Saudi Arabia plans to use a new solar technology to desalinate seawater at Neom, a mega-city that it’s developing along the country’s northern Red Sea coast.
Neom will have the world’s first “solar dome” desalination plants, which it said will produce no carbon emissions and create less brine than facilities using conventional reverse osmosis technology, according to a statement. The solar dome plants will also process drinking water more cheaply than conventional plants, at 34 cents per cubic meter, Neom said.
The city’s developer signed an agreement with U.K.-based Solar Water Plc to build the plants. Construction will begin in February and be completed this year, Neom said, without giving estimates for the cost of the project or the amount of drinking water it will process.
Unlike reverse osmosis, in which seawater passes through plastic membranes that remove the salt, Neom will pump ocean water into a dome-like structure of glass and steel. There it will be heated until it evaporates and precipitates as fresh water, Neom said.
The government envisions Neom as a $500 billion project that will include resorts, hi-tech manufacturing and automation. It’s a showpiece of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s goal of curtailing the conservative kingdom’s dependence on crude oil by diversifying the economy. Since it was announced in 2017, however, international investors have been slow to commit to Neom, citing concerns about its commercial viability and political risk.