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Conducting thermal energy to the membrane/water interface for the enhanced desalination of hypersaline brines using membrane distillation


Membrane distillation (MD) is a membrane-based thermal desalination process capable of treating hypersaline brines. Standard MD systems rely on preheating the feed to drive the desalination process. However, relying on the feed to carry thermal energy is limited by a decline of the thermal driving force as the water moves across the membrane, and temperature polarization. In contrast, supplying heat directly into the feed channel, either through the membrane or other channel surfaces, has the potential of minimizing temperature polarization, increasing single-pass water recoveries, and decreasing the number of heat exchangers in the system. When solar thermal energy can be utilized, particularly if the solar heat is optimally delivered to enhance water evaporation and process performance, MD processes can potentially be improved in terms of energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, or operating costs. Here we describe an MD process using layered composite membranes that include a high-thermal-conductivity layer for supplying heat directly to the membrane-water interface and the flow channel. The MD system showed stable performance with water flux up to 9 L/m2/hr, and salt rejection >99.9% over hours of desalinating hypersaline feed (100 g/L NaCl). In addition to bench-scale system, we developed a computational fluid dynamics model that successfully described the transport phenomena in the system.

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