution, recently launched the Africa Water Infrastructure Development (AWID) platform. Can you tell us about it?

Water insecurity is a critical development challenge in Africa. Climate change is expected to reduce water availability and increase the extent of water scarcity, exacerbating existing water-related vulnerabilities caused by other socio-economic factors. Water quality deterioration is also a major threat among communities throughout Africa as most wastewater generated remains untreated. The significant gap in storage, supply, and access to clean water and sanitation services urgently calls for effective and efficient water management infrastructure.

To address the water scarcity gap in Africa, Metito Utilities Limited (MUL) and British International Investment (BII), the UK’s development finance institution and impact investor, announced the launch of their new company Africa Water Infrastructure Development (AWID), a first-of-its-kind platform to develop climate-smart water projects at scale and to increase water security across Africa

The new platform, AWID, will finance water and wastewater management treatment plants as well as develop and construct world-class facilities that will help to increase access to sustainable, safe and reliable water with a clear focus on countries that are most vulnerable to the climate crisis.

Kigali Bulk Water Supply PPP Project in Rwanda.
Kigali Bulk Water Supply PPP Project in Rwanda.

How will the platform help mobilize investment in the water sector to drive transformative and sustainable impact?

Water infrastructure projects are particularly capital-intensive. An increasing funding gap requires mobilizing sustainable investments in the sector. The private sector needs to be actively engaged to close this funding gap and with the AWID platform, we are doing just that.

Our partnership with BII will leverage our high-value engineering and use of innovative technologies with access to unrivalled financial resources and support.

AWID is a first-of-its-kind platform to develop climate-smart water projects at scale and to increase water security across Africa

The platform will demonstrate a viable commercial model for water infrastructure and provision in Africa, helping to mobilize long-term investment into the sector. Its investments will integrate green technologies and alternative energy components which will help to reduce the environmental footprint of water infrastructure projects.

By developing, investing, and operating greenfield water and sanitation projects, as well as seeking out potential concessions and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sectors in Africa, the platform will improve the availability, reliability, and quality of water for end consumers and businesses and thereby strengthen African countries’ resilience to climate change.

Finally, could you discuss Metito’s business model and its strategy to be a leading actor in the global water industry?

Metito prides itself on having a direct and tangible impact on the governments, industries, and communities that we serve, and we believe real ownership can only be achieved if sustainability is fully integrated into any business model. Guided by Metito’s founding principles; Impact, Sustainability, and Innovation, we leverage Metito’s high-value engineering capabilities as we continuously tackle complex water requirements through innovative solutions. 

  The platform will demonstrate a viable commercial model for water infrastructure in Africa, helping to mobilize long-term investment

Metito is an enabler of the circular economy; we work closely with our stakeholders to deliver sustainable water infrastructure solutions that are time and climate resilient. We believe we have an edge when it comes to our ability to understand and assess the parameters associated with entering new markets and what is paramount to our decision-making process is the long-term economic and commercial viability of any project. Overlayed with the strength of our people and business leaders, this makes a good recipe for success and a strong growth trajectory.

To enable access to sustainable water resources, in some of the most challenging markets, we are building some of the first and largest projects of their types across markets and introducing Public-Private Partnerships to secure their funding. Our knowledge of distinct local market requirements - and challenges- and our ability to access global resources through our shareholders, including Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – are reasons behind our continued success so far.

There are many opportunities that are yet to be tapped in wastewater recycling and reuse, energy-efficient desalination, and environmentally friendly technologies – and Metito is well equipped to lead on these fronts.  Our work is attuned to local market needs and aligned with the UN SDG 6 - Clean Water & Sanitation and SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities & Communities, to name a few.