A New Model for Water Desalination Technologies Could Lower Energy Consumption

Researchers from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia developed and fine tuned a model that describes the working of water desalination plants utilizing a promising new technology. The model could eventually help scale up this technology, and help minimize the energy consumption levels required for operating water desalination plants.

There is a significant shortage of portable water throughout many parts of the world. Desalination technologies help counter this challenge. The desalination industry has produced approximately 85 billion liters of fresh water every day in 2016, and since then its productivity has increased even further. Traditional desalination technologies like reverse osmosis and multi-effect evaporation, however, are extremely energy intensive. 

Membrane distillation is one of the most innovative and promising desalination technologies today, especially when compared to other technologies in the field. This method requires low operating temperatures and low hydraulic pressures, and yet can achieve nearly 100% rejection of ion salts from the distilled water. It can also be scaled up relatively easily, because of the compact and flexible structures involved in its operations.

While the membrane distillation technology is indeed appealing, it has yet to be adopted widely by the industry, mainly because of technical barriers and deficient capabilities. It’s been intensively investigated over the last few years to improve its abilities and facilitate its scaling up for mass usage.

Several models were produced to describe the new capabilities of the enhanced membrane distillation technologies. However, those models have been limited and incapable of taking into account both the effects of automation and the usage of renewable energy sources – mainly wind and solar power. These energy sources vary in production according to the time of day and weather, and therefore suffer from fluctuations and abrupt changes in power production levels.

In a new study conducted by researchers from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, a novel model for mass desalination of model via membrane distillation was developed. The model captures several parameters of membrane distillations operations, including the dynamic nature of the energy sources they rely on, and the temperatures and water dynamics involved. 

A flowsheet of a module test facility. Source

The model is capable of describing the dynamic characteristics of mass desalination operations in large plants, and covers a wide range of operating conditions. While initially the model was not very accurate, the researchers managed to fine tune it by incorporating into it several factors that reduced the overall relative error to just 3%. 

The new and improved model could be used to help scale up membrane distillation operations and plants. In the long run, it could thus help alleviate water shortage and ensure abundance of water to all, without inflicting unnecessary environmental damage due to the level of energy consumption needed to operate water desalination plants.

The researchers involved in this research were Emad Ali, Jamel Orfi, and Abdullah Najib from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

Original content by Nawartna

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