Are These Technologies Water Desalination Game Changers?
Increasing water scarcity is driving innovations in water production technologies, according to analysis by Frost & Sullivan that finds accelerated movement towards wastewater reuse and advanced water recycling technologies.
Innovations in Water Production and Its Impact on Key Sectors finds that advancements in technologies, chemicals and processes are addressing the three most difficult challenges in water production. These are:
- the removal of nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus compounds in open body water sources
- sustainable desalination
- the removal of emerging chemical compounds from drinking water
The report says the water production space as a whole is shifting toward renewable energy-based solutions to resolve the issue of water-energy shortage. It says there will be an increase in the uptake of membrane filtration and anaerobic-aerobic technologies, including portable and/or solar-based water filtration systems.
It also (unintentionally) coincides with a desalination wastewater project announced earlier this week that the companies partnering on the project — global water and waste giant Veolia and Texas-based Enviro Water Minerals (EWM) — say is the first of its kind globally.
Wastewater to Freshwater
EWM recently broke ground on the water production and chemical manufacturing facility located next to the El Paso’s Kay Bailey Hutchison (KBH) Desalination Plant, the world’s largest inland desalination plant.
Veolia will manage the new plant, which will take the waste brine concentrate from the KBH Desalination Plant, extract and transform salts and minerals into commercial products, and produce more than 2 million gallons of drinkable water a day for the region.
“Waste brine disposal has long been the Achilles’ heel of inland desalination facilities,” EWM CEO Hubble Hausman said in a statement. “Our El Paso project will demonstrate that it is possible to produce multiple marketable chemical and mineral products from the waste brine while increasing the recovery of potable water and eliminating waste.”
Another obstacle to desalination technology has traditionally been the massive amounts of energy required to turn salt or brackish water into freshwater. A new study University of Illinois engineers finds using the material in batteries could lower the energy use and cost associated with desalination.
Battery Tech to Lower Desal Energy Use
According to a paper by Illinois mechanical science and engineering professor Kyle Smith and graduate student Rylan Dmello, published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society Electricity, electricity running through a salt water-filled battery draws the salt ions out of the water.
“We are developing a device that will use the materials in batteries to take salt out of water with the smallest amount of energy that we can,” Smith said in a blog post about the research. “One thing I’m excited about is that by publishing this paper, we’re introducing a new type of device to the battery community and to the desalination community.”
Reverse osmosis, in which water is pushed through a membrane that filters out the sale, is the most widely used desalination technology. Its downside: it is a costly and extremely energy-intensive process.
The battery method, on the other hand, uses electricity to draw charged salt ions out of the water. Batteries have two chambers, a positive electrode and a negative electrode, with a separator in between that the ions can flow across. When the battery discharges, the sodium and chloride ions — the two elements of salt — are drawn to one chamber, leaving desalinated water in the other.
“It’s certainly an interesting technology that aims to address the key challenge of the desalination industry — energy efficiency, says Frost & Sullivan’s Fredrick Royan, vice president, global environment (water and waste management) practice, when asked about the University of Illinois engineers’ battery method. “It could be a solution once commercialized that we could see in the small/package/modular desalination plants.”
Royan says the technology seems to have a “game-changing impact” with regards to desalination energy use. “However, there are an increasing number of innovative solutions that are addressing the similar challenge,” he says. “Given the relative conservative nature of the water industry and new technologies on average needing five to seven years to be fully commercialized, there would need to be either strategic partnerships with Tier 1 players or even an acquisition to hasten the process.”
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