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Wed June 19 2019

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New solutions sought for desalination challenges

5 Jun A competition has been launched to find new ways of protecting marine habitats from the brine that is discharged as a by-product of desalination.

The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), which is creating a luxury resort in Saudi Arabia, has launched the Brains for Brine Challenge with King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (Kaust).

The competition is challenging academics, scientists, engineers and the water industry to come up with new solutions to manage the disposal of brine. Kaust and TRSDC describe the issue as one of the world’s great environmental challenges.

“Desalination is an extraordinary technology that has brought potable water to millions and helped advance regions that were previously dry,” said TRSDC CEO John Pagano. “However, the waste product of desalination is brine, and there is no adequate solution available to minimize its impact on the environment. TRSDC has pledged to help create technological solutions to environmental problems. The launch of the Brains for Brine Challenge is an example of our determination to set a new standard in sustainable development.”

Applicants have until 1st August 2019 to submit their proposals. Five winners of the competition will present their solutions at Amsterdam International Water Week, where up to three prize winners will be eligible for a first prize of US$10,000 each.

As a longer-term plan, there is the potential for the winners to be supported through angel-investment and other mentoring opportunities, to ensure the solutions have as much chance as possible of success.

“I have no doubt that the lessons we learn from the application of technology to sustainable development on the Red Sea Project will be used in the future to benefit fragile ecosystems around the world,” said Dr Carlos Duarte, professor of Marine Science at KAUST and member of the TRSDC global advisory board.

Population growth, economic development and rapid urbanization in areas with little fresh water resources have led to a continuously increasing discharge of brine into the world’s seas, said the competition organisers. The salty effluent is a by-product of efforts to extract fresh water from the sea. Existing methods to dispose of brine include pumping the solution back into the sea, or into catchment areas where the salt is harvested.

The salty water can pose a significant threat to marine life. The lack of natural fresh water in the Middle East means that the region has the highest concentration of desalination plants and produces over half of global brine effluent.

“Effectively managing brine discharge not only has a direct positive impact on our seas, but also allows us to recover valuable minerals,” said Professor Hans Vrouwenvelder, director of the Kaust Water Desalination & Reuse Center. “This lowers the costs of brine treatment, as well as reducing the environmental impact of the traditional harvesting of these minerals.”

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