Novel Isothermal Membrane Distillation with Acidic Collector for Selective and Energy-Efficient Recovery of Ammonia from Urine

McCartney, Stephanie Nicole; Williams, Natalie Anne; Boo, Chanhee; Chen, Xi; Yip, Ngai Yin

The high concentration of ammonia in source-separated urine offers propitious opportunities for N recovery. Membrane distillation (MD) can recover volatile ammonia from hydrolyzed urine, but conventional operation suffers from the simultaneous permeation of water vapor that results in poor selectivity for ammonia transport and high energy demand. Here, we present a novel operation of MD—isothermal membrane distillation with acidic collector (IMD-AC)—to overcome the limitations of conventional MD. The innovative isothermal operation, i.e., same feed and collector temperatures, effectively suppressed water vapor permeation while maintaining ammonia vapor flux and, thus, significantly improved selectivity for ammonia transport. The acidic collector further enhanced ammonia vapor flux by an average of 46.5% compared to using a deionized water collector. Against a total ammoniacal nitrogen concentration gradient, i.e., uphill transport, ammonia recovery of ≈60% was attained, highlighting the prospect of the technology for high-yield recovery. Critically, IMD-AC achieved approximately 95% savings in vaporization energy consumption relative to conventional MD by practically eliminating the evaporation of water. The resultant energy requirement of ≈2.2 kWh/kg-N is less than the Haber-Bosch process for N fixation and N removal by nitrification-denitrification (8.9–19.3 and 2.3–6.5 kWh/kg-N, respectively). This study shows the promising potential of IMD-AC for the selective and energy-efficient recovery of ammonia from source-separated urine.


Also Published In

ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering

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Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Engineering
Published Here
June 15, 2020