More Energy Efficient Desalination

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A start-up from Vancouver, Canada called Saltworks Technologies has a new desalination process called “thermo-ionic desalination.”

* most of the world’s desalination plants today separate salt by distilling seawater, but this requires an immense amount of energy
* Newer desalination plants typically use a process called reverse osmosis. This is when the seawater is forced against a membrane that filters out the salt and other minerals. The approach is less energy-intensive than distillation, but the big pumps that push the water through the membrane still require lots of electricity.
Saltworks thermoionic process can cut the energy demands of a desalination plant by more than half, and in some cases by as much as 80 per cent.
Saltworks has a small pilot plant is already operating in Vancouver that can process 1 cubic metre of ocean water a day.

There are many companies working on nanomembranes and modification of reverse osmosis for greater energy efficiency.

A commercial Saltworkplant that could handle 50,000 cubic metres a day would require an evaporation tower 80 metres in diameter

NanoH20 is one of the companies working on improving reverse osmosis

Seawater desalination is about two-thirds of the desalination market. Another 20 percent is for desalination of brackish water and the remainder is for desalination of waste water streams.

NanoH2O’s membranes can expect up to a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption, or a 70 percent increase in water production, or a 40 percent smaller plant footprint.

The goal now is to scale-up manufacturing. The firm has 26,000 square feet of manufacturing infrastructure in the Los Angles area and looks to come to market with a commercial product in mid-2010.

Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies (one of the biggest players in the desal business) has entered a five-year partnership with California’s NanoH2O to jointly explore opportunities for a new, higher flux SWRO membrane product

NanoH2O chief executive Jeff Green said the membranes are a true composite membrane – not a coating – where porous, inorganic and hydrophilic nanoparticles are encapsulated within a polyamide membrane film. “We have shown we can get a salt rejection greater than 99.7 percent while operating our nanocomposite membranes at a flux of at least 30 gfd [50 Lmh].

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