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Who says seawater is undrinkable?

Actually, it tastes good. You don’t believe it? Just have a taste!

It covers two-thirds of the earth’s surface and makes up 75 percent of the human body. Water is the cradle of life, but some parts of our planet have almost none and many regions are critically short of drinking water. ABB water solutions are helping to turn that around.

ABB is delivering an energy-efficient power and automation package to help operate the world’s largest seawater desalination plant using reverse osmosis (RO) technology, now under construction in Oran, Algeria. The efficiency of the ABB solution is central to the project because electricity is one of the single biggest running costs of the desalination process. Increasing the efficiency of the process makes potable water more affordable.

Electricity is one of desalinations’s biggest running costs, so making the process more energy efficient means potable water is more affordable.

Almost the whole of Algeria is classified as “arid,” and 80 percent of the land lies in desert zones where rainfall is almost nil, but a reliable, cost-efficient desalination process and the Mediterranean Sea offer an abundant source of potable water.

When it starts operations in 2011, the Magtaa desalination plant will produce some 500,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, enough to meet the needs of about five million people.

Complete electrical package

ABB is supplying a complete electrical package to power the entire plant. This includes power transformers, a range of medium- and low-voltage switchgear, and a 220-kilovolt outdoor substation that will ensure the desalination process has a reliable and sufficient supply of electricity, without destabilizing the Algerian power grid.

To help the desalination process, ABB is delivering 33 medium-voltage drives. These intelligent motor control systems significantly reduce the amount of energy consumed by motors used to drive pumps and other equipment at desalination plants, compared to traditional suction-valve control.

In the plant, drives will reduce electrical losses from the benchmark target of 5 percent to only 3 percent – a huge improvement in energy efficiency compared to accepted industry standards.

This is very important because, depending on the type of desalination process, energy consumption is between 20 and 60 percent of total production cost. By improving efficiency, these costs can be lowered, making potable water more affordable, and available to more people.

ABB drives also reduce plant downtime, ease mechanical stress on pumps and electrical stress on motors, and extend the life of the semi-permeable membranes at the heart of the RO desalination process.*

ABB is a leading supplier of power and automation solutions to the water sector, with a complete capability in integrated and optimized ICE (instrumentation, control and electrical) systems, as well as a range of automation products that improve the energy efficiency, productivity and reliability of plant assets.

Strategic partnership

The Magtaa plant is being built by Singapore-based Hyflux Ltd., Asia’s leading water treatment company specializing in membrane technologies. ABB has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Hyflux to develop energy-efficient technology and solutions in the areas of reverse osmosis membrane optimization and monitoring systems, as well as pump efficiency performance management.

* Reverse osmosis (RO): brackish water or seawater is pumped at high pressure through a fine-pored, semi-permeable membrane in a closed vessel. Concentrated brine and impurities remain on one side of the membrane; water molecules pass through it, resulting in potable water on the other side. Exerting pressure with a pump is necessary because in regular osmosis, the water molecules would naturally flow the other way – in the direction of higher concentrations of salt and impurities.