MUSCAT: Omani upstream energy firm ARA Petroleum is preparing to commission one of the world’s first solar thermal powered, zero emission desalination plants in the Sultanate of Oman – a groundbreaking facility designed to transform highly saline produced water into drinking water.

Muscat-based ARA has tapped Austrian solar tech startup Heliovis to set up the plant at its Qarat Al Milh site – a 5,700 sq km small oilfields cluster in Dhofar, carved out from majority state-owned PDO’s Block 6 license.

The plant utilizes Vienna-based Heliovis’ proprietary, low-cost solar thermal technology to produce up to 140 cubic metres of drinking water per day from ‘produced water’ – naturally occurring water that flows from wells during hydrocarbon production. Often contaminated with hydrocarbons, this produced water also contains high levels of dissolved mineral salts.

Following an agreement signed by the two companies in November 2022, Heliovis has since completed the deployment of a forward osmosis (FO) water desalination with a direct-osmosis zero liquid discharge (ZLD) unit to extract potable water from the produced water generated within ARA’s Qarat Al Milh concession.

Both companies showcased this first-of-its-kind project at the recently concluded Oman Petroleum & Energy Services (OPES) show held in Muscat.

Commenting on its participation in the OPES show, Heliovis noted in a post: “(ARA Petroleum’s) support allows us to showcase our recently installed solar field at the Qarat al Milh oilfield firsthand. Our groundbreaking technology has the potential to significantly decarbonize industry. Furthermore, we're honoured to have our technology featured on the Technology Innovation Portal of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO).”

Heliovis says its solar thermal technology for water desalination is a cost-advantageous and low-carbon alternative to fossil-fuel powered desalination that is often undertaken at the coast, with the potable water then trucked or pumped over long distances to end-users in remote locations. The solution is particularly targeted at oilfield companies operating in far-flung parts of the country, but with access to brackish groundwater. At the Qarat Al Milh plant, produced water with a salinity of over 100,000 ppm (three times higher than seawater) is transformed into drinking water, it points out.

According to Heliovis, renewable energy for the project is generated by inflatable tubes and mirror films that collect and concentrate sunlight to provide clean industrial process heat in the hard-to-decarbonize mid-temperature range of 90°C to 400°C.

“The technology gives major cost advantages in manufacturing, shipping/logistics, installation, cleaning, maintenance, and freshwater usage compared to conventional parabolic troughs that employ bent glass mirrors. In the context of the oil & gas industry, it can be used amongst others to power refineries and gas scrubbing facilities, to generate steam for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), or to desalinate produced water as in the present case,” the company stated.

The project, now substantially in place at Qarat Al Milh, is slated for commissioning in the coming weeks.

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