Talal Al Hajri is currently focusing his thesis research on a project that looks to treat and purify ballast water, which is considered an especially big problem in the Arabian Gulf, due to the high tanker traffic it hosts. It is estimated that 20% of oil traded in the world passes through the Strait of Hormuz – the passage between the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.
“When a ship starts its journey empty, without its load, it fills its tanks with water to balance it. Later, it discharges that water into the sea around it. That water usually contains pollutants and organisms that have a negative impact on the quality of water and marine ecosystem,” said Talal Al Hajri, who is a student in the Masdar Institute Water and Environmental Engineering Program.
An Arabian Gulf-specific ballast water cleaning system will help the UAE reach its goals for environmental preservation, water security and transitioning to a knowledge economy.
Protecting the Arabian Gulf from the influx of microorganisms that can overwhelm or even kill off the native species will help the UAE in its commitments as a party to the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity. The convention has three main goals: conservation of biological diversity; sustainable use of its components; and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
Water security has always been an important need for the UAE, particularly due to its dependence on desalinated sea water for most of its water supplies. Invasive species introduced from ballast water can reduce the efficacy of desalination plants by clogging their intake and outflow pipes. Some species, like toxic algae blooms, can shut down a desalination plant for days.
“Ballast water is rich with all kinds of minute and microscopic life forms. Although a great majority of these species are naturally present and are part of the marine food chain, each body of water has its own unique food chain order. Disturbing that order can greatly affect and disturb a marine habitat,” Al Hajri explained.
“In my previous career as a marine engineer and lieutenant in the UAE Navy, I came to learn about the need to treat ballast water. It seemed an ideal project to work on as part of my thesis, as I believe it could have a significant benefit to my home country. We know water is life and the Arabian Gulf must be looked after. What better way can I contribute to that than by reducing the impact of tanker ballast?” Al Hajri said.
He is currently researching the types of organisms contained in ballast water. By understanding which species are present and pose a risk, he can more effectively target eradication technologies.
Al Hajri is also investigating which methods to kill unwanted marine organisms- oxidation, ultra violet, ozone treatment, chemical, etc. – is best suited for the job. Through his studies of the types of organisms found in ballast water, and the efficacy of the eradication methods, he hopes to find a way to effectively, efficiently, and safely remove them from ballast water without inputting any unwanted chemicals or harming the native marine organisms. He will then build a prototype system that can be installed in ships to treat ballast water in the best way possible.
“As a researcher I plan to investigate the engineering challenges in design and renovation of marine vessels,” Al Hajri said.
The project will also study the purity of the Arabian Gulf waters to search extensively for non-indigenous species. The information gathered in the project will go towards formulating procedures for ships trading or transiting in this region, while enumerating the engineering challenges of retrofitting existing vessels with treatment systems.
The project will also work to investigate how ballast water affects human health in the UAE.
Al Hajri’s system is meant to be one that can be installed in the existing tanker ships, allowing them to be retrofitted, which would also contribute to adoption, as they would not require the investment in a new tanker ship.
“It is my hope that such technologies we can provide the region overall with a new and needed technology to reduce the impact of one of the most important local industries,” he said.