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Desalinating a real hyper-saline pre-treated produced water via direct-heat vacuum membrane distillation


Membrane distillation (MD) is an emerging thermal desalination technology capable of desalinating waters of any salinity. During typical MD processes, the saline feedwater is heated and acts as the thermal energy carrier; however, temperature polarization (as well as thermal energy loss) contributes to low distillate fluxes, low single-pass water recovery and poor thermal efficiency. An alternative approach is to integrate an extra thermal energy carrier as part of the membrane and/or module assembly, which can channel externally provided heat directly to the membrane-feedwater interface and/or along the feed channel length. This direct-heat delivery has been demonstrated to increase single-pass water recovery and enhance the overall thermal efficiency. We developed a bench-scale direct-heated vacuum MD (DHVMD) process to desalinate pre-treated oil and gas "produced water" with an initial total dissolved solids of 115,500 ppm at a feed temperature ranging between 24 and 32 °C. We evaluated both water flux and specific energy consumption (SEC) as a function of water recovery. The system achieved a 50% water recovery without significant scaling, with an average flux >6 kg m-2 hr-1 and a SEC as low as 2,530 kJ kg-1. The major species of mineral scales (i.e., NaCl, CaSO4, and SrSO4) that limited the water recovery to 68% were modeled in terms of thermodynamics and identified by scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. In addition, we further developed and employed a physics-based process model to estimate temperature, salinity, water transport and energy flows for full-scale vacuum MD and DHVMD modules. Model results show that a direct-heat input rate of 3,600 W can increase single-pass water recovery from 2.1% to 3.1% while lowering the thermal SEC from 7,800 kJ kg-1 to 6,517 kJ kg-1 in an unoptimized module. Finally, the scaling up potential of DHVMD process is briefly discussed.

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