Emirati businessman, Abdulla Alshehi, wants to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to the Arabian Gulf to supply the United Arab Emirates with drinkable water.
However, he plans to trial a test case of the project’s viability by dragging a smaller iceberg with a tugboat to either Cape Town, or Perth in Australia.
Speaking to Euronews, Alshehi said that the preliminary test is expected to cost between $60-80 million (R850 million – R1.1 billion), with the entire project expected to cost the UAE between $100-150 million dollars. The iceberg could measure two kilometres by 500 metres, he said.
“It will be cheaper to bring in these icebergs and utilise them for freshwater rather than utilising the desalination water,” he said. “Because desalination plants require a huge amount of capital investments.”
“(Desalination) is pumping a huge amount of brine water to the Gulf, making the salinity of the seawater very high, killing even the fish and marine [life] on the Arabian Sea,” he said.
“So, we believe it will be a more economical and environmentally friendly project to utilise the icebergs’ water not only for the United Arab Emirates, but throughout the world.”
Alshehi is the managing director and founder of the National Advisory Bureau Limited, an advisory firm which specialises in recycling and energy generation.
Towing an iceberg to Cape Town
The idea of using an iceberg to supply Cape Town with fresh water is not new, following a severe drought that put the city at risk of becoming one of the first in the world to run out of municipal water.
In June, Bloomberg reported that South African marine-salvage master, Nicholas Sloane, aims to tow an iceberg to Cape Town to feed the municipal system.
“To make it economically feasible, the iceberg will have to be big,” Sloane said. Ideally, it would measure about 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) long, 500 meters wide, and 250 meters deep, and weigh 125 million tons.
“That would supply about 20% of Cape Town’s water needs for a year.”
Sloane told Bloomberg that he has assembled a team of glaciologists, oceanographers, and engineers. He’s also secured a group of financiers to fund the pioneer tow, which he calls the Southern Ice Project.
The expected cost is more than $200 million, much of it to be put up by two SA banks and Water Vision, a Swiss water technology and infrastructure company.
Sloane said that he still needs to sign an agreement with South Africa to buy the Antarctic water, if the plan succeeds.
His team could charter the necessary ships and prepare all required materials within six months, though the mission will need to take place in November or December, when the Antarctic climate is somewhat less ferocious. “We’re taking on all the risk,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”