Desalination project wins Saudi Government award

Published 21 June 2010

ali1An award-winning research project at the University of New England is breaking new ground in improving the efficiency of water desalination plants.

The project, conducted by a Saudi Arabian student at the University of New England, has been recognised as outstanding by the Government of Saudi Arabia, where 70 per cent of drinking water is produced by desalination.

Ali Alhamzah, a PhD student in Chemistry at UNE, is investigating the use of polymers to inhibit scale formation in water undergoing desalination treatment. His work promises to enhance the scale-inhibiting function of polymers when used at the higher temperatures required for maximum efficiency of the desalination process.

Mr Alhamzah (pictured here) is one of about 12,000 students from Saudi Arabia currently studying at Australian universities. During a graduation ceremony for 850 Saudi students in the Exhibition Centre at Sydney’s Darling Harbour last month, the Saudi Arabian Minister for Higher Education, Dr Khalid Al-Anqari, presented Mr Alhamzah with an award recognising the quality and potential of his research. Mr Alhamzah was one of 10 Saudi research students honoured in this way at the ceremony; their project reports were selected from those submitted by Saudi research students at universities throughout Australia.

Mr Alhamzah’s research involves making small modifications to a polymer at the molecular level and observing the results on the desalination process in the laboratory. “Very small differences in the structures at one end of the polymer can have big effects,” he said. He and his supervisor at UNE, Dr Chris Fellows, are pleased with the results so far. “It’s been successful at room temperature,” Mr Alhamzah said, “and also at 100 degrees centigrade.”

The work has applications in other industries – such as the sugar and dairy industries – that involve heating liquids. Mr Alhamzah and Dr Fellows have already published the results of experiments, conducted in collaboration with researchers at Queensland University of Technology, applying their work to the sugar industry.

“This is important research because very small amounts of scale inhibitors can have a big economic impact,” Dr Fellows said. “It will have applications in Australia as well as in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. We knew this was a good project, but it’s pleasing to have that recognised by the Saudi Government.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Ali Alhamzah displayed here was taken at the Darling Harbour ceremony.