Invention Could Ease Jordan’s Water-Scarcity Problem
AMMAN—In his research, Mohsen Abu Haifa focuses not only on finding new sources of water, but also on creating filtration systems that reduce the waste of available water and allow its reuse.
“There are huge water resources, but they are always neglected,” he said.
He explained that many private homes in Jordan use desalination and filtration units to ensure a supply of safe drinking water, but that even in the best of these systems, each liter of treated water corresponds to three liters that goes down the drain without being used. The ratio of wasted water and fresh water can be double that in some systems, depending on the quality of the filters, he added.
Abu Haifa, a mining and mineral-processing engineer, graduated from Al-Huson University College, a division of Al-Balqa’ Applied University in the Irbid governorate, north of Amman, in the 1990s.
The large amounts of water wasted in filtration systems led him to focus on finding solutions. In 2011, he created a portable desalination device that could be fitted with filters to capture salty water that’s wasted during the filtration process and mix it with water from other sources for use in ponds or for household purposes other than drinking.
In terms of water resources, Jordan is one of the four poorest countries worldwide. The amount of fresh water available to people in the kingdom has fallen to less than 150 cubic meters per person, the Jordanian Royal Scientific Society estimates—far below the international “water poverty line” of 500 cubic meters per year. Jordanian homes receive water from a public utility once a week at most, so people store water in tanks or wells.
The scope of the water-shortage crisis in the kingdom has doubled since the signing of the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, known as the “Wadi Araba agreement.” Under this treaty, Jordan receives 50 million cubic meters of water annually from sources like the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers, while Israel gets dozens of times more. The influx of Syrian refugees has also increased the demand for water in the kingdom, which requires additional sources to secure more water.
That’s something Abu Haifa hopes his work will help achieve.
His new three-piece device contains a feeder and discharge unit that is responsible for stopping waste in the filters, and a discharge block that passes fresh water and high-salt water to separate tanks.
“I have found several other ways to stop wasting water while working on the device, but those methods needed complex techniques and had high operating costs,” he said. “So I worked to make the device’s development less expensive, besides working to raise the efficiency of treated water production from 50 to 180 gallons per day.”
At first, Abu Haifa worked on developing the device at home. Later on, Al Urdonia Lil Ebda, a nonprofit company that supports emerging projects (its name means “Jordan’s Company for Innovation”), adopted the device and presented it to the Jordan University of Science and Technology to study it and evaluate its effectiveness.
According to the university-conducted study, widespread use of Abu Haifa’s device could save the kingdom about 18.2 million cubic meters of water annually.
“The device’s prototype has been subjected to difficult tests under harsh conditions,” said Sharaf Obaidat, a member of the committee that evaluated the device. “It was surprising that the device did not waste water like water filters used in homes around the world.”
Yasir al-Sharif, the director of the Daymouma Environmental Consultancy and a member of Jordan’s Union of Environmental Associations, believes that this system has another benefit related to reducing the burden on sewage services. “Regular filtration devices dispose of untreated water in the sewage system, but this device reduces water volume and thus reduces pressure on the sewage network,” he said.
In 2014, the device received a registered patent and about $880,000 as a loan for developing it for use in the domestic market. However, the spread of the device is still limited.
“Some of the device’s parts have been manufactured in Jordanian factories, but the long-term goal is to produce it fully in Jordanian factories,” Abu Haifa said. “However, because the product is environmentally friendly, it must be manufactured according to standards that guarantee low energy use, low water waste and long operational life.”
Abu Haifa sought to build his own wind-powered factory to produce the device on a commercial scale, but faced problems getting land in an area with enough wind to run his plant. He recently obtained permits to switch to solar energy for a factory to be built in northern Jordan close to Jordan University of Science and Technology. The plant is expected to open soon.
“I hope the plant will provide the necessary ground for further research and innovation to stop waste water,” he said.