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What You ‘Sea’ Is What You Get!

Antoine Stephan, Director, Hamon CTC – Dubai Branch, with his years of experience in the field of district cooling and cooling towers, talks of the myths that pose challenges to using seawater in the UAE.

| | Feb 15, 2010 | 11:59 am
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Antoine Stephan, Director, Hamon CTC – Dubai Branch, with his years of experience in the field of district cooling and cooling towers, talks of the myths that pose challenges to using seawater in the UAE .

The Beginning

Antoine Stephan

Antoine Stephan

I was born in Beirut in 1964. I went to a French school – College Protestant Francais. After schooling, I entered the American University of Beirut, from where I graduated in BE Civil Engineering, in 1986. Because of my background and my education, I have a French way and an American way of looking at things, which I feel, is important to understand the world today – combining the European culture and the practical approach of the Americans.

I started my career in contracting in 1987, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I was there till 1989. The two years there were slow years for me, with not much happening. I moved to France and worked in the contracting estimation sector.

In 1992, Paris experienced a recession. I thought it was the right time to do an MBA and took the course. I felt it was designed more for people who wanted to focus on changing their careers. What I mean is that the course was not for beginners, but for hardened professionals.

Joining Hamon

I graduated in 1995 and joined Hamon, because I was interested in international trading.

Thanks to my job with Hamon, I came back to the Middle East, where I took up the role of Business Development Manager. I was in charge of market surveys of the Near East and the Middle East. I was responsible for knowledge development for all Hamon divisions.

After two years, I was given the opportunity to work on the cooling aspect of the business – cooling towers (CTs), to be more specific. I worked in this division for a few years. And then, Hamon went through restructuring. I was made in charge of the business units for all the countries we dealt with; the task was to organise the companies.

I worked in this position for a few years. Then, I was in charge of servicing clients, like Bechtel, in the Middle East.

DC in Dubai

In 2004, the district cooling sector became active in the Middle East in particular, in the UAE. So I set up a base for Hamon in Dubai in 2006. We got our first order from the Dubai Civil Aviation for 33 cells, for the extension of the airport. It was then that we decided to come here and set up an office the same year.

We decided to come to Dubai, because the decision-making actors are here – actors like contractors and consultants. We started the office in 2006, for project management. Today, the projects are installed here, but the engineering is done in Europe.

We are now in a leading position. To date, we have been instrumental in providing 56,000 TR of cooling since 2005. So in five years, we have managed to serve the sector with our hard work, knowhow and our professional approach. So, although we arrived late in the market here, we are in a good position.


Hamon is a 106-year-old company in cooling systems division. So it has a culture. Hamon is like a big family and creates a special feeling of belonging. As a result, people become so attached to it that they stay with the company for long.

As an employee, you feel dedicated. It’s a pleasure to work in an environment, where quality matters, and you study in-depth and with a long-term approach. Hamon is an international group that has proved to be successful in many different fields –power, oil and gas, metal industries, chemical industries and district cooling, which in particular, is comparable in size to an industrial application.


Here, in the UAE, there is a lack of in-depth knowledge about seawater cooling. In other words, there are several myths circulating around. This has led to a particular perception about it.

During the boom period, there was no proper discussion or a communication of ideas on seawater cooling. Simply put, it was summarily dismissed without it being given a chance or a decent hearing. I found it frustrating, because I like to bring optimum value to end-users. Now, it’s happening, but we are still behind other countries in getting the information across to the decision-makers.

We had raised the issue from Day One for optimising not only water but also power. The stumbling block for seawater cooling is the issue of capital costs, though.

At Hamon, we have the strength and ability to cater to all types of water – TSE, brackish, seawater … just about any type. Why, we are even cooling water with acid in some types of applications. We can cater to the particular needs of clients, and this is where we bring value. We are not in the business of packaged cooling towers but in specialised applications. We also propose different hybrid cooling towers, which we feel, will save water. Another option is to press into service air-cooled systems in tandem with cooling towers.

Noise reduction is an issue with cooling towers. At Hamon, we can tackle this, as we are very strong in this.

And also, what are the considerations to bring down power costs? Optimising power and opex is the answer. This has never been considered here. The point is, we can bring value to the market.

At Hamon, we have 200+ engineers – project engineers, R&D engineers, testing engineers…. They look at every project in-depth and integrate it with the needs.

Whenever we have the opportunity, we give seminars and bring the advantages of seawater cooling to the attention of clients, as a way of educating people.

Another issue that is important is the optimising of the sourcing of materials for cooling towers, be they in the form of fans or motors.

Every big supplier has facilities in China and India. But here, in the GCC, you have limitations, born out of incorrect perception. We can propose good-quality products coming out of China, but the perception towards China is that they produce sub-standard, counterfeit products. The point is, China has good quality control and pricing, if you are talking of a European supplier who has set up a factory in China with good quality requirements. So, in this case, you are safe, as far as China is concerned. What I’m trying to say is that we need more discussions and more flexibility to bring this young market to maturity.

When I arrived in Dubai, I came with an industrial background.

Hamon actually participated in the Jubail project, in the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, where you have the petrochemical industries. They were using seawater cooling towers in a channel for 20 years. Then the pumping capacity for this became saturated. So they needed Phase 2.

There were two main scenarios:

1. Construct or extend the channel

2. Do grouping of cooling towers

These were disregarded. They finally chose to go with individual cooling towers for each use. Hamon was the first to supply individual cooling towers (90,000 m3, 26 cells). So we are very aware of the disadvantages, the environmental impact in the Gulf region being one of them.

We have studied the situation in Qatar. They are using seawater cooling towers there. The UAE is lagging behind Qatar in this respect, as there are no big seawater cooling applications here.

In this context, we would like to do the groundwork and develop a seawater cooling regimen here, given the fact that we are in the business for 40 years. We have achieved 1.5 million m3/hour of cooling the world over. So this is a wellknown domain for us.


As district cooling involves chillers and heat exchangers, you need to use titanium, which makes it expensive. In the case of cooling towers, though, this is not an issue. We don’t need titanium. We use high grade of hardware. But in the case of chillers and heat exchangers, this becomes an issue.

When I arrived here in the UAE, the potential clients said, ‘We cannot rely on seawater intake’. This was because Dubai was reclaiming a lot of land, as a result of which, the coastline was changing. So, if we had set up the seawater intake plant at a particular location, it would have had to be relocated, if they had reclaimed the land to establish the coastline farther away than where it was.

Another belief was that seawater intake is very hot. But this is not true, because we are talking of the same Gulf water. If the same Gulf seawater is being used in Jubail in Saudi Arabia and in Qatar, then this perception cannot be true. As I said earlier, there are several myths that need to be dispelled.

So the challenge is not with cooling towers, but with the cost of titanium, which you need to use in heat exchangers. Another challenge is the delivery time.

We, as cooling tower people, are not affected. But it is the other side – chillers and heat exchangers – that makes seawater cooling an expensive proposition. And of course, you have the limitation of seawater intake, because the developers are constantly reclaiming the land and, thus, the coastline changes.


In Bahrain, they have had no other option but to go for seawater cooling. In Saudi Arabia, it was the easiest option. Here, in the UAE, they say that TSE is better, but you don’t have enough plants to give you TSE. The sea is open, it is free. The investment cost – titanium – is an issue, but water savings is for ever. But I cannot convince the client to go in for chillers; it’s not my job. As a cooling tower supplier, though, I hold the flag very high.

Also, from an environmental perspective, people say that seawater cooling has drawbacks. But the fact is that the salt evaporated from the sea near Dubai or Abu Dhabi is much higher in concentration than from any seawater cooling tower. As I said, there are several myths circulating in the air.

It was proved when we highlighted Jubail in our study and did model testing that the salt concentration going into the atmosphere is high compared to what comes out of a cooling tower. You can conduct a model study using a computer software and simulate the process. So you can prove this 100% scientifically.

In the UAE, we showed the study to one or two consultants, but the drawback was not with us – the cooling tower people – but with the cost of titanium, as a result of which, the capex was high.

Also, let us not forget that during the boom period, the market was growing too fast. People did not have time, or allotted the time, to think things through. At the time, the only concern was capex. Now, during the downturn, people have that much more time to cogitate and consider the facts by eliminating all the myths.


I am married and have two boys – Cyril and Mario – aged 10 and 6. They enjoy living in Dubai as much as is possible. My wife’s name is Noura.

I like travelling a lot. When it comes to sports, I like skiing in the French Alps. Here in the UAE, I take my boys to Ski Dubai to practise.

I also like music, theatre and art. In music, I like jazz, rock, classical, New Age and world music. I have a collection of 1,000 CDs. To me, culture is very important, and this is what I miss in Dubai. I like a cultural environment, because I have spent 18 years in France.

In Paris, you have theatre, concerts, museums. But Dubai is improving. The theatre scene is more active in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai. But the art scene – galleries displaying art – is good in Dubai.

I love books, especially fiction and books on spiritualism. I recently read a book about the human brain – My Stroke of Insight – written by a Harvard neurologist. It’s amazing how the human brain works. The writer has understood how the brain functions and how you can manage the intellectual aspect of it. It has given me an insight into life.

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