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HomeUncategorizedHow UAE water innovation helps build a more sustainable future

How UAE water innovation helps build a more sustainable future

How UAE water innovation helps build a more sustainable future

The story of the future of our planet is a story about water.

As the climate crisis devastates agriculture, biodiversity and water security, scientists and entrepreneurs are collaborating under pressure to stay ahead of growing water challenges: how to access it, distribute it and use it efficiently, economically and sustainably.

A hot arid climate may seem unlikely as a prime location for aquatic innovation. But the extreme desert conditions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are ideal as a natural incubator for inventing, testing and building the solutions needed by the world’s most marginalized populations.

Innovations in the use of water for the development of sustainable agriculture, desalination and production are among the top priorities of the UAE today. Several key initiatives in various stages of development include innovative strategies to grow food in the desert, desalinate more salt and use by-products, and improve cloud seeding to bring rain where people need it.

sustainable agriculture

An estimated 1.7 billion people live in marginal areas where agriculture faces a number of constraints such as water scarcity, salinity and drought. Most people are extremely poor and malnourished.

To ensure food and water security in these areas International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) has been engaged in advanced agriculture for more than 20 years, steadily building a unique gene bank that contains more than 15,000 accessions of about 270 plant species that thrive in harsh conditions.

Since its founding, ICBA has introduced a range of sustainable and nutritious crops and resource-saving technologies to rural areas in some 30 countries; trained more than 30,000 farmers on advanced biosalt farming techniques; and implemented capacity development programs for thousands of women and young people in 93 countries.

“As water becomes scarcer and climate change affects our ability to grow food,” says Dr. Tarifa Alzaabi, Acting CEO of ICBA, “we need to find a new path to a water and food-rich future, making the most of limited opportunities. . resources at our disposal while reducing the impact we have on the environment. And the UAE is becoming a global hub for developing and testing innovations that can help us do just that.”

Local food sourcing is critical to reducing transport carbon emissions, especially in a country like the UAE which imports 90% of its food. Solution Smart Acres: A vertical indoor hydroponic farm that grows 13 cycles of lettuce per year, producing 20 times more food using a tenth of the land and 90% less water than traditional farming requires. Smart Acres is working to increase its production from 11 tons to 105 tons of leafy greens per year.

Agricultural innovation in the UAE is not limited to the use of fresh water and fertile land. Khalifa University Marine Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) developed a process that uses farmed fish and shrimp waste as fertilizer to grow halophytes: salt plants that purify water and air. These salt water-loving plants produce oil-rich seeds ideal for the jet biofuel used to power an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam in 2019.

Sources, production, cloud filling

The Middle East produces half of the world’s desalinated water, as much as 7.5 million m3 in a day. But it comes at a cost. The standard thermal desalination process—boiling seawater, capturing and condensing its vapors—is costly, generates significant carbon emissions, and generates large amounts of wastewater.

Another method, membrane desalination, filters the salt from seawater rather than digesting it. Center for Water Research in New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has developed nanomaterials and advanced membrane technologies suitable for the climate of the Middle East, which reduce the energy required to produce clean water from sea water to 2.5 kW/m.3: significant reduction compared to the thermal desalination standard from 12 to 18 kW/m3.

NYUAD is developing methods to extract magnesium-based minerals from desalination by-products to support the decarbonization of cement production. The 200-year process of producing cement by heating limestone and clay accounts for 8% of annual anthropogenic (man-made) carbon emissions worldwide. NYUAD uses these minerals to prototype CalMag, a type of binder that requires so little heat to produce and even absorbs CO2 as it solidifies – that the process itself is carbon negative.

The UAE gets just 4% of its water supply from surface, groundwater and rainwater: a significant burden for its 10 million inhabitants. But getting more rain by using atmospheric water is no longer a matter of wishful thinking.

Team in Khalifa University (CU) in Abu Dhabi, led by Professor Linda Zow, won a US$1.5 million government grant with the idea of ​​creating cloud seeding nanotechnology that efficiently condenses water vapor and produces droplets larger than methods used for decades—producing three times more water than precipitation. After promising testing, the cloud seed material could be ready for mass production in 2022.

Plumbing work

While it may seem counterintuitive, it makes sense that so much water innovation today comes from this desert nation. The irrigation systems that allowed the region’s ancestors to survive and thrive thousands of years ago planted the seeds of water conservation and management that still grow here today.

Innovators in the United Arab Emirates operate in an environment that asks difficult questions about water and pushes them to seek answers. For a planet under increasing climate stress, their water management decisions today can lead to a more responsible, more sustainable and more equitable future for the world.


Find out more about how United Arab Emirates leads the way in water innovation and other sustainability measures.

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