Oman to House World’s First Commercial “Forward Osmosis” Desalination Plant

20 July 2011 FDI Team


In June 2011, Modern Water, a UK-based company, won a £500,000 ($759,800) contract to build a desalination plant at Al Naghdah, in the Al Wusta region of Oman. The plant will be capable of supplying 200 cubic metres of fresh water per day. The new plant is understood to be the world’s first fully commercial application of forward osmosis technology, following successful trials in Gibraltar and Oman.


The desalination plant,with its new technology, is said to be more reliable than traditional methods of desalination, giving higher throughput with minimal environmental impact and lower energy consumption. The successfully trialled plants operated by Modern Water in Gibraltar and Oman proved that forward osmosis is successful for the production of fresh water, the treatment of wastewater and monitoring water quality.

Forward osmosis is the newly developed process of using a semi-permeable membrane to separate water from pure solvent. Water is passed through membranes with the process driven by different solute concentration levels on the two sides of the membranes. Currently, reverse-osmosis technology is used for desalination processes in which water is forced through a membrane that allows the separation of water molecules from salt ions. To pressurise the water, the reverse-osmosis technology requires additional electricity and also costly pipes to withstand the pressures.

The forward osmosis desalination technology does not require pressurised water, thereby reducing production costs. Hence, the new technology can deliver fresh water to the local community, while allowing significant cost savings and reductions in the consumption of energy. It also appears to be more reliable than reverse osmosis.

Due to the dry conditions, low-water supply and a growing population, the process of desalination is used to supply water in Oman. The urgent need for water is also increasing elsewhere in the Middle East. Currently, about 60 per cent of the world’s desalination facilities operate in the Middle East. As a result, other bidding companies, such as Aquatech, a US-based company, already have thermal and membrane based desalination plants in Oman. Aquatech is among the first companies to recycle and reuse wastewater within the oil and gas industry and has recently completed a landmark oil field water reuse project in Oman.

Technological advances in the use of desalination enhance the quality of fresh water and drive down the production cost of desalinated water. Long-term drought and limited water resources in Oman raise concerns over water availability. Therefore, if the forward osmosis plant in Oman proves successful, it is expected that more forward osmosis projects will be constructed and provide benefits to other parts of the world.

Further reading:

Stella An

Research Intern

FDI Global Food and Water Crisis Research Programme


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