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Reused water, the most efficient approach to decarbonising GCC's water sector

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Veolia Water Technologies is a prominent player in the water treatment and desalination industry of the Middle East. With a strong focus on sustainability and innovation, the firm offers a comprehensive range of technologies and services tailored to meet the unique needs of various sectors, including municipal, industrial, and oil and gas.

With an ambitious goal to become the global champion of ecological transformation, the Middle East is a determinant market for Veolia and its subsidiary Veolia Water Technologies. Thierry Froment, Chief Executive Officer at Veolia Water Technologies Middle East, is responsible for Veolia Water Technology’s business strategy and growth in this part of the world by providing the company’s clients with a wide portfolio of technologies, including online diagnostic solutions to evaporation and crystallization, energy-producing sludge treatment, state-of-the-art desalination, laboratory-grade water and mobile water services. SWM had the chance to speak with him about the firm’s cutting-edge technologies and how it is assisting the Middle East region tackle its pressing water challenges.  

Published in SWM Bimonthly 18 - June 2023
SWM Bimonthly 18

Can you please tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at Veolia Water Technologies Middle East?

Except for the three first years of my career spent in oil and gas working for a subsidiary of Schlumberger, most of my experience has been in water treatment starting as Project Engineer with Entropie, a private company in France working in thermal desalination. I became Managing Director of Entropie in 1997 when the company was bought by the Weir group, then moved to Scotland to manage Westgarth — also a reputed desalination company — in 2005 after both Westgarth and Entropie were bought by Veolia. I returned to Paris in 2009 to head the oil and gas activities of Veolia Water Technologies until 2016 when I came to the UAE as COO first and in 2020 as CEO of Veolia Water Technologies Middle East. Our entity generates 220 million euros of revenue and employs around 1,000 people mainly in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon and Turkey.

Five years ago, Sidem, a Veolia subsidiary, launched the Barrel™, a concept that is changing quite drastically the design of SWRO plants

I’m extremely proud of being one of Veolia’s 220,000 Resourcers who act every day to champion Ecological Transformation and help solve some of the biggest challenges of our time: water scarcity, resource depletion, pollution and climate change, to name just a few. The team I’m fortunate enough to lead is made of determined, optimistic and very talented people who work together with our industrial and municipal clients to optimize their operations while reducing the use of freshwater, energy and chemicals. 

  • While the Barrel™ was developed for desalination applications, we realized its potential for drinking water treatment and wastewater reuse

Desalination is key to overcoming resource scarcity in the Middle East. Could you tell us about Veolia’s Barrel™ solution, which has been implemented in various Middle Eastern projects?

Desalination is indeed key for most countries in the Middle East as the main — and sometimes the only — source of drinking water. After years, where thermal desalination technologies using waste steam from nearby large fuel or gas power plants were preponderant in the Middle East, supported by low fuel and gas costs, seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO), has now replaced thermal desalination and all-new large desalination plants are using this technology.

Through our specialized business unit SIDEM, we have been pioneering desalination technologies and solutions for over 50 years

Five years ago, Sidem, a Veolia subsidiary, launched the Barrel™ on the market, a concept that is changing quite drastically the design of SWRO plants. The Barrel™ is an advanced membrane technology that offers a secure, compact, optimized and connected solution. It features a convenient plug-and-play design for outdoor installation, minimizing the need for extensive civil engineering work and occupying 25% less ground space compared to traditional building-enclosed SWRO processes. It drastically reduces the health and safety risks associated with the high-pressure operation of the SWRO process by eliminating most of the many high-pressure Victaulic connections that are found on conventional SWRO plants. Equipped with intelligent sensors, it allows for remote operation and enables predictive maintenance for optimal performance. Moreover, this sustainable solution reduces electricity consumption by minimizing pressure losses.

While the Barrel™ was initially developed for desalination applications, we quickly realized its tremendous potential for drinking water treatment and wastewater reuse through low-pressure reverse osmosis. We now have several references, one being the Oman Sur desalination plant where one of the first Barrels was installed in 2019. The Barrel is also used for indirect potable water reuse in France, a first in Europe, and for wastewater reuse in industrial applications in Australia, for instance. 

What other innovative technologies has Veolia Water Technologies implemented in the Middle East for desalination?

Through our specialized business unit SIDEM, we have been pioneering desalination technologies and solutions for over 50 years. In addition to optimizing the desalination process itself, we have made significant advancements in improving the pretreatment stage ahead of membrane filtration by introducing novel multimedia filters as well as optimizing dissolved air flotation systems, particularly for large-size plants. This crucial stage plays a key role in minimizing fouling, scaling and overall membrane degradation, ultimately improving efficiency and extending their lifespan.

We have achieved an impressive 80% decrease in energy consumption compared to the 1980s, when thermal desalination was predominant

We have also applied our expertise to achieve remarkable energy savings in the desalination process. We have achieved an impressive 80% decrease in energy consumption compared to the 1980s, when thermal desalination was predominant. In the past decade, with the widespread adoption of reverse osmosis as the preferred technology, we have further achieved an approximate 25% reduction in energy requirements. These advancements highlight our commitment to sustainable desalination practices and driving efficiency improvements in the industry.

Another innovation worth mentioning is our Smart Membrane application, which is part of our Hubgrade digital solution. It combines advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to provide operators with a holistic visibility of the operations and processes, empowering evidence-based decision-making when planning for membrane cleaning or replacement. Benefits include predictive maintenance which helps improve maintenance planning and decision-making, and access to key normalized fouling indicators to monitor the effectiveness of CIP and production cycles.

Within the GCC, many countries have committed to becoming Net Zero by 2060, making decarbonisation, especially in the water sector, extremely relevant. How can Veolia Water Technologies help in this respect?

Veolia’s purpose is to drive ecological transformation. As Veolia Water Technologies, we are at the forefront to help our clients in the GCC countries to effectively reduce their carbon emissions and make better use of the scarce water resources. Many sustainable solutions can be applied today to contribute to the overall decarbonisation efforts. In addition to our efforts in desalination, which I have already touched on, it is worth noting that the energy contained in urban wastewater is more than nine times greater than the electrical energy required to treat it. Our teams are experts in integrating our technologies to minimize the electrical consumption of sewage treatment plants (STPs) while maximizing the recovery of this energy. For instance, the organic matter recovered as sludge in the STP can produce biogas through treatment in anaerobic digesters. This biogas fed to a cogeneration plant can cover most of the STP residual electrical consumption. It is worth mentioning that we already have STPs in Europe that are self-sufficient in terms of energy, including one in Montpellier (France) that will produce twice as much energy than it consumes once completed.

In the GCC, the second highest energy consumer around sewage treatment is the pumping of sewage to the treatment plant and the subsequent transfer of treated sewage to disposal or reuse sites. One way of reducing this energy consumption is to consider smaller and dispersed plants rather than large central treatment plants. In this respect, we have delivered 53 packaged sewage treatment plants to the Ministry of Public Works in Kuwait. These plants are strategically placed within different communities, enabling a shorter and more efficient collection and discharge network. Additionally, these plants provide essential irrigation to these communities, resulting in a reduction in electrical consumption related to transfer pumps.

Another example is our work with clients in the food & beverage industry. We have for instance successfully provided Pınar Süt, one of Turkey’s largest dairy companies, with a wastewater treatment plant that goes beyond meeting the new environmental discharge limits. Through the installation of two types of anaerobic digesters — one Biobed® EGSB for wastewater treatment and one Biobulk™ CSTR for sludge and other organic waste treatment — the biogas generated reduces the dairy’s carbon footprint by 17% and significantly cuts down the cost of consumed gas. Following further tertiary treatment, the treated water is also suitable to be reused for certain applications within the dairy such as flushing water.

Of course, the most efficient approach to decarbonising the water sector in the GCC is to replace desalinated drinking water with reused water whenever possible. Since treating water for reuse has a much lower carbon footprint compared to seawater desalination, reusing treated sewage effluent is consistently advantageous over discharging it into the sea.

Regarding deoiling, we recently launched CoaFil™, a patented technology for the treatment of produced water or oily wastewater

Oil and gas production represents over 40% of GDP in GCC countries (except for Bahrain and UAE). How is Veolia Water Technologies assisting the oil sector with deoiling technologies? 

Between Veolia Water Technologies and Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions — our sister company within Veolia — we have the full spectrum of technologies to treat effluents in the oil & gas industry, covering both upstream and downstream operations. We are particularly strong in deoiling and enabling the reuse of a significant amount of this water. The zero liquid discharge (ZLD) system that we provided to Shell Pearl in Qatar several years ago, which is one of the largest ZLD plants in the world, is a good illustration of our capabilities to deliver advanced solutions for water treatment and sustainable management in the oil and gas sector.

Specifically regarding deoiling, we recently launched CoaFil™, a patented technology for the treatment of produced water or oily wastewater. It meets the very strict requirements of the oil and gas industry for discharge, water reuse or reinjection applications. It handles higher oil and solids feeds while maintaining an exceptional level of performance, achieving discharge levels below 1 part per million (ppm). By incorporating an oleophobic media, it effectively repels oil, making backwashing easier and reducing the risk of “mud-balling”. This ensures a consistently high-quality outlet.

CoaFil™ acts as a comprehensive solution on its own, eliminating the need for conventional secondary and tertiary treatment steps like induced gas flotation, nutshell filters or media/sand filters. This not only reduces costs but also simplifies the entire treatment process, providing a more efficient and streamlined solution.

Last March, Veolia Water Technologies signed an MoU with Dubai Municipality to assist it in its Ecological Transformation. How are you aiding the Dubai Municipality regarding water conservation?  

Dubai has made a commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. This pledge is aligned with the broader goal set by the United Arab Emirates to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Veolia Water Technologies has been working with the Dubai Municipality for many years and this agreement solidifies our collaborative efforts to implement innovative water and wastewater treatment technologies while supporting the municipality in reaching its sustainability goals.

Our AnitaMox™ technology can treat this eluate separately, reducing the load on the STP and enabling it to accommodate a larger sewage flow

Furthermore, we see this agreement as an excellent platform to showcase our technologies in the Middle East, considering Dubai Municipality's reputation for being a leader in innovation within the region. We are excited about the opportunities this collaboration presents and the potential for advancing environmental solutions in Dubai and beyond.

One example of such solutions is our AnitaMox™ technology, specifically developed to treat the eluate produced by sludge anaerobic digestion plants in STPs. This eluate is typically recycled back into the feed of the STPs which can strain the biological treatment capacity of the plant. Our AnitaMox™ technology can treat this eluate separately, reducing the load on the STP and enabling it to accommodate a larger sewage flow. The AnitaMox technology is widely used in Europe and in the USA but has not yet been used in the Middle East. Implementing this technology in one of Dubai Municipality’s STPs would perfectly illustrate the purpose of our MoU with DM.

How has Veolia Water Technologies addressed the specific water scarcity challenges faced in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Egypt?

As already mentioned above, it’s impossible to talk about water scarcity without talking about water reuse, particularly in regions such as the GCC and Egypt where freshwater resources are extremely limited. We cannot afford to use water only once; instead, maximising water reuse has become imperative, especially considering the still significant energy costs associated with desalination, which is often the primary source of water in these areas.

One key technology for water reuse is our Hydrotech™ Discfilters. These filters are used for the tertiary treatment of 6 million m3/day of sewage at the Bahr El Bakr wastewater treatment plant in Egypt. Once treated, the water is reused for agriculture in the Sinai region, helping preserve precious freshwater resources. A similar, larger project is nearing completion at the El Hammam wastewater treatment plant on the western side of the Nile Delta, with a capacity of 7.2 million m3/day, further expanding the capacity for reusing water resources and fostering sustainability in the region.

We cannot afford to use water only once; instead, maximizing water reuse has become imperative, especially considering the energy costs

Also in Egypt, Ezz Steel — one of the leading steel producers in the Middle East and Africa — entrusted us with quickly supplying mobile water solutions that allowed cooling water supply to switch from the Nile River to desalinated seawater. In doing so, Ezz Steel has reduced its water and chemical consumption by approximately 75% while helping maintain its business continuity. Along the same line, we have also supplied treated sewage effluent polishing plants to companies such as Empower in the UAE and Marafeq in Qatar. The treated water is used to feed the cooling towers of their district cooling systems, again reducing their water consumption and minimizing the need for chemical additives.

A last example of reuse is what we are currently doing in Qatar with Baladna, a leading dairy producer with an expansive cow farm housing over 20,000 cows. Our efforts have focused on working with them to enhance their water management practices and reduce their reliance on depleting brackish water sources. We supplied them with a 22,000 m3/day wastewater treatment plant and the treated water is reused for flushing within the farm premises. Additionally, after undergoing further treatment in a polishing plant, the recycled water is used to spray and cool the cows during the scorching summer months. Baladna actively participates in the Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP), and we take great pride in supporting them in their mission to expand their business in a sustainable manner through water reuse.

What future projects is Veolia Water Technologies planning in the GCC countries to further enhance water treatment and desalination technologies?

I’ve touched on ecological transformation and how Veolia has made it its purpose. All around the world, our teams are acting to reconcile human progress with environmental protection. In the GCC countries as everywhere else, the challenges we face are significant, but our determination is unwavering.

One last example of this is called “seawater mining”. In Neom, the flagship development project of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea, Veolia and Veolia Water Technologies are working hand in hand to not only produce desalinated water but instead of discharging the brine back to the sea, to recover valuable salts present in seawater. This requires the unique combination of nanofiltration, seawater reverse osmosis and selective salt crystallization, all technologies available in the Veolia portfolio.

With global expertise in water, waste and energy, Veolia stands as an ideal partner for municipalities and industries. We collaborate closely with them to optimize their operations, ensuring both efficiency and sustainability are achieved. By leveraging our capabilities, we aim to make a positive impact on the environment while driving progress and success for our clients in the GCC and beyond.