Business Profiles

Abengoa Water: Down to the last drop

Since 1941, Abengoa has put sustainability first. For Abengoa Water, this means clean water treatment that not only keeps the life-giving resource fresh, but is carried out in an environmentally maintainable way. With exciting new plants in the works and an ever-growing global presence, we caught up with Abengoa Water to see what was new for the innovative subsidiary.

Technology is making science fiction-esque strides across the markets, in everything from Virtual Reality and AI to cleaner, more intelligent industry. Abengoa are a global biotechnology company; they have been chasing the future since 1941, working to improve efficiency and sustainability across multiple crucial sectors, including energy, telecommunications, transportation and the environment. Founded by Javier Benjumea Puigcerver and José Manuel Abaurre Fernández-Pasalagua in Spain, Abengoa now operates around the world, present in the United States, Algeria, Ghana, China, India and the United Arab Emirates. From this global platform, the company seeks to influence and raise the bar for these sectors the world over, producing biofuels and biochemicals and promoting the sustainable use of raw materials.

One such raw material is water. This life-giving resource falls under the jurisdiction of one of Abengoa’s many subsidiary companies, aptly called Abengoa Water. Focusing on water treatment, and in particular on desalination, Abengoa Water are constantly pushing to expand their reach by building more and ever-better plants and facilities. In the company’s own words; “To reach our goals, we have a carefully designed strategy based on developing our own technology, which enables us to find innovative solutions in the water treatment sphere.” This is achieved through constant investment in R&D programmes (the company have been known to spend over €8 million on R&D in a year), which not only focus on improving efficiency in order to boost their financial returns, but always keeps sustainability at the forefront of its research.

Abengoa Water works both independently and in cooperation with third parties. The award-winning company owns many of the plants they operate, and those they operate for others are done so on long-term contracts. This means they have time to build upon their operations, in experience, staff training and improved technology, to make sure they get the very best out of the plants under their control.

As specialists in desalination, Abengoa Water have added many new desalination plants to its legion over the years. Desalination is the process of extracting salt and mineral components from saline water. The process can clean undrinkable waste water and, significantly, can utilize plentiful seawater in response to the highly present global issues of drought and flood. Worldwide, over 230 million people currently depend on desalinated water daily, as it is a reliable and sustainable way to ensure that their water supply conforms to World Health Organization (WHO) standards. There are many methods for achieving desalination on a large scale, including vacuum distillation, vapour-compression distillation and reverse osmosis. However, of all clean water methods, these approaches are the heaviest on energy use – this is why Abengoa are endlessly innovating to develop the life-saving technology and to bring down this environmental cost.

The latest of Abengoa Water’s new projects is a new 275,000 m3/day desalination plant in the Agadir region, Morocco, the contract for which was signed in June this year. The project, valued at €309 million, will be the largest plant designed for drinking water and irrigation. The contract also provides for a possible capacity expansion up to 450,000 m3/day. The construction is being developed by separate clients; Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable (ONEE), the Ministry of Agriculture, Sea Fisheries and Rural Development and the Ministry of Waters and Forests of Morocco. These clients originally wanted two separate projects, but the two have been combined into one plant to save on waste; ONEE wanted a 50 % expansion of production capacity under Abengoa’s current contract with them, which would increase capacity to 150,000 m3/d of drinking water; the second project was to produce 125,000 m3/d of irrigation water as well as the construction of a corresponding irrigation network for a total of 13,600 ha for the Ministry of Agriculture. As well as combining the two to save resources and maximise efficiency, Abengoa Water plan to make the project capable of switching to running on wind power. Once complete, they will still hold the contract for engineering, construction, operation and maintenance of the plant for the following 27 years.

Moving forwards, the company is looking into the possibility of solar desalination, the natural next step in sustainable plant solutions. Solar power would make excellent use of the arid, sun-beaten conditions of some of the areas that need treated water the most. However, as plants by and large need to be by the coast, where weather can be variable for any country and winds tend to be strong, wind power remains the company’s strongest focus.

Whilst the company is enjoying solid success, their output never seems to be enough for Abengoa Water. With water scarcity a major global issue, and climate change continuing to exacerbate not only droughts but also water-contaminating floods, the demand and need for clean water is high. Another issue, which Abengoa are constantly addressing and reducing in their research, is the demand for water that comes from running a plant itself.

In the face of the present global crises, Abengoa urges that large investments are still needed to upgrade existing facilities and develop new infrastructures sufficient to alleviate current need. As many of the companies affected cannot afford to invest in such projects, Abengoa Water are looking to the private sector to invest in this growing and water-saving enterprise.

With a solid history of experience and an army of highly trained, award-winning staff behind them, as well as a 25,000-employee strong company Group supporting them, Abengoa Water are well positioned to keep achieving essential steps for the world’s water. Thankfully, their modus operandi is just one of many methods being pursued to clean, protect and distribute water to those who need it, but with climate change throwing us the challenges it has this year, never mind the years running up to 2017, it is clear that we need all the help we can get! When it comes to future of our planet, it’s all hands on deck. We look forward to seeing Abengoa continue to push and innovate towards a cleaner, greener and altogether safer tomorrow – every drop of water helps.