A joint project by Saudi Arabian national petroleum and natural gas company Saudi Aramco and General Electric will award a $200,000 grant to the winners of a competition for the best desalination technology ideas that can lower costs and improve efficiencies, the two companies announced last week.

The money will be divided between the four best projects, with each getting $50,000. Additional funding will also be available for development of the best technology, the joint statement added.

At present, desalination is used in areas where freshwater is scarce but there are abundant reserves of seawater. However, the process is very energy-intensive and, as a result, it is also rather expensive. About 70 percent of costs in desalination are associated with energy consumption. It is estimated that producing desalinated water globally consumes 75.2 terawatt-hours of electricity per year — an amount of energy that could power 7 million homes. The goal of the project is to support innovation in desalination technology that could reduce costs through process improvements and technological advancement, the two companies said.

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Nabil Al Khowaiter, Aramco Entrepreneurship’s director of special projects, commented that desalination is likely to become more prominent worldwide, but producing freshwater with current desalination techniques could contribute to a significant rise in energy use. He added that the contest could bring new technologies and industries to Saudi Arabia.