Innovative water technology companies like Alpha Utilities are propelling desalination in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Directors of the company include Bhanu Choudhrie, who is also the founder and director of the international private equity firm C&C Alpha Group.
The number of global desalination plants – which turn salt water into fresh water – has expanded steadily over the last 10 years. Today, there are approximately 21,000 desalination plants, and the sector’s capacity is increasing between 6–12% annually. Factors like climate change and population growth in water-stressed regions, such as the Middle East, are driving this expansion.
Here’s a look at desalination technology and how Alpha Utilities is leading the way in the reverse osmosis process.
An introduction to Bhanu Choudhrie and Alpha Utilities
C&C Alpha Group created Alpha Utilities in 2005 to develop water and wastewater utility projects in the UAE and the wider GCC region. A veteran investor and entrepreneur, Bhanu Choudhrie oversees C&C Alpha Group’s management of innovative enterprises in several sectors, such as real estate and health care.
Bhanu Choudhrie and the Alpha Utilities team
At Alpha Utilities, Bhanu Choudhrie works with a group of experienced directors who guide the company’s teams of engineering professionals. These professionals provide operation and maintenance services for desalination plants. The team also has capabilities in building and maintaining wastewater treatment plants.
Additionally, Alpha Utilities draws on a network of technical consultancies to develop new projects and enhance existing capabilities.
Alpha Utilities’ services and products
Alpha Utilities specialises in developing small-scale build, own, operate, and transfer (BOOT) desalination plants. These plants enable local organisations and communities to access vital water and wastewater services without allocating excessive resources and capital.
Based in Sharjah, UAE, Alpha Utilities has almost 20 years of extensive experience taking plant projects from design to commissioning. The company’s team brings a range of skills and industry-specific knowledge to the creation, construction, and operation of desalination and wastewater plants.
On top of this, Alpha Utilities produces premium drinking water for bottling. The company also supplies industrial waters to numerous sectors, including the pharmaceutical, leisure, and energy industries.
Corporate clients in Sharjah’s Hamriyah Free Zone and further afield rely on Alpha Utilities for:
- Drinkable, sweet water.
- Low total dissolved solids (TDS) water and remineralised water.
- Demineralised water.
- Water tailored to clients’ recipes and mineral requirements.
Alpha Utilities owns and operates a reverse osmosis plant in the UAE that generates 1.5 million gallons of water per day. Another 2.2 million-gallon-per-day plant is in the final stages of construction elsewhere in the region.
Bhanu Choudhrie on the growing demand for desalination
High-quality, accessible water resources are crucial in any residential or industrial development. However, water scarcity is an increasing concern for many countries. From areas of the Middle East to the U.S. (especially in Arizona and California), dry regions with growing populations need solutions to meet freshwater demand.
Though progress has been slow, many countries are turning to desalination as a means of obtaining fresh water supplies. Globally, over 300 million people now get their water from desalination plants.
The cost of desalinated water has fallen as the technology has evolved and the cost of other fresh water sources has risen. In the last 30 years, the cost of desalination has decreased by more than 50%.
Desalination isn’t the ideal freshwater solution for every country, as the technology can be costly. However, there are places where desalination makes economic sense. Examples include Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries like the UAE. These countries are at higher risk of water scarcity but have plenty of available energy resources.
A closer look at reverse osmosis desalination
There are two main types of industrial desalination: thermal and reverse osmosis.
Thermal desalination heats water to capture the salt-free condensation. Reverse osmosis desalination forces seawater through the miniscule pores of a fine membrane. This membrane allows water molecules to pass through but traps larger salt molecules, leaving behind a solution with a high salt concentration (known as brine).
Currently, both desalination methods use lots of energy. Reverse osmosis is more commonly used as it consumes comparatively less energy. Around 80% of the world’s desalination plants use reverse osmosis, while the remaining 20% rely on thermal desalination.
Environmental drawbacks and advances in technology
In some regions, fossil fuels provide the energy for desalination. Experts warn that this could create a feedback loop where desalination demand grows as the planet warms, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, could help reduce the consumption of desalination plants.
Aside from energy usage, there are also concerns about the damage to marine life from the intake systems and brine wastewater of desalination plants. However, advances in renewable energy and desalination technology could improve the efficiency and sustainability of the process.
A 2019 study from the Institute for Water, Environment, and Health at the United Nations University has proposed several ways to turn desalination-related environmental issues into economic opportunities.
One such opportunity involves using brine wastewater for aquaculture, to generate electricity, or to recover the metals brine contains. These metals include magnesium, calcium, potassium, and lithium.
In 2023, engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and other collaborators developed a solar-powered desalination system. Meanwhile, scientists at New York’s Columbia University have created a more cost-efficient solvent-based extraction method called TSSE.
Biotechnology could also provide pioneering solutions for sustainable desalination. For example, through cultivating cyanobacteria that can process seawater.
While scientists are making advances in desalination technology, experts emphasise that the market changes slowly. The breakthrough discoveries in reverse osmosis membrane technology came about in the 1960s. However, the number of reverse osmosis plants only surpassed the number of thermal plants in the 1990s.
Water security on the United Nations Climate Change Conference agenda
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) convened in November 2023 in the UAE. While the country is the world’s eighth-largest producer of oil, it has demonstrated an ambitious commitment to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. During the last 15 years, the country has actively pursued initiatives to advance technologies that enable more sustainable paths for development.
The UAE previously confirmed that water security will be a core component of the COP28 agenda. Mariam Mohammed Saeed Al Mheiri is the country’s Minister of Climate Change and the Environment. She has urged the global community to increase support for safeguarding water systems and humanitarian efforts. Emphasising the need for more impactful measures, Al Mheiri has underscored the importance of a robust response to these challenges.
Alpha Utilities meets the rising demand for water in the Middle East
Meanwhile, the demand for quality drinking and industrial water products in the GCC region continues to rise. In the UAE, 42% of drinking water comes from desalination plants that produce over 7 million cubic meters (approximately 1.85 billion gallons) per day. The production of desalinated water in the country may almost double by 2030.
Since its inception, Alpha Utilities has swiftly expanded to meet the rising demand for water in the region. The company has:
- Extended its team of engineers, operators, and project specialists.
- Increased its desalination capacity.
- Helped corporate clients build and operate desalination plants of varying scales.
As a result, Alpha Utilities is in a strong position to support the accelerating demand for desalination products and services in the UAE and beyond.
About Bhanu Choudhrie
Bhanu Choudhrie is a seasoned entrepreneur, business leader, and strategic investor. He is the founder of C&C Alpha Group, a leading, family-run private equity firm with global business interests.
As an investor, Choudhrie always looks to support long-term opportunities. C&C Alpha Group installs trusted management teams into the companies it acquires to execute efficient growth strategies. Some of Choudhrie’s investment success stories with C&C Alpha Group include Alpha Hospitals and Air Deccan.
Aside from his leadership role at C&C Alpha Group, Choudhrie serves as a director at Alpha Utilities. Alpha Utilities is a leader in water and wastewater services in the UAE.
Choudhrie has previously held the role of chairman of the Business Advisory Board for Commonwealth Games England. He has also helped raise funds for to support the England team.
In 2008, the Asian Voice Political and Public Life Awards named Choudhrie Entrepreneur of the Year. The award acknowledged his extensive successes in the corporate world and his philanthropic work.
Learn more about Bhanu Choudhrie.