Building a sustainable future for all. By minimizing water costs, eradicating waste and preventing pollution. This means recycling 100% of wastewater, a net-zero footprint, renewable energy and sea-water mining. Water must stay where it belongs – in the wild.

  • Leading the world in

    Desalination with no discharge

  • Leading the world in

    Seawater & brine processing

  • Leading the world in

    Carbon-neutral technology

  • Leading the world in

    Smart metering and sensors

  • Leading the world in

    Leakage and anomaly detection

  • Leading the world in

    Mineralised water delivery

  • Leading the world in

    Wastewater processing & energy generation

  • Leading the world in

    Stormwater capture & flood mitigation

Hear from the experts

  • Gavin van Tonder

    Gavin van Tonder

    Head of Water

    Changing the future of Water
    At NEOM, water interacts with every single sector. You cannot have a hotel without having water or without wastewater getting taken away. You cannot even mix cement without water.

    An interview with Gavin van Tonder

    1. Could you map out where water sits in the grand vision for NEOM and how integral it is to the project’s success?
      That is like asking which United Nations Sustainable Development Goal is not linked to water. Out of all 17 goals, water is involved in virtually every one except for low energy, but even then, we must have low water costs to have low energy. At NEOM, water interacts with every single sector. You cannot have a hotel without having water or without wastewater getting taken away. You cannot even mix cement without water. What is really important, from a water perspective, is to make sure that it is low cost and available in the first stages of construction. And in the final stages, making sure it is also low cost, available and meets the sustainable development goals. So that is being able to bring pressurized, drinkable water to all the premises, and extract processed wastewater and recycling back from every premise as well. Achieving low cost, availability and water efficiency brings out a circular economy. By reusing water as much as possible, you limit the amount that you have to desalinate.
    2. What world-firsts are your team working on?
      It will be the first time that desalination is done fully through renewable energy and without any effluent going back into the sea — which means zero liquid discharge. It will be the first time that full brine processing is being performed; we will not only recycle 100% of the water, but we will also do a biosolids treatment. That means zero liquid discharge and zero solid discharge because we will be converting the solids in waste treatment plants to fertilize them. We will be converting the biomes and generating energy from the biomes to help us create self-sustainable energy. The process from beginning to end is going to be a world-first by having such an efficient process that looks at water in such an effective manner with a full circular economy in mind. It will also be the first time in the world that mineralized water — that is water that has magnesium fluoride with the same quality as spring water — will be delivered to all premises and every household, in order to eliminate the need for bottled water in NEOM. Our smart network will also incorporate water flow, water volume, temperature, water quality and pressure management zones. Of course, there have been some tests done around the world previously, but no one has ever implemented it on a global scale like this.
    3. NEOM is aiming for Industry 4.0 and ‘net-zero’ — would you be able to explain what that means and how it's possible?
      Net-zero means that we do not put any water back into the sea from desalination, so zero liquid discharge. Net-zero also means that we do not put any CO2 into the environment because we are running completely on renewable energy, whether that is pumping water, treating water, desalination or dealing with wastewater. All of that is on net zero energy. We are looking to put zero CO2 into the atmosphere and want to utilize all renewable energy. Net-zero means we treat all the wastewater, so none of it goes back into the environment. We have zero solid disposal, utilizing the solids to make products. We also will be making products out of seawater. If you can take the water out of the sea and solidify that CO2, you are benefiting the environment. Net-zero also means zero runoff. One of the biggest problems that you have around the world now in Singapore, Hong Kong, London, Paris and New York is that when it rains, all the stormwater runoff takes all the oil from the cars along with it — and it takes all the pesticides from the trees and gardens. The reason why the Great Barrier Reef is dying today is because there are a huge number of sugar cane fields on the East Coast of Australia and they use pesticides. When it rains, those pesticides run into the rivers and into the sea — meaning those pesticides kill off the Great Barrier Reef. They have only started figuring that out in the last 10 years or so. So net zero runoff also means making sure that it does not go into the sea and impact our environment.
    4. How is this all possible at NEOM? Is it purely about bringing together super-advanced technology and the greatest minds on the planet?
      I have been in the industry for a long time and the frustration with tech companies is that people just do not implement the technology. This is due to many reasons, mostly political funding reasons in Africa, India or some parts of Asia, for example. When there is no competition, what is your incentive to improve your water utility? We have funding here in NEOM, so this issue has gone away. The other benefit is that we do not have political interference because there are no politicians today, and we do not have any regulators — we form our own regulations. In most of the cities around the world, water infrastructure is failing or old. And because it's so old, 30-60% of water is lost. Our system is going to be new, and we are going to have a smart network in place. That way, we will have less than 3% water loss. A lot of water utilities have limitations when it comes to the number of staff or their experience, and so they do not have the capabilities to implement innovation and are therefore inherently conservative. We will structure ourselves very differently in that we will not have a team of 3,000 people but a team of 200 people and we will outsource everything. For example, for field services, we will outsource to people that know how to utilize their own technology. We will use all of the data inside a cognitive city, for instance, using edge computing to target leakages at houses. We are going to take all of the technology that exists, and for the tech that does not yet exist, we will develop ourselves. We can test out these technologies, validate them and then commercialize them. Some cultures would say that reutilizing water from a wastewater treatment plant is dirty. So sure, we will not be drinking the water that comes out of these facilities. We will be using it for landscaping, but essentially the quality of the water that comes from there is drinkable quality. This is already happening in the world, so we are not inventing anything new there. However, we are putting a lot of technologies together that most people do not.
    5. How does the brine processing technology work and what will it enable you to achieve?
      The benefit of desalination is concentrating the seawater by increasing the volume of chemicals that are inside the seawater. By doing so, you double the volume of the same amount of water — or in some cases the way we are doing it — tripling the concentration of the chemicals and minerals inside the seawater. When you look at it, fundamentally the first one is salt. And what you need is pure salt. With the salt, we're going to be doing it on a commercial basis; utilizing equipment evaporators. The other elements, like sodium hydroxide and gypsum, bring industrial benefits to NEOM: sodium hydroxide is utilized to make glass. As you can imagine, what we are building needs a lot of glass, so we're going to have a glass facility.
    6. What new opportunities for growth are made available by desalination systems powered by renewable energy?
      What we are planning to do is use high-efficiency reverse osmosis using solar panels-things that we plan to do on the islands in NEOM. If we can do that successfully, we will also be able to do that on the coast of any country that has a shortage of water. In other words, we can create self-sustaining desalination and even salt-making facilities that require no energy. It would be a huge step to stand up and say: "Hey, we have helped solve some of the world's water crises by not using fossil fuels to extract water — whether that is from the ground, river or the sea."
    7. Do you expect NEOM's innovative water blueprint to be implemented by other nations?
      The whole idea of not extracting groundwater in NEOM is to stop bringing the water back to the surface. About a hundred years ago, the Well of Moses was full of water. Now it is empty because the ground water level dropped to such an extent that there is no longer water in it. And if you look at the amount of water that is being extracted inside the NEOM area from the ground, it is probably 50,000 cubic meters a day across 65 or 80 wells; and another hundred wells that we do not know about. So in future, due to our work, the ground water level will come to the surface. That means you will start seeing grass growing everywhere and trees becoming greener because they can now reach the ground level of water—something they have not been able to do for the last 50 years or so. What we want to do is return to a green environment by stopping the extraction of water, and of course, by using recycled wastewater as landscaping irrigation. Now, we are already getting calls from California saying: "Hey, we're having a drought and we know that you guys are working on desalination with brine processing." It is not a matter of whether they will do it, it is a matter of when they will do it.
    8. What is the timeline of your water goals and objectives?
      The first higher-recovery desalination plant is going for tender in September so we want to start construction at the end of the first quarter of 2022. Essentially, that will enable us to start processing the chemicals much easier and with much lower energy. As for the brine processing plant, we will test that this year. We will build a demonstration plant once the feasibility study is done to show all the technology together and test out different operational methods of using the tech — so that we are using the lowest energy possible. That facility will start construction this year in 2021. By the middle of next year, we will have proven it out. And while we are proving it out, we will be looking for partners and investors to come and see what we are doing, and to decide whether they want to do a joint venture with us moving forwards. And for mineralized water, the first implementation hopefully will be in NEOM’s community extension for the many staff here. The goal is to put mineralized drinking water in every employee’s home.
    9. What is the legacy you want to leave for future generations?
      I would like to demonstrate to people that water utility can be operated like a very efficient and effective business, and to produce very low-cost water via renewable energy. I would like to take the pricing structure and concerns over water tariffs off the table. I think that can be done with brine processing, utilizing minerals and chemicals — especially from wastewater treatment plants and recycled water. At the end of the day, if this is successful, there is going to be no shortage of fresh water in the world. Wherever there is a shortage, you can take it from the sea with a very low-cost structure. That is what I want: to be able to demonstrate that it can be done in a very efficient, effective and low-cost manner — anywhere in the world.
    10. Is there a popular misconception people have about NEOM?
      There is a lack of belief that we will get to where we want to get to; that some of the visions just seem too big to be achieved. But I think we have sufficient belief from people inside NEOM — I have an extremely motivated, proactive team. They want to see this dream come true and are putting everything into it. Because the only way you can do this is if you are 100% committed to it. What is coming is enormous. We have started our first construction inside NEOM of two large reservoirs. So when people see these things start to go up, then they will start to realize.
    11. What is daily life like in the NEOM community right now?
      Well, I am here with my wife and my dog. It started out very small and kind of like a base camp. And then it started to grow into a real community.
    12. For background, could you tell us more about your own profile and career?
      I have lived and worked in 13 countries and I’ve worked with every major water utility in the world. I have been in the water industry for a long time and was — before NEOM — very frustrated with the conservative nature of people and the slow movement, plus the lack of funding in water and the lack of attention that people pay to water. The only time you care about water is when you turn on the tap and it is not there. And even that reflects that you do not care about water, you care about the fact that you do not have any of it. So, customer engagement is essential for us going forward.
    13. The pull of NEOM as an undertaking is clear, but what was the clincher for you to join the project here in Saudi Arabia?
      It was an opportunity to achieve world-firsts. It was an opportunity to demonstrate how utility can be built, managed and run differently. It was an opportunity to build a team of like-minded people who really wanted to make a difference in the world and the water industry. It was just too good of an opportunity to say no to. The only downside is that I am too old to see the end. That hurts me every day. Yes, I might be here in five years and I might see the brine processing and desalination being completed. But I will not see the full scale of everything. However, I have some good young Saudis on my team who are going to be here for 40 years. And they are going to be the people that are really going to demonstrate to the world what has been done here.


People with passion can change our world and create a better future. Let our two experts tell you how in this thought-provoking film.


our goals & objectives

  • 01

    Be the leader in renewable-energy powered desalination and integrated resource recovery seawater treatment

    NEOM takes water infrastructure into a new era, integrating desalination and brine processing plants and powering them with sustainable carbon-neutral technologies. We’re committed to a fully integrated resource recovery seawater treatment (FIRRST) to conserve the Red Sea ecosystem - a world-first at this scale.

  • 02

    Design and implement a smart network that distributes high-standard water to all of NEOM

    NEOM is building smart water systems powered by renewable energy, delivering high-quality drinking water and recycled water across its network, while removing wastewater. Smart metering and irrigation, leakage detection, and water quality monitoring will be controlled in real time.

  • 03

    Pioneer water recycling and stewardship, capturing every drop and treating it for reuse

    Superior transmission and storage, network monitoring and 100% wastewater and stormwater reuse are key to water conservation at NEOM. Chemicals, nutrients, minerals and more resources will be harvested in state-of-the-art water recycling facilities for industrial and agricultural use.

  • 04

    Create a global innovation hub for the research and development of the water solutions of the future

    NEOM’s Innovation Hub will house Centers of Excellence focused on the investigation of water usage and management, attracting the world’s greatest minds. By exporting technology, knowledge and expertise, NEOM’s Water Solution Company will become the global leader in water technology.



NEOM ENERGY & WATER is driven by a central philosophy to live in harmony with nature. We’re working with our surrounding environment to create a sustainable cycle, providing the resources to power a thriving, resilient economy.

Our vision is being brought to life by some of the best minds in the world, pioneers in their respective fields, supported by the latest technology and innovation. It’s a journey we make collaboratively, as the challenges the world faces need global connectedness. We look forward to working with leaders around the world in the energy, hydrogen and water industries to drive innovation forward together.

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Our team

The NEOM Water Sector is bringing together world-leading experts to help build a more sustainable future, preserving this limited natural resource through groundbreaking technology.

  • Gavin Van Tonder

    Gavin van Tonder

    Head of Water

    With 30 years of experience in the water industry, Gavin van Tonder has held top positions at leading organizations such as Itron, Schlumberger and Sasol. Highly-skilled in navigating challenging milestones, his experience is truly global – stretching across 13 countries and four continents.

  • Greg Welch

    Greg Welch

    Head of Business Development

    Greg Welch has had a career spanning two decades, three continents and countless high-profile projects across the water, energy, infrastructure sectors. He has also worked in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Thailand.

  • Emma Dannemiller

    Emma Dannemiller

    Head of Sustainability and Risk

    Emma Dannemiller has previously worked on a major liquid natural gas project. She has 30 years of experience as a program manager in construction and sustainable development – and will take on the challenge of implementing NEOM’s circular water infrastructure.

  • Robert Garner

    Robert Garner

    Head of Water Supply

    As a chartered mechanical engineer with experience of water projects, Robert Garner is well-positioned to help steward NEOM’s environment-first Water sector. He leads the development of carbon-neutral water desalination processes, zero-emission brine management and mineral production systems.

  • David Mitchell

    David Mitchell

    Head of Water Transmission & Distribution

    David Mitchell's 30-year career has seen him planning, designing and constructing water projects: from dams and reservoirs to raw water transmission and treatment. He heads up NEOM’s water transmission, storage and distribution.

  • Nicholas Burnett

    Nicholas Burnett

    Head of Wastewater & Recycling

    Nicholas Burnett is a chartered chemical engineer with more than two decades of experience designing, and managing, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment. He has worked across utility, consultancy and construction throughout the world.

  • Joao Pitta

    Joao Pitta

    Head of Water Management

    A chartered environmental engineer, Joao Pitta has led teams across Portugal, Mozambique, Spain and Brazil – in his 20-year career. His experience in municipal and industrial water and wastewater management makes him well equipped for his challenging role at NEOM.

  • Carlos Garcia

    Carlos Garcia

    Head of Planning, Regulations and Resources

    Some 25 years in water utilities have seen Carlos Garcia manage complex multinational organizations across the world. His work has seen him generate profitable and sustainable growth for companies throughout Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.