Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Suárez F. and Urtubia R. (2016)

Tackling the water-energy nexus: membrane distillation driven by solar ponds

Revista : Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy
Volumen : 18
Número : 6
Páginas : 1697-1712
Tipo de publicación : ISI Ir a publicación


Although the costs of desalination have declined, traditional desalination systems still need large amounts of energy. Recent advances in direct contact membrane distillation can take advantage of low-quality renewable heat to desalinate brackish water, seawater, or wastewater. In this work, the performance of a direct contact membrane distillation (DCMD) system driven by salt-gradient solar ponds was investigated. A mathematical model that couples both systems was constructed and validated with experimental data available in the scientific literature. Using the validated model, the performance of this coupled system in different geographical locations and under different operational conditions was studied. Our results show that even when this coupled system can be used to meet the future needs of energy andwater use in a sustainable way, it is suitable for locations between 40°N and 40°S that are near the ocean as these zones have enough solar radiation, and availability of excess water and salts to operate the coupled system. The maximum freshwater flow rates that can be obtained are on the order of 3.0 L d-1 per m2 of solar pond (12.1 m3 d-1 acre-1), but the expected freshwater production values aremore likely to be on the order of 2.5 L d-1 per m2 of solar pond (10.1 m3 d-1 acre-1) when the system operates with imperfections. The coupled system has a thermal energy consumption of 880 ± 60 kWh per m3 of distillate, which is in the range of other membrane distillation systems. Different operational conditions were evaluated. The most important operating parameters that influence the freshwater production rates are the partial pressure of air entrapped in the membrane pores and the overall thermal efficiency of the coupled system. This work provides a guide for geographical zone selection and operation of a membrane distillation production system driven by solar ponds that can help mitigate the stress on the water-energy nexus.