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Inima OHL

A desalination leader

Written by Sarah Wolfe | Produced by Jim McGehee

As the world's population of 6.5 billion grows - with another two billion expected by 2025 - fresh water resources are dwindling.
A desalination leader

As the world's population of 6.5 billion grows - with another two billion expected by 2025 - fresh water resources are dwindling.

Coupled with droughts from climate change, a major demand for water in manufacturing and agriculture is leading to shortages. The World Economic Health Forum stated earlier this year that "the world simply cannot manage water in the future in the same way as in the past or the economic web will collapse."

The solution to preventing a global crisis can be found in recycling groundwater and removing salt from ocean water. Inima OHL has the longest history in Spain in desalination by reverse osmosis. It contributes to the country being one of five worldwide that can produce more than 200,000 m3 of fresh water each day. The environmental branch of Spain's Obrascon Huerte Laine construction and civil engineering group, Inima is a subsidiary dating back to 1957 that covers the design, engineering and building of desalination and various treatment plants on a global scale.

"We do all kinds of water treatment processes, from municipal drinking water to waste and industrial water treatment to desalination for drinking water," says Alfredo Andres, General Manager of Inima USA.

Inima OHL performs mainly desalination projects in Latin America, Algeria, Morocco and the Middle East. The company introduced desalination to the US via the Taunton River project in Brockton, MA, and is working on another endeavor in Florida. Andres worked for OHL before switching to the Inima subsidiary in 2003, joining the Taunton project two years later in 2005.

"The project had been ongoing with Inima since 2001, and with other partners even before that for more than 10 years," Andres says.

The now operational $90 million facility is the first potable water desalination project in New England, built under the name Aquaria Water LLC, with 15 percent partnership from Bluestone Energy Group. The plant treats the intake water from tidal flows in the Taunton River.

"A major concern with water withdrawal is to not get any fish or larvae. We basically, through testing, set the standard for the Environmental Protection Agency on the size of filtration devices to prevent this from happening and others in the industry followed," says Andres. "We invested $500,000 in a state-of-the-art intake/filtration system that was implemented in March."

Inima OHL was one of the first to locate a desalination plant in a tidal river and to time the release of leftover brine with when the tide flows raise the river's salinity levels - lessening the risk of disrupting habitats, Andres says.

OHL is projecting $6 billion in revenue this year, while its water and environmental branch, Inima, is looking at $400 million - illustrating the strength of the overall company.

A major contributor to Inima OHL's success is the way it rolls out and finances its various projects.

"We're not a lowest-bid company. We want to bring our expertise to long-term projects - to build-transfer-operate projects," Andres explains. "Inima finances construction and then it's paid back by the city through 20 years of operation. We handle all of the project's elements - design, construction, operation and financing. For the operation, you obviously want someone reliable like Inima for those 20 years."

Inima OHL worked with Metcalf & Eddy (now Aecom Water) engineering firm on the Brockton plant and hired five different local subcontractors to handle electrical, civil, pipeline, tanks and mechanical. It's following the same pattern for the next desalination project in Hialeah, FL, which will also have a 20-year operation agreement.

The company additionally holds a bidding process for vendors of filtration, etc., that Andres is personally involved with to determine who has the right product and amount of expertise that Inima OHL requires for its projects. He has moved to the Miami office to oversee the new project but continues to manage the Brockton facility.

In its work internationally, Inima OHL has seen its fair share of industry challenges. The main obstacle is trying to reduce the price of treated water. Andres says there fortunately have been major changes with energy recovery systems to make the process cheaper.

"The cost of producing the desalinated water has dropped down the last 10 to 15 years. Now it's a competitive price versus other alternatives," he says. "While surface water is becoming limited, desalination has an unlimited water resource."

Another challenge is trying to land more private-public partnerships, which Andres thinks Florida has a strong market for. The US has typically relied on public suppliers, he says, but is now turning to private for initial operations, until the contract expires and the reins are handed over. South Florida in particular is showing this trend as ground water resources are already limited in the region.

"They need lots of water to continue the state's development. Desalination, along with reuse and recycling, is an alternative to continuing to use up groundwater," Andres says.

"Our first goal in the US was Massachusetts and we're still looking for other projects there to expand our business," he continues. "But we want a strong presence in the Southeast market in the longer term, which includes South Florida in particular and anywhere else there's a demand. Our goal is to be one of the largest design/build, operating, finance plants in the Southeast market."

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