Drivers, challenges, and emerging technologies for desalination of high-salinity brines: A critical review

Shah, Kinnari Malav; BIllinge, Ian Henry; Chen, Xi; Fan, Hanqing; Huang, Yuxuan; Winton, Robert Kyongho; Yip, Ngai Yin

Hypersaline brines are of growing environmental concern. While high-salinity desalination and zero liquid discharge (ZLD) are increasingly attractive treatment options, the high salt and scalant contents pose considerable technical difficulties to existing desalination techniques. In this review, we introduce sources of hypersaline brines, examine factors driving high-salinity desalination, and present the thermodynamic minimum energy of hypersaline desalination and ZLD, highlighting effects of mineral precipitation and imperfect salt rejection. We then critically examine prospects and challenges of 10 alternative technologies for hypersaline desalination: electrodialysis, osmotically-mediated reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, membrane distillation, humidification-dehumidification, solvent extraction desalination, supercritical water desalination, freeze desalination, clathrate hydrate desalination, and solar thermal desalination. Although electrodialysis and osmotically-mediated reverse osmosis show promise of having competitive energy efficiencies, these membrane-based techniques are still constrained by concentrate salinity limits. Recovery and reuse of heat will be vital for competitiveness of thermally-driven approaches. Technologies that intrinsically precipitate salts in bulk solution, namely solvent extraction desalination, supercritical water desalination, and humidification-dehumidification, can advantageously avoid mineral scaling. Due to the highly heterogeneous nature of hypersaline streams and the wide array of end-use goals, the high-salinity desalination market will ultimately be best served by a range of different technologies with distinctive capabilities.


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Earth and Environmental Engineering
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July 26, 2022