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Academic awarded sustainability medal for solar desalination project

4th March 2021

A project which uses solar energy to turn sea water into clean, safe drinking water has been recognised for its contribution to environmental sustainability with a prestigious award.

Caption:Dr Muhammad Wakil Shahzad, who was awarded the Sustainability Medal 2020 at the annual MEED Projects Awards.Dr Muhammad Wakil Shahzad, of Northumbria University, has developed an innovative desalination process which results in almost double the water production and lower environmental emissions compared to conventional desalination techniques.

His 24/7 Solar Desalination project is a hybridization of the conventional multi-effect distillation (MED) system and a new process known as adsorption desalination (AD). The new hybrid system, known as the MEDAD cycle, is powered by solar energy and cuts CO2 emissions by half compared to conventional methods.

Dr Shahzad’s invention was awarded the Sustainability Medal 2020 at the annual MEED Projects Awards. The award recognises the contribution of a project in promoting environmental sustainability within the GCC countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

The desalination process involves removing salt from sea water to produce safe drinking water and is widely used in most Middle East countries, which have limited rainfall.

Conventional desalination processes are not only energy intensive but also have a negative impact on the environment. The energy used during desalination is produced using fossil fuels such as oil and gas, which result in environmental emissions. In addition, the pre-treatment chemicals used during the process are rejected back into the sea with concentrated brine that affects marine life.

Dr Shahzad began working on the MEDAD cycle project in 2010 while carrying out his PhD at the National University of Singapore. An initial pilot was launched in 2013, with a second taking place in 2015 in collaboration with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Dr Shahzad joined Northumbria’s Department of Mechanical and Construction Engineering in 2019 and has continued to develop his research in this area.

Speaking about his latest award, he said: “The MEED Projects Awards has become the leading stamp of quality and achievement for anyone operating in the GCC region. The awards not only recognize the value and quality of a project but also its wider contribution to society and to the environment.

“The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of clean water and sanitation for all cannot be achieved without significant progress on sustainable water supplies. All other measures such as water reuse and wastewater treatment are unable to fulfill the supply-demand gap and hence seawater desalination is the only possible and feasible solution for future water supplies.

“Unfortunately, all conventional commercial desalination processes are highly energy intensive and also not environment friendly. On the other hand, the hybrid MEDAD cycle desalinates seawater using solar energy at a temperature of 60-80 degrees Celsius and the renewable solar energy is available in abundance in the Middle East.”

Dr Shahzad’s research has already been recognised with various awards, including:

  • National Energy Globe Award, Saudi Arabia (2020)
  • National Sustainability Medal Award, Saudi Arabia (2020)
  • Global Innovation Award in Water, Dubai (2020)
  • National Energy Globe Award, Saudi Arabia (2019)
  • Excellence and Leadership in Water Award, Malaysia (2019)
  • IDA Environmental & Sustainability Award, Dubai (2019)
  • GE-ARAMCO Global Water Challenge Award (2015)

Find out more about Northumbria University’s Department of Mechanical and Construction Engineering.

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