Fresh water is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity, and water sourcing and management will become an ever greater challenge for energy producers. In 2010 ConocoPhillips launched the Global Water Sustainability Center to study technology related to produced water and desalination. Located in Doha, Qatar, the group’s research addresses ways to reduce freshwater consumption and minimize the environmental impact of wastewater discharge from oil and gas operations.
“We’re looking at innovative solutions to utilize water from our industry’s operations,” said Samer Adham, director of the GWSC. “We realize that water is an important global issue and that we need new and efficient solutions.”
The GWSC also partners with local Qatari governmental agencies to enhance awareness of water conservation in the region, which receives less than 7 inches of rain each year. Regional water needs are high and growing, which means the center is positioned to both understand local interests and contribute to solutions globally.
A key research area for the center is desalination, a process that transforms salt water into consumable water. A current field pilot project with Qatar University’s chemical engineering department measures the effectiveness of augmenting thermal desalination with membrane distillation to produce fresh water. Thermal desalination uses a heat source to boil water. As the water evaporates salt and minerals are left in the base water while the pure water becomes steam. As the steam cools it forms condensed purified water. Membrane desalination, often referred to as reverse osmosis, incorporates two different approaches. Water is forced through a membrane to filter out salt and minerals, and an electrical current is used to separate salt and other minerals from the water.
“This partnership brings together leading industrial and academic organizations,” said Gary Sykes, president of ConocoPhillips Qatar. “To my knowledge this is the first field-testing project being done in the Middle East and arguably in the world for such unique application of membrane distillation technology.”
In addition to researching desalination processes, the GWSC has begun working with Qatargas to analyze and provide potential treatment options for recycling produced water from its liquefied natural gas operations. The organization also received a grant in 2012 from the Qatar Foundation for its innovative project on the biotreatment of petrochemical byproduct water.
At ConocoPhillips we’re proud to be at the forefront of water sustainability. The Global Water Sustainability Center reflects our commitment to using innovative solutions to address issues of global concern.