Increasing net water recovery of reverse osmosis with membrane distillation using natural thermal differentials between brine and co-located water sources: Impacts at large reclamation facilities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Maximizing water recovery and minimizing the volume of RO concentrate (i.e., brine) produced is a growing challenge, especially for inland communities that lack ocean disposal options. In such regions, transitioning towards zero liquid discharge (ZLD) can avoid detrimental impacts associated with salt disposal via regional sewer discharge or deep-well injection. On-site ZLD energy requirements are proportional to the RO brine flowrate. Thus, system-level strategies that reduce RO brine flows will lower ZLD costs while simultaneously increasing the overall water recovery for beneficial reuse in reclamation facilities. We investigated a membrane distillation (MD) system operating using co-located, cooler source water to treat warmer wastewater RO brine. Using experimentally-quantified MD fluxes based on observed monthly water temperatures of co-located water and RO brine at a facility in central Arizona, and based on the previously reported performance of large-scale MD systems, energy consumption and operating cost were estimated to evaluate the potential capabilities of MD to treat RO brine at full scale facilities. When the RO unit was combined with MD brine treatment, net water recovery at the full-scale facility can increase from 85% to up to 91% while brine flow can be reduced by 26%. A 25% lower thermal energy was required to achieve RO net water recovery of 95% when using co-located water, compared against conventional MD without using co-located water. Overall, this work demonstrates the potential to use local thermal gradients to reduce RO brine volumes, thereby reducing ZLD costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116134
JournalWater Research
Volume184
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

Keywords

  • Inland brine management
  • Reclamation
  • Residual management
  • Reuse
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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