DR. MARTIN KASCHEK AND MOHAMMED AL-SHARMAN

Saudi Arabia 2020 | GREEN ECONOMY | B2B

TBY talks to Dr. Martin Kaschek, CEO of CERAFILTEC GmbH, and Mohammed Al-Sharman, General Manager MENA of CERAFILTEC, on seawater desalination, testing new methods, and expanding the customer base.

Dr. Martin Kaschek
DR. MARTIN KASCHEK
CEO
CERAFILTEC GmbH
Mohammed Al-Sharman
MOHAMMED AL-SHARMAN
General Manager MENA
CERAFILTEC

Could you tell us more about the water-filtering concept that you have developed, and how it is applied in Saudi Arabia?

KASCHEK: CERAFILTEC is essentially the most advanced filtration solution as a pre-treatment to reverse osmosis (RO). This is particularly important in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where seawater and groundwater sources have to be treated by RO. The latter is currently our focus. The groundwater sources in KSA contain brackish water, which is water with too much salt for consumable standards and therefore must be treated via RO. The other impurities that must be removed are iron and manganese. Those must be removed BEFORE the water enters the desalination process. Because un-purified water with particles destroy reverse osmosis membranes, it is imperative that the feed water for the RO has a high quality which. In the past, sand filters were used as a pre-treatment solution, but those do not reach the acceptable results. And unfortunately, commonly used polymeric membranes often do not withstand the heat of deep groundwater in KSA, which can sometimes reach 60 degrees Celsius. If you want to solve this problem for the RO, you must have an ultrafiltration that withstands these high temperatures and produces high-quality water. Exactly this is what the CERAFILTEC solution is doing: Producing highest water quality at large quantities with up to 99 degrees Celsius at very low OPEX. Originally, we brought this technology to KSA in 2010 at which point we further learned that the water also contains radium isotopes. We therefore developed a process that allows us to very efficiently reduce up to 98% of the radium with our technology and process know-how.

What are the other applications of this ceramic membrane solution? Can it be used for seawater desalination?

KASCHEK: Yes, and very successfully. While the ceramic flat sheet membrane is already commonly used in Saudi Arabia for almost 10 years, it is mainly known for its use in groundwater projects. However, CERAFILTEC has just as many advantages in seawater applications. Another problem that sand filters and polymeric filters often struggle with as a pre-treatment to RO is the removal of biological content and material in seawater applications. The CERAFILTEC system has proven itself very useful to solve those issues, specifically due to the corrosion free and robust material characteristics which is needed in seawater. The high-water quality, with a very low Silt Density Index (SDI) is then further increasing the recovery of the RO; and the Transparent Exopolymer Particles (TEP), which are classified to be the main reason for RO fouling, are removed (up to 99%) by our technology. The CERAFILTEC system further allows for a much more compact water treatment plant footprint which saves building space and real estate space for further expansion. Such space savings is usually around 80% over sand filters. Another exciting application for us is the filtering of brine water. Brine water is the leftover waste water from reverse osmosis which is extremely salty and often discharged into large ponds for evaporation. We can to turn this water into drinking water, too! It is a pity. This is precious water currently just being wasted. The same holds true for treated sewage effluent (TSE) which is water that runs through a waste water treatment plant and comes out relatively clean, but not to a level which is consumable or healthy. With CERAFILTEC, we can efficiently remove all bacteria and suspended solids from such TSE to turn it into useable water for agriculture, irrigation, and industrial applications. In fact, treating TSE water is a much more economical solution than generating new usable water from seawater where the required energy to remove the salt via reverse osmosis vastly exceeds the energy used to purify the TSE water with our solution. In addition, purifying TSE water also avoids generating high salt content brine which has a long-term impact on the broader ecosystem.

AL-SHARMAN: The MENA region is known to be the most water scarce region in the world. This problem is attempted to be solved with large desalination treatment plants, as the main source of water in the Arabian world which inherently impacts the ecosystem. Our solution compensates for some of these ramifications as it substantially reduces the total waste of water in the water treatment process. Other focus areas of our solution where we have similarly strong advantages include DAM water, TSE water for reuse, and industrial applications. However, given the unique and extremely resistant properties of our solution, we can operate in all water environments.

Is Saudi Arabia like a research ground for your product?

KASCHEK: We discovered something very special in Saudi that will have a massive impact on the global filtration industry over the next decade: The discovery of high-flux applications for ceramic membranes. You must know, originally, we developed the ceramic flat sheet membrane in 1993 for sewage treatment plants. In such processes, the membrane bioreactor treats the bacteria as good bacteria eat the bad bacteria and leave sludge and clean water. In the conventional system, you use sedimentation where the overflow is “relatively" clean water. Normally, this tank is up to four times larger than using biological treatment. So, we put the membrane directly into the biomass to pull out the clean water without using a big sedimentation tank. When this process was developed, the rate of flow, or “flux," through the ceramic membrane was about three to four times higher than that of polymeric membranes, but also more expensive. When we then came to Saudi Arabia we were asked to treat the groundwater and were quite impressed to discover that the ceramic membrane produces a flux of 10 to 15 times higher than polymer membranes. This clearly elevates the ceramic membrane on the techno-commercial evaluation over the polymeric membrane; especially in groundwater. I see this as a break through discovery that inherently will change the future of water filtration on a global scale.

How do you envision growing your customer base and application of the system in Saudi Arabia?

AL-SHARMAN: Ceramic membranes are already well established for groundwater applications in Saudi Arabia, thanks to Dr. Kaschek team over the past decade. In fact, I would argue Saudi Arabia is leading the ceramic filtration industry for this application. What makes the CERAFILTEC solution special is the very high flux; twice as high as that of other ceramic solutions. With double the flux, the clients have substantial CAPEX and OPEX savings, and can increase the plant capacity without expanding the facility. Further, our solution is made from glass fiber reinforced Noryl from Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC). This material allows us to treat water up to 99 degrees Celsius and enabled us to create a mighty modular and easy to install system, without any bulky parts and without any metal parts.

Do you have any localization of production in mind?

AL-SHARMAN: Most definitely. Localization is one of our priorities to serve the MENA region from Saudi Arabia and following the Saudi vision 2030. Over the past decade Saudi Arabia has been one of our key focus areas. Our German engineering team and management team is visiting KSA frequently and investing into this country. Our plan is to bring production capabilities and technology and R&D capabilities to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and we are quite excited to be part of the change in Saudi.