Direct contact membrane distillation with heat recovery: Thermodynamic insights from module scale modeling

Lin, Shihong; Yip, Ngai Yin; Elimelech, Menachem

Direct contact membrane distillation (DCMD) can desalinate saline waters using low-grade heat and is thus economically attractive when low-temperature thermal energy is readily available. Coupling DCMD with a heat exchanger (HX) can significantly enhance the energy efficiency of the process by recovering the latent heat accumulated in the permeate (distillate) stream. This study evaluates the mass recovery rate (i.e., fraction of feed water recovered), γ, and the specific heat duty (i.e., energy input per unit mass of product water), β, of DCMD desalination using low-grade heat coupled with HX. Mass and heat transfer in DCMD and HX were modeled at the module scale and thermodynamic analysis of the system was performed. The relative flow rate (between the permeate and feed streams), α, was found to be a critical operation parameter to optimize process performance, regardless of the mass and heat transfer kinetics. Both numerical evaluation and analytical analysis reveal a critical relative flow rate, α⁎, that demarcates DCMD operation between a permeate limiting regime (when α<α⁎) and a feed limiting regime (when α>α⁎), when mass transfer kinetics are not limiting. Similarly, we identified mass-limited and temperature-limited heat recovery regimes in the HX that are dependent on α. Our analysis shows that the highest γ and lowest β achievable are solely determined by the thermodynamic properties of the system and always occur at the critical relative flow rate, α⁎. For example, the thermodynamic limits for γ and β are 6.4% and 27.6 kJ kg−1, respectively, for seawater desalination by single-pass DCMD at 60 °C with HX. However, in practical operation, as the DCMD membrane area and permeability cannot be infinitely large, the process is in a mass-transfer-limiting-regime and performance departs from the thermodynamic limits. Lastly, we demonstrate that heat transfer across a thermally-conductive DCMD membrane further reduces the recovery rate and energy efficiency of the process. The findings from this study have important implications for optimization of the DCMD process and for serving as criteria to assess process performance.


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Also Published In

Journal of Membrane Science

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Engineering
Published Here
July 2, 2016