Unlocking High-Salinity Desalination with Cascading Osmotically Mediated Reverse Osmosis: Energy and Operating Pressure Analysis

Chen, Xi; Yip, Ngai Yin

Current practice of using thermally driven methods to treat hypersaline brines is highly energy-intensive and costly. While conventional reverse osmosis (RO) is the most efficient desalination technique, it is confined to purifying seawater and lower salinity sources. Hydraulic pressure restrictions and elevated energy demand render RO unsuitable for high-salinity streams. Here, we propose an innovative cascading osmotically mediated reverse osmosis (COMRO) technology to overcome the limitations of conventional RO. The innovation utilizes the novel design of bilateral countercurrent reverse osmosis stages to depress the hydraulic pressure needed by lessening the osmotic pressure difference across the membrane, and simultaneously achieve energy savings. Instead of the 137 bar required by conventional RO to desalinate 70 000 ppm TDS hypersaline feed, the highest operating pressure in COMRO is only 68.3 bar (−50%). Furthermore, up to ≈17% energy saving is attained by COMRO (3.16 kWh/m3, compared to 3.79 kWh/m3 with conventional RO). When COMRO is employed to boost the recovery of seawater desalination to 70% from the typical 35–50%, energy savings of up to ≈33% is achieved (2.11 kWh/m3, compared to 3.16 kWh/m3 with conventional RO). Again, COMRO can operate at a moderate hydraulic pressure of 80 bar (25% lower than 113 bar of conventional RO). This study highlights the encouraging potential of energy-efficient COMRO to access unprecedented high recovery rates and treat hypersaline brines at moderate hydraulic pressures, thus extending the capabilities of membrane-based technologies for high-salinity desalination.


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Environmental Science & Technology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Engineering
Columbia Water Center
Published Here
March 1, 2018


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