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Interview with Lauren Beck, Head of Projects

Lauren Beck is Head of Projects at Desolenator. She has been instrumental in transforming our vision into impactful projects, including our flagship plant that we delivered last year for the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA).

Lauren on site

Hi Lauren, could you please introduce yourself and explain your role as Head of Projects at Desolenator?

 I am responsible for driving the lifecycle of Desolenator projects, from engineering design and construction through to commissioning and monitoring. I work closely with our engineering team, site teams, procurement and stakeholders to get projects done.  I am the project manager for Desolenators flagship project with DEWA and currently laying the foundations for a second installation in the UAE, where we will produce water to set a new standard for sustainable agriculture in the desert, boosting food security.  

My background is in Engineering and I started off at Desolenator as a Process Engineer. I’ve had the pretty unique experience of being involved in our community scale system from the initial concept through to handing over the finished construction. Watching clean water being produced by a system that I first saw as a pencil sketch is a remarkable experience and redoubles my passion for solving difficult & challenging problems in water.

How did this project get started?

The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 and the Dubai Net Zero Carbon Emissions Strategy 2050 are ambitious initiatives that outline Dubai's long-term vision and commitment towards sustainable development and combating climate change. Aiming to transform Dubai into a global hub for clean energy and position it as a leading city in the transition to a green economy.  A crucial part of this is desalination, which is vital for ensuring a sustainable water supply in a water-scarce region like Dubai.  Dubai Electricity and Water Authority are driving these two strategies in the region.

Desolenator was introduced to DEWA at the Dubai Future Accelerator Programme, where after some initial successful small scale trials with our PVT panels, we realised our community scale  system and  we pioneered our first flag ship project to demonstrate desolenators innovative approach to desalination. This has been the culmination of years of diligent research and development and I am  excited to see the impact.

To address the global water and climate crisis, we need new collaboration between innovators and organisations. Our partnership with DEWA has been a forward thinking example of this and  Desolenator strives to create partnerships that support future thinking.

Could you explain how the plant works and why it is more beneficial than other desalination methods?

To understand how we are different, one first needs to understand the pitfalls and challenges of desalination technologies today. The overwhelming majority of desalination processes occur with the help of membranes through a technology called reverse osmosis. This requires a host of toxic pre-treatment chemicals (sulphites, caustic acids, chlorides – to name a few), constant replacing of membranes with high operating costs and the systems cannot handle changes in water quality.

Desolenator takes a different approach. We run 100% on solar energy, harvesting both the thermal and electrical energy on our patented PVT panels, making us 4x more efficient than traditional PV. We apply thermal distillation to purify water, therefore the system requires no filters, membranes or harmful chemicals disrupting traditional reliance on supply chains and making it the world’s first truly sustainable desalination solution. The end product is ultra pure water (distilled water which is custom remineralized) sustainably. 

One aspect to desalination that has long been a headache, is the discharge of waste brine - the waste product that is harmful to marine life. Our plant for DEWA produces a much lower concentration brine than traditional desalination plants, which is ocean-safe. But what we’re much more excited about is that Desolenator is building out a world-first Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) integration at plant level, meaning that we recirculate the brine and crystallize it using solar energy, and turn it into high quality salt to be sold for industrial use. This is a world-first, circular approach to desalination!

What were the primary challenges you and the team faced during the conceptualization and implementation of this project?

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic  presented unprecedented challenges to the construction of our facility. The Desolenator team was extremely flexible and adapted very quickly to the new status quo. We were extremely lucky that we were already well versed in working in remote teams and had processes in place to allow us to communicate well. This meant we had a head start and could really meet this challenge head on. Through a lot of perseverance, planning and support we were able to complete the construction and commission the system (while I was managing from my apartment!)

What would you say are the main learnings from this project?

Definitely adaptability and flexibility has been a key learning, particularly during the commissioning phase. Commissioning a groundbreaking facility is not without its challenges and the Desolenator engineering team really met these head on with a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity. It was a truly great day when we started to produce water completely off grid.

These invaluable learnings serve as a solid foundation, propelling us forward as we scale our modular technology to achieve a production capacity of 40m3 of water per hour. Harnessing the power of real plant data, we are driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of what's possible in the field of sustainable desalination.

With the success of the DEWA project, what's next for Desolenator? 

Water scarcity is the greatest resource challenge we face, and is only set to worsen in the face of climate change in the coming years. We are ideally positioned to ‘waterproof’ communities and businesses in the most sustainable way, and this impact is increasingly being recognized on a global level, for example, through our participation at the UN Water Conference back in March. Throughout our journey, we have built an incredible ecosystem over the years consisting of strategic investors and industry leaders, and organisations such as World Economic Forum and WWF.

Because of the urgency of the water and climate crisis, we see no shortage of impactful projects: As I mentioned earlier, we recently kicked off a groundbreaking project which is truly transforming the standard of sustainable agriculture and which will be showcased at COP28.

We also have our first water-as-a-service project in Cambodia, and a large pipeline consisting of transformational projects in the USA, Kenya, Australia, Botswana and various island nations. This includes water provisioning for businesses and remote communities, but also producing ultrapure water for the production of green hydrogen, truly unlocking the transition into sustainable energy and solving water.