In 2013, Masdar launched a renewable energy desalination pilot programme to research and develop energy-efficient, cost-competitive desalination technologies powered by renewable energy. The project was officially inaugurated during UAE Innovation Week in November 2015.
Commercial partners – Abengoa, Suez, Veolia and Trevi Systems – each developed and operated a next-generation pilot seawater desalination plant in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi. A fifth pilot was installed in October 2016 by Mascara Renewable Water. The four plants tested a range of innovative approaches to boost operational efficiency of reverse osmosis, a technique where salt water is purified through membranes. A fifth pilot was installed in October 2016 by Mascara Renewable Water, a unique off-grid solar powered solution without batteries, ideally suited for remote locations. The commercial partners operated the pilot plants for periods of between 12-15 months.
The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, now a part of Khalifa University, also conducted five research projects on the pilot projects in collaboration with the commercial partners.
The Masdar-led desalination project was sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Government, with co-funding provided by the industry partners. A Masdar report published at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018 on the results of the programme found that one of the most promising solutions was solar-powered reverse osmosis, a technique where salt water is purified through membranes. This method proved to be up to 75 per cent more energy efficient than the thermal desalination technologies currently used in the UAE.