Opinion

On course for clean and green

February 13, 2023
Tony Chan, KAUST President
Tony Chan, KAUST President

By Tony Chan, KAUST President

The PIF Saudi International golf tournament got into full swing in early February, and professional golfers impressed fans and newcomers to the sport alike with their top-scoring skills. As the sport gains traction with residents, and new golf facilities are developed across the Kingdom, the question is raised — where will the water come from to maintain the courses? After all, the game requires big tracts of land and lots of water to keep the grass green. The good news is there are sustainable solutions, and one is under your feet.

Saudi Arabia is investing in innovative wastewater treatment technologies to provide clean water for non-potable reuse applications such as horticulture, industry and irrigation, including water for lawns and golf courses. The Kingdom’s goal is to achieve 70% water reuse by 2030. The average person produces 70–100 gallons of wastewater daily. Rather than “go to waste,” water down the toilet or drain can be recycled.

Wastewater treatment is not new, but the business has upped its game by utilizing novel, low-cost and efficient technologies that deliver exceptionally clean freshwater. Some of the more promising approaches being used in treatment facilities across the Kingdom have been developed by researchers here at KAUST.

In Jeddah’s first industrial city, MODON is piloting a zero-energy wastewater plant using technology developed by KAUST researcher Peiying Hong, an associate professor of environmental science and engineering. The plant will treat 25,000 to 50,000 liters of wastewater per day, playing a strategic role in addressing Saudi Arabia’s water needs.

The success of this system over conventional methods lies in a patented anaerobic (without oxygen) membrane bioreactor and UV disinfectant process that both generates electricity and produces clean water, with minimal costs and 10x less sludge — a thick liquid byproduct of wastewater treatment that’s expensive and energy-intensive to clean.

In another example, a full-scale mobile wastewater treatment plant developed by KAUST Professor Pascal Saikaly of environmental science and engineering and Dr. Muhammad Ali, a former KAUST research scientist, is being installed in Rabigh with local partner National Water Company.

The technology will efficiently treat and convert wastewater into reusable water for areas not connected to the centralized sewer network, while reducing energy demand by 50%. About 40% of households in the Kingdom don't have access to a centralized sewer network. The decentralized unit can treat 150 m3 of wastewater, producing clean water that serves about 1000-2000 persons.

The successful demonstration of innovative water reuse technologies such as these will help the Kingdom conserve water, and, in the case of golf, align with goals to create a sustainable golf ecosystem using environmentally-friendly water reuse requirements to keep the grass on the course green. Yet more reasons to enjoy Saudi golf!


February 13, 2023
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