Posted: Thursday 13th March 2014

The small Maldivian Island of Guhli welcomes the world’s first desalination unit utilizing the waste heat of the local power generator to produce up to 10 tons of drinking water per day through membrane distillation.

Today the tap was turned on for a new way of making the energy water nexus work on the small coral Island of Guhli, which measures approximately 600 by 300 meters. It is home to about 1200 inhabitants, a shipyard and a growing number of guesthouses. There are no natural sweet water sources other than seasonal rain, and therefore, Guhli was reliant on water imports. The water produced through this new technology will be used to reliably provide water for drinking, cooking and hygienic purposes.

The project was developed by the local power company STELCO in a joint venture with Aquiva Foundation, which won a tender in 2013 asking to desalinate water utilizing the waste heat available on all Maldivian Islands.

The desalination plant taps into the cooling cycle of local diesel generators to retrieve the thermal heat that is otherwise wasted into the air. This waste heat of about 85 degrees C drives a desalination process under vacuum using the membrane distillation modules of the German/Singaporean company memsys. This robust process follows, in essence, the natural water cycle and results in distillate water of the highest purity. This distillate is then mineralized using local coral sand for a good Maldivian taste. It is distributed under the brand “AQUIVA fushi” – fushi standing for the pure island taste created by coral sand in the mineralization process.

The water is only available in reusable containers in order to prevent the pollution of the pristine Maldivian nature through the plastic waste of one-way bottles.

“This project shows our efforts to provide environmentally sustainable solutions which improve the conditions for our people using break through technologies,” said the Maldivian Energy Minister Mr. Thoriq Ibrahim.

Florian Bollen, CEO of the Aquiva Foundation, noted that, “We say thank you for the joint effort of all parties involved in this project: The Maldivian Authorities, the Guhli Island Council, STELCO providing waste heat and land, our local integrator Static, and our technology suppliers Aquaver and memsys. We believe that this is a good example of how water problems can be solved sustainably on a local level, even in situations where no sweet water is available. We are already working to apply this concept to many of the 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives, a number of Resort Islands plus other nations.”

The UN water expert Jehaan Saleem stated that, “A good supply of safe drinking water has to be on top of the agenda of many small island nations since water-borne diseases are still one of the largest threats to the health of the people on earth.”

Water-related diseases are common in the Maldives. Apart from its geographic isolation, factors that contribute to the disease burden include shortage of clean water, general lack of awareness among the public regarding the links between environment, clean water and personal health, water treatment and water sources. Therefore improving access to safe water by developing sustainable systems that can be maintained by the island communities such as the “AQUIVA fushi” is crucial to improve health and well-being, particularly among the population in the atolls.

Edgar Konijnendijk, responsible for the drinking water program at Aquaver, said, “It’s a privilege to be part of such an exciting and challenging project. Working with the local population makes you realize the urgency for clean fresh water today and their will to develop the islands further. Providing remote communities with clean drinking water requires a simple and robust system – low in maintenance and easy to use. This is exactly what we have achieved with our plants. Their unique ability to utilize waste heat makes them suitable for other remote communities all around the world.”

Wolfgang Heinzl, the developer of the memsys technology, commented, “Today, the memsys process is applied in many industries for waste water treatment, ethanol separation and cooling processes. In light of the growing water problems in this world, sustainable desalination was one of the most important issues on our minds when developing the memsys process. We are committed to supporting efforts to make this a reality.”

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April 2021

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