Saudi Arabia announced the construction of the first “solar dome” plant capable of desalinating water. The initiative is a partnership between the country’s government and the private company Solar Water — headquartered in London — and aims to develop a new carbon-neutral technique, free of polluting chemicals and without large amounts of electricity to transform seawater in fresh drinking water, on a mass and commercial scale.
The proposal is part of the “NEOM” project, which foresees a cost of US$ 500 billion to encourage solutions in search of a clean future. The agreement was signed at the end of January 2020 and the creation of the plant — located in the northwest of the country — is already in its final phase, scheduled to be completed this year.
“The plant is essentially a steel pot buried underground, covered by a [glass] dome, making it look like a ball,” said David Reavley, president of Solar Water in an interview with CNN Arabia. This installation is based on an experimental technology of concentrated solar energy, composed of heliostatic reflectors (with an appearance similar to that of panels), which focus the radiation towards the interior of the base.
The stored heat is then directed to the seawater inside the dome, causing the liquid to evaporate and then condense to become drinking water. The executive claims that ecological construction also brings as an advantage a relatively low value and easy application, which can promote its economic use in various parts of the world where there is a shortage of drinking water, especially in the Middle East.
It is worth remembering that water covers 71% of the Earth, but only 3% of this index is fresh water. Given the lack of this resource in large parts of the planet where there is also little rainfall, finding alternatives motivates efforts to develop new desalination technologies.
In addition to Solar Water, other companies are pursuing this goal, such as Solar Water Solutions and the Climate Fund Manager. Together, their work has already installed around 200 carbon-neutral desalination units in Kitui County (Kenya), with the promise of providing clean water to 400,000 people by 2023. Other innovative experiences, such as in the UAE, used “drones of rain” to discharge electricity into clouds and encourage precipitation.