Desalination: the main challenges to be met

Desalination: the main challenges to be met
Desalination: the main challenges to be met

Seawater desalination, which is one of the choices made by Morocco to deal with water stress, has begun to bear fruit and will have to increase further in the future, but it still has several challenges to overcome.

This is what emerged from the discussions that took place at a workshop organized by the Caisse de dépôt et de gestion (CDG) on desalination technologies, as part of the 8th edition of the International Water and Sanitation Technologies Exhibition (SITeau), organized from July 2 to 4, 2024, in Casablanca, by Field Attitude, the Moroccan Coalition for Water (COALMA) and its partners.

The desalination of seawater has, in fact, allowed Morocco to maintain the supply of drinking water even after six years of drought in a row, particularly in Agadir, stressed Jamal Tammar, director of the Water, Development and Environment division at Novec, a company of the CDG group.

Read also: Seawater desalination: Morocco has huge green potential at competitive cost, experts say

Morocco’s experience in the field of desalination, it was recalled during this workshop, started from small stations, particularly in the south of the country, in the 1970s, to large stations such as the one under construction in Casablanca, which has an annual production capacity of 300 million m³ per year.

Morocco currently has 11 desalination plants and plans to build a multitude of others in different regions of the country. This has allowed Morocco to benefit from significant know-how in this field, it is noted.

However, the participants in this meeting raised several challenges to be met: technical and technological, environmental, financial and economic…

Desalination, a complex undertaking

A desalination project is “quite complex” and requires taking into account several indicators: economic, social, environmental, etc., notes Anas Bennani, head of the Sustainable Development department at Novec.

Thus, on the technical level, Abdelaziz Boughriba, an expert in desalination, indicated that research plays a major role in the development of desalination, particularly for reducing the cost of producing desalinated water. Among the objects of this research is the improvement of membrane performance.

These are filter structures that allow water molecules to pass through, but stop the ions that make up salt, or sodium chloride. Research is being conducted in this area at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Benguerir, he said. However, the path to be taken in this area is still long, according to participants.

Read also: Casablanca Desalination Plant: The Significance of a Princely Inauguration

Regarding the environmental aspect, a desalination project presents four nuisances in particular: brine (concentrated sea salt), carbon footprint, barrier effect (opposition to a change in the state of a subject) and landscape aggression, notes Anas Bennani.

And it is above all the discharge of brine into the marine environment, after desalination, which constitutes the main problem to be solved, the participants emphasize. To minimize this environmental impact, the solution adopted by Morocco is dilution. This is a device of diffusers which promotes the dilution of brine in seawater and thus limits pollution.

Overall, Morocco has made significant progress in the environmental aspect, as illustrated by the commitment of international donors to projects launched in Morocco, according to Anas Bennani.

«The financial burden on the state should not be increased»

Challenges in desalination also relate to financing and profitability. As such, workshop participants emphasize financial innovation and profitability of desalination projects. They mention several sources of financing that need to be mobilized, including investment funds.

Read also: Immersion in the Safi desalination plant, a feat by OCP

To this end, Ilyas Sefiani, senior investment director at CDG Invest Management, highlighted the significant contribution of CDG Invest, which participated in the financing of the Chtouka station and is ready to contribute to future stations.

Omar Chrifi, investment associate at Natixis, insisted on the viability and profitability of desalination projects in order to be able to repay debts and remunerate shareholders.The funding gap must be reduced, the financial burden on the State must not be increased” he says.

Moreover, according to Jamal Tammar, using the private sector to carry out desalination projects is the best option, since the private sector allows for faster and cheaper work.

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