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The availability of natural fresh water sources is rapidly declining globally as a result of world population growth, lifestyle changes and climate change. Desalination of seawater has increasingly proven to be a practical, and in many cases only, solution for many countries around the globe, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Reliance on desalination for potable water supply in some Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has grown so much, it now constitutes more than 90% of total potable water supply in most of GCC countries.

In fact, over the last 20 years, the total global desalination capacity has increased by more than 1500%. This tremendous growth was catalyzed by a plethora of innovations that helped improve the energy efficiency and cut the cost of desalination. These include new membranes, energy recovery devices and effective membrane-based pre-treatment technologies, just to name few examples. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), like all GCC countries, has resorted to non-traditional water resources, including desalination and wastewater reclamation. However, the sustainable provision of potable water through desalination and the treatment of industrial and domestic wastewater effluents is still a significant challenge, both for the UAE and globally.

To face its growing water scarcity challenges, there is a dire need to develop and implement long-term, sustainable, well-coordinated and integrated home-grown technical capacity in water and membrane technologies, which are resilient, energy-efficient, environment-friendly and cost effective.

The central mission of this center is to support that. The core center team consists of professors from several engineering disciplines. The team works in a coordinated manner to execute a number of interrelated research projects. CMAT creates a viable ecosystem for relevant technology development and intellectual property transfer at KU, driving interdisciplinary novel membrane and water technologies research. CMAT works closely with concerned UAE government bodies and local and regional stakeholders in the water sector, including the water industry and the public utilities providers. It also fosters a network of international collaborations.


Research themes
1. Advanced Desalination Technologies and High Fidelity Modeling 2. Nanomaterials and membranes 3. Energy efficiency and sustainability of water processes 4. Technology transfer and capacity building in desalination and water technology
1. Advanced Desalination Technologies and High Fidelity Modeling
Advanced Desalination Technologies and High Fidelity Modeling

This thematic area launches a new paradigm of desalination and fundamental discoveries that go beyond the current “knowhow”. Although incremental increase of current technologies is of merit, discovering new desalination physics has the potential to revolutionize the entire desalination industry. The objective of this theme is to develop resilient and energy efficient cutting-edge technologies for desalination suitable for the UAE environments. In addition, it will target the development of advanced wastewater treatment systems designed to address challenges facing the oil and gas industry and other chemical process industries as they strive to meet stringent environmental standards, as well as improve the economics of waste treatment. Fostering conceptual understanding through modeling and simulation is a key activity of this thematic group. Thinking beyond conventional desalination enhancement and towards more innovative and advanced solutions is essential to make fundamental transformations in this area of research. For instance, hybridization of membrane distillation (MD) with a freeze desalination (MD-FD) technology is a promising concept that can enhance the total water recovery (TWR), achieving zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) and drastic reduction of operable energy. Advanced modeling will drive and accelerate growth in these new technologies. The projects under this theme include:

  • Advanced water technologies and hybrid systems
  • 3D printing of architected membranes and spacers based on TPMS architectures for applications in water and wastewater treatment
  • Treatment of Produced Water Using Advanced Oxidation Process in Electro-Membrane Reactor.
    2. Nanomaterials and membranes
    Nanomaterials and membranes

    This theme will focus on developing novel membranes, mostly based on nanomaterials, to be applied in desalination, water purification and wastewater processes that enhance flux and reduced fouling. This theme aims to pioneer state-of-the-art nanomaterials that will serve as potential adsorbents or catalyst that target the removal or decomposition of a variety of harmful chemicals in domestic and industrial wastewater, as well as in oil and gas effluents. The projects under this theme include:

    • Mixed matrix membranes for highly-efficient water purification.
    • Development of Electrospun Membranes based on PVDF-HFP Modified by Nanosized Zeolite.
    • Surface Tethered   Green   Nanoparticles   as   Biofouling-Resistant   Agent   in   Nanofiltration   (NF) membranes.

        The first two projects target developing new membranes based on mixed materials of polymeric and inorganic materials. The ultimate target is to improve on membrane flux. Higher flux per membrane surface area will reduce both capital and operation cost of membrane desalination technology. Reducing the cost of desalination is a key objective of this center. The third project targets resolving a major challenge in membrane technology, namely biofouling. New membrane with surface-active biocide functionality will be developed. The production of novel antifouling membranes will be of great benefit to the desalination and water industry, both locally and globally and will support industrial development in Abu Dhabi.

        3. Energy efficiency and sustainability of water processes
        Energy efficiency and sustainability of water processes

        The theme focuses on ensuring a sustainable supply of safe and useful water by using energy-efficient processes. Energy efficiency is considered one of the pillars of sustainable water production. Energy efficiency is simply the process of doing more with less. The goal is to desalinate water while using less energy. This theme presents potential technologies that can help reduce the energy needed for water desalination. To support decision-making, various technological options are considered in this theme. The objective of this theme is to develop and optimize advanced designs, approaches and operational protocols to reduce the energy intensity of desalination processes and enhance their efficiency. It also aims to develop next generation membranes/membrane modules suitable for treatment of wastewater and other chemical processes effluent. These will enhance or replace conventional separation process, with the ultimate goal of improving the separation efficiencies, in terms of energy footprint reduction and improvement of economics of separation. The projects under this theme include:

        • Membrane Distillation Performance Evaluation Using Computational Approach
        • Freeze Crystallization: Near Zero Brine Rejection
        • Electromagnetic-mechanical Separation Process for the Desalination of Oil and Gas Produced Water: Toward enhancing oil recovery and reducing environmental impacts
        4. Technology transfer and capacity building in desalination and water technology
        Technology transfer and capacity building in desalination and water technology

        Engineering and scientific research in water desalination, water treatment and wastewater treatment technologies is necessary if the UAE is to achieve its goal of transforming into a knowledge based economy. Just as important is the dissemination of research outcomes and building homegrown capacity in these areas. Therefore, one key goal of establishing CMAT was to provide opportunities for the center team to interact and collaborate in a coordinated and integrated manner with local organizations that would benefit from the accumulated expertise at CMAT. Theme 4 is established to support this goal. Under this theme, the CMAT team will develop a core set of outreach programs and activities. These includes, to name some examples:

        • Initiating and hosting workshops aiming at discussing research priorities for technology transfer in the UAE water sectors.
        • Tailored technical workshops for technical personnel at local water public utility organizations (e.g., wastewater treatment facilities, desalination plants, etc.).
        • Providing technical  consultation to  the  UAE  utility providers  (ADWEA,  DEWA,  FEWA)  on  water technology matters.
        • Establishing a school outreach program targeted at children in the K-12 school age, aiming to raise awareness on pressing water challenges facing the UAE and creating interest in water technologies among the Emirati youth.
        • Supporting KU’s outreach activities by showcasing examples of research at CMAT, during events such as Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Najah Exhibition, etc.
        • Engage in collaborative research agreements with other similar water-focused centers regionally and globally.
        • Facilitate student exchange with other leading global universities with activities in water research.
        • Host invited talk by leading local and global researchers in the water field.
        External Collaborators
        • Trevi Systems, USA
        • Masdar Company, UAE
        • General Electric, USA
        • Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) UAE
        • Emirates Steel Industries (ESI), UAE
        • Veolia, France
        • Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), UAE
        • University of Tokyo, Japan,
        • Lehigh University, USA,
        • Emirates Float Glass Center, UAE,
        • Sylicycle Inc., Canada
        • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA
        • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA
        • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia
        • Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), Brazil
        • Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC), Oman
        • New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), UAE
        • University of Calabria, Italy
        • Hanyang University, South Korea
        • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), Belgium
        • Abengoa Water, Spain
        • Suez Environment, France
        • Engie lab, Belgium