Does size matter? Meet six of the world's largest desalination plants
Middle East
Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Does size matter? Meet six of the world's largest desalination plants

The recently awarded Rabigh 3 desalination project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ACWA Power was branded as one of the world’s largest desalination plants.

To put it into perspective, with a capacity of 600,000 m3/day, that’s 600 million litres of water that will eventually be produced per day.

There is no doubting at that size, the Saudi mega-size project will be one of the largest out there and the second largest awarded RO desalination plant.

Yet most desalination professionals will know it’s not the largest and it raises the question of well, with over 20,000 desalination plants contracted around the world, which are the largest?

We set out to put together this top six list.

The largest desalination plants in the world

  1. Ras Al Khair, Saudi Arabia: 1,036,000 m3/day

    Ras Al Khair desalination plants

    Commonly regarded as the desalination heavyweight of the world, the massive Ras Al-Khair is a hybrid project that uses both thermal multistage flash (MSF) and reverse osmosis (RO) technologies.

    Located 75km north-west of Jubail and serving Riyadh, the site also has a substantial power generation component, with a capacity of 2,400MW.

    The main contractor for plant construction was Doosan and its consortium partner Saudi Archirodon, with Poyry acting as the consultant for the project.

    Ras Al-Khair started operations in 2014 but in 2017 was put up for sale by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) to kickstart privatisation plans and the sale of its assets.

  2. Taweelah, UAE – 909,200 m3/day

    Taweelah desalination plants

    Despite the project being in its infancy, when complete Taweelah will catapult the UAE into the top three list.

    To date, seven consortia are bidding on the mega project, including: ACWA Power; Suez International Power SA Dubai Branch (Engie), with Marubeni Corp; Sumitomo Corp, with Veolia Middle East; Valoriza Agua, with Utico FZC and IDB Infrastructure Fund II; Cobra Instalaciones y Servicios, with Orascom Construction; Acciona Agua, with Pal Group; and Suez International, with Sojitz Corporation and NV Besix SA.

    ACWA Power with EPC consortium comprising Sepco3 and Abengoa has so far placed the lowest bid using the higher electricity tariff at AED8.26 ($2.25) at $0.49 per cubic metre.

    More than 40 companies were reported to have initially shown interest in the Taweelah tender.

    Once complete, the Taweela power and water complete is expected to raise the emirate’s proportion of desalinated produced water by RO from 13 percent today to 30 percent by 2022.

  3. Shuaiba 3, Saudi Arabia – 880,000 m3/day

    Shuaiba desalination plants

    A second in the list for Saudi Arabia, the Shuaiba 3 development is located 90 kilometres south of the historic city of Jeddah.

    A consortium involving Siemens of Germany for the power plant and Doosan for the thermal desalination plant were selected by ACWA Power to provide project engineering, procurement and construction of the plant.

    One expansion to the plant has been completed and one expansion is in the final construction stage with a total additional 400,000 m3/day of RO capacity added, according to ACWA Power.

    When complete in the first half of 2019, Shuaiba will eventually overtake Ras Al Khair as the largest operating desalination plant with total capacity of 1,282,000 m3/day.

    The development is part of wider plans from the Water and Electricity Company (WEC) to significantly increase desalination capacity in the country.

  4. Sorek, Israel – 624,000 m3/day

    Sorek desalination plants

    If Ras Al Khair is considered the heavyweight hybrid of the world then Sorek should be considered the heavyweight membrane plant of the world in operation with an enormous 624,000 m3/day capacity.

    Located 15km south of Tel Aviv in Israel and developed by IDE Technologies, the project was and continues to be unique in the use of 16 inch seawater reverse osmosis membranes but in a vertical formation.

    A further development – Sorek 2 – has since been announced with a capacity of 548,000 m3/day. A total of seven local and international companies were recently shortlisted to develop the project.

    Once complete, Sorek 2 will be the sixth desalination plant to operate in Israel alongside Hadera, Ashkelon, the first Sorek, Palmachim and Ashdod.

  5. Rabigh 3 IWP, Saudi Arabia – 600,000 m3/day

    Rabigh desalination plants

    A third in the list for Saudi Arabia, the Rabigh 3 development was recently awarded to ACWA Power.

    Amongst 55 expressions of interest and five bidders, ACWA Power submitted the lowest tariff at 0.53USD/m3 and was selected alongside the Saudi Brothers Commercial Company (SBCC) in Rabigh, Saudi Arabia.

    The Water & Electricity Company will act as the off taker of the project with the desalinated water eventually supplying Makkah al-Mukarramah and Jeddah.

    The Rabigh 3 IWP is being procured under a 25-year build-own-operate (BOO) contract and will commence commercial operation on the 31st of December 2021.

  6. Fujairah 2, United Arab Emirates – 591,000 m3/day

Fujairah desalination plants

A second hybrid to join the list but this time in the UAE, Fujairah 2 stacks up at 591,000 m3/day. This includes multiple components: a 450,000 m3/day thermal plant, a 136,500 m3/day reverse osmosis facility and a 2000 MW power plant.

The contract was awarded to a consortium made up of Alstom for the power and Sidem (Veolia) for the water, under the name of the Fujairah II Independent Water & Power Production project. Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity (ADWEA) is the off-taker.

Sidem says the hybrid MED-RO solution helps to match seasonal water and power demands. Furthermore, to protect the plant from algae blooms which can be problematic in the area, a dissolved air flotation (DAF) system is used as a pre-treatment.

More information on the Fujairah 2 project can be found in the video below:


Can the big get bigger?

Answering the question of whether desalination capacity will continue to be pushed in the world’s largest plants, Leon Awerbuch, director of the International Desalination Association (IDA), said: “I believe mega scale desalination plants in the future will get bigger than Ras Al Khair. The Japanese Mega-Ton projects are already under consideration and a 1,500,000 m3/day project in Saudi Arabia is already in planning stage.”

He added: “In the future there will be projects of this scale in Saudi Arabia, China, India and even in Abu Dhabi there is competitive for the scale of 600,000 m3/day. All of these developments will on an Independent Water Project (IWP) or Independent Water and Power Project (IWPP) basis but will be required and guaranteed by governments.

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