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Control and Automation for Desalination

Process Control Against the Drought: Automating the World's Largest Desalination

| Author / Editor: Oliver Vogel* / Dominik Stephan

The seawater desalination plant in Sorek, south of Tel Aviv, is the biggest of its kind in the world.
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The seawater desalination plant in Sorek, south of Tel Aviv, is the biggest of its kind in the world. ( Rockwell Automation/IDE)

One of the world’s biggest seawater desalination plant operates at maximum efficiency with minimal engineering costs — Plant Pax process control system from Rockwell Automation helps Sorek Desalination Project set new performance benchmark in terms of output and costs.

Water shortages due to drought are one of the main problems that preoccupy many countries — Israel in particular. In 2013, the country experienced one of its most severe droughts in decades. Droughts will soon become much less of an issue however, thanks to a huge infrastructure project.

A desalination master plan, launched in the year 2000 by the Water Desalination Administration (WDA), an Israeli Governmental agency, aims to provide some 650 million cubic meters of treated water per annum by the year 2020. The plan involves the construction of large-scale seawater plants along the Mediterranean coast. One such plant is the Sorek Desalination Project, which has been designed to provide for 10 % of the country’s drinking water consumption and about 20 % of its domestic water consumption.

Inside the World's Largest Desalination

The Sorek plant, located south of Tel Aviv, offers a capacity of 624,000 m3/day, which makes it the world’s biggest seawater desalination plant. At the heart of its operations is a Plant Pax process control system from Rockwell Automation, which leverages a number of advanced process control solutions and peripherals in conjunction with over 11,000 I/O points.

The challenge of these installations is to not only produce potable water, but also to produce it efficiently and with as little impact as possible on the environment. The scale of this plant and its mode of operation demand a single control platform that is capable of commanding complicated and diverse process and automation facilities, sometimes from multiple vendors and often with very different demands.

Water: A Cost Driven Industry

Because the water industry is highly cost driven, engineering expenses also have to be very tightly managed without sacrificing efficiency. As much engineering effort as possible has to be reusable over many systems; this means code reuse has to be maximised and code writing minimised. As a result, the plant operated by the Sorek Desalination Company (SDL) is not only the largest of its kind in the world, but arguably, it is also one of the most engineering efficient and advanced.

The new desalination facility uses seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) to provide water to Israel’s national water carrier system. The desalination process is situated in the middle of the treatment cycle; it is preceded by filtration and chemical dosing and is followed by re-mineralisation and final disinfection. The plant is comprised of two primary stages for desalination, each with its own instrumentation and control solutions. One stage creates water of the highest level for consumption, while the other creates water of a quality level suitable for industrial and commercial use.

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