KAUST and The Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON) are teaming up to tackle wastewater treatment.
KAUST Associate Professor Peiying Hong has developed a new, zero-energy technology that may hold the key to transforming wastewater sustainability and recycling. MODON is piloting the new wastewater bioreactor technology at scale at their industrial city in Jeddah.
Water has long been a precious resource in Saudi Arabia due to its extreme climate. The government is committed to ensuring the sustainability of its water supply and working to both maximize and reuse it — including 100% of wastewater treated by 2025.
However, most of the wastewater that makes it to treatment facilities is cleaned using an aerobic process. A process that is both energy-intensive and produces a large volume of sludge that is expensive to dispose of.
“The relationship between KAUST and MODON is an excellent example of how universities and industrial partners can work together to solve real challenges in our society and in a city like Jeddah where we need to increase wastewater treatment capacity,” said Kevin Cullen, vice president of Innovation at KAUST.
“This technology not only processes wastewater more efficiently using a decentralized treatment model, it can be done in an energy neutral way — providing sustainability for the future.”
Professor Hong has developed an alternative solution that solves energy demand and sludge production issues using patented anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) technology.
The AnMBR is energy-neutral, decentralized and produces at least 10x lower sludge volumes. Importantly, the water produced can be used to support non-drinking water purposes such as landscaping greenery and urban farming — as the effluent produced by the system retains the nutrients that plants could benefit from.
MODON, who operates significant infrastructure throughout the Kingdom for environmental services including wastewater treatment plants, have selected Hong’s technology to pilot on-site at its Jeddah 1st Industrial City.
KAUST and MODON have collaborated on numerous research projects, including the signing of MoU in 2019.
This solidified a common line of action between the organizations including KAUST as an R&D partner for MODON’s range of companies around the Kingdom and targeting key issues and challenges faced by the country — such as water sustainability.
Qusai Al-Abdulkarim, director of Marketing and Corporate Communication Department and spokesperson of the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON), reiterated MODON’s commitment to implementing basic and applied research projects across all sectors, including areas related to sustainability, environment, natural resources conservation and improvement of utilization and operational efficiency.
This commitment, however, will be delivered through a range of unique partnerships with many local and international academic institutions and universities such as KAUST, thus enabling the transfer and localization of modern technologies into the industrial cities and strengthening the drive toward digital transformation.
This is in addition to adoption of the applications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). Such will be carried out as part of MODON’s strategy to enable industry and increase local content in line with its pivotal role in Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP).
The pilot plant will treat 25,000 to 50,000 liters of wastewater per day, playing a strategic role in addressing Saudi Arabia’s water needs. MODON chose to pilot the AnMBR at such a scale, as it will be the first demonstration of cleaning wastewater with minimal energy costs in the region. The pilot reactor is currently operational at the MODON site.
“The MODON site will demonstrate the entire anaerobic membrane bioreactor system coupled with an appropriate disinfection strategy. We want to demonstrate the whole process in terms of its energy costs and its operating costs,” said Professor Hong. “Our goal is to understand if it can be more competitive compared to the existing treatment technologies.”
In the future, urban environments will have to find ways of recycling water more efficiently to cope with a warmer climate and the water stress caused by growing populations. Promoting water reuse at zero energy cost can help achieve this environmentally sustainable objective.
The AnMBR is an example of cutting-edge, yet usable technology developed at KAUST. The university stands ready to partner with innovative organizations to implement this type of technology at scale and calibrate it into real-world conditions.
With water reuse a key objective of Saudi’s Vision 2030, the significant impact potential of this breakthrough highlights how KAUST is commercializing technologies that can benefit the Kingdom