MEDAD wins MEED Sustainability Medal

Dr. Muhammad Wakil Shahzad, previously a research scientist in the KAUST Water Desalination and Reuse Center, and now a senior lecturer at Northumbria University. File photo.

KAUST-based spinoff MEDAD has won the 2020 Sustainability Medal for its "Innovative Hybrid Solar Desalination Cycle." The company was recognized at the MEED Projects Awards ceremony, which took place on December 16, 2020 in Dubai, UAE. The country holds the annual award ceremony to celebrate excellence in contribution to society and environment in different areas in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC).

"Gaining outstanding recognition in the GCC for a project that promotes environmental sustainability is a great honor for KAUST," said Distinguished Professor Donal Bradley, KAUST vice president for research. "This KAUST-based solar-powered desalination pilot plant exemplifies our focus on areas of global significance, including environment, water and energy, as we strive to enhance the welfare of society. I congratulate Dr. Shahzad and the MEDAD team on their wonderful achievement."

A spinoff of humble origin

The MEDAD hybrid cycle was the Ph.D. project of Dr. Muhammad Wakil Shahzad in 2010 under the supervision of Kim Choon Ng, professor of environmental science and engineering in the KAUST Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division (BESE). The hybrid cycle was first demonstrated at the National University of Singapore (NUS) before both Shahzad and Professor Kim Choon Ng moved to KAUST in 2014. Shahzad, a then postdoctoral fellow, was assigned to lead on the design, fabrication, installation and testing of the MEDAD cycle pilot.

"We successfully tested a 10,000 L/day MEDAD pilot at KAUST, which operated with 352m2 of evacuated tube solar collectors installed on the rooftop at KAUST," Shahzad said.

At the heart of the MEDAD mission, is one of the United Nations sustainability development goals—the provision of clean water and sanitation. The goal is unlikely to be achieved without significant progress on sustainable water supplies in the future, a challenge the MEDAD team aim to solve.

Tech at the heart of sustainable desalination

The hybrid MEDAD cycle desalinates seawater using solar energy at a temperature of 60 - 80 degrees Celsius using renewable solar energy, which is abundant in the Gulf. The hybridization of adsorption (AD) cycle, combined with conventional multi-effect desalination (MED and hence the title MEDAD) helps to overcome the operational limitations of MED and nearly double water production at the same temperature. The resulting hybrid MEDAD cycle has achieved performance levels of 20 percent of thermodynamic limits compared to between 10 and 13 percent for conventional desalination technologies. Accordingly, the water production cost from MEDAD cycle is the lowest at $0.48/m3 compared to other distillation processes which averagely costs $1.201/m3.

Shahzad has worked at KAUST as a postdoctoral fellow, research scientist, and senior research scientist in the Water Desalination and Reuse Center (WDRC). At KAUST he was also given the chance to develop through the drafting of grant and research proposals, as well as pitching to GCC clients.

"KAUST innovative research also provided me the great opportunity to take part in the filing of seven international patent applications, 60 peer reviewed journal papers, two books and 17 book chapters. I have presented in around 100 conferences and given over 15 invited keynote talks and lectures worldwide," Shahzad said. "I was also appointed as a regional coordinator for the Young Leaders Program of the International Desalination Association (IDA-YLP) from 2015-2019."

Continued innovation

Since leaving KAUST in 2019, Shahzad has landed at Northumbria University, UK as a senior lecturer. However, he is still actively involved with the MEDAD project and its team.

MEDAD collaborated with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in its desalination projects. The first 100 m3/day commercial scale project was commissioned in February 2017 at Solar Village, KACST, Riyadh, and is working successfully with solar and an auxiliary boiler. At the same time, another MoU was signed with KACST for a 2,000 m3/day to be installed at Yanbu on the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) site.

MEDAD's desalination technology won the Aramco-GE Global Innovation Challenge award for seawater desalination in 2015. The award went to the lowest cost per cubic meter of water production. The KAUST-based WDRC has a solar-powered and fully automated desalination pilot plant facility that generates up to 10m3 of desalinated water per day in a facility that occupies a laboratory that is roughly 200 m2.

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