Desalination has been around for several decades. The technology has grown significantly over the years and is still evolving. In this post, we take a quick look at the significant innovations in desalination.
The desalination industry was born out of necessity. Global factors like deepening water scarcity, increasing population, climate change, rapid urbanisation, worsening water pollution, inadequate or ageing water infrastructure, political and socio-economic challenges, poor water resource management – all played a role in accelerating the need for water desalination plants.
Early Innovations in Desalination
In the 90s and 2000s, the major challenge facing the desalination industry was to reduce energy consumption. To overcome this challenge, researchers, innovators, and scientists invented two breakthrough solutions:
Improve Performance of RO (Reverse Osmosis) membranes
The innovation of energy recovery devices
As a result of these two innovations, the energy consumed by desalination plants was reduced by half. Also, it was possible to have large membrane desalination plants that could filter gallons of saltwater.
Latest Innovations – What’s new in the Desalination Industry?
Today, RO is the dominant technology used by desalination plants. Currently, research is underway to achieve the following:
Increase freshwater yield from desalination plants
Reduce brine production
Deal with challenging water sources
When we think of desalination, we often imagine parched desert countries with no perennial rivers or inadequate underground systems. The reality is that desalination is not only for water-scarce port cities but also equally crucial for inland utilities and industrial processes that rely on groundwater. As a result, desalination plants are not just fed seawater but are also being used to convert inland brackish water to freshwater.
Brackish water is not as salty as seawater. However, one of the significant challenges facing desalination plants using brackish/industrial water is the safe and eco-friendly brine disposal. This is where most research is being carried out today, and we can expect innovations in this area in the next decade.
Here is an overview of promising developments in desalination technology. These innovations aim to reduce brine production and achieve higher freshwater recovery.
This method involves recirculation of brine back to the RO membranes for a longer period. As a result, this reduces brine output and maximizes freshwater yield. This is achieved by using high-pressure membranes and/or batch operations. Result results from this study are promising. It shows brackish water recovery rates as high as 98% compared to the current 75%.
#2: Osmotically-Assisted RO
Also known as counter-flow RO, it involves incorporating a saline solution to the freshwater side of the RO membrane to reduce the pressure barrier. Traditionally, brine concentrations of more than 7% salt needed the use of evaporators. Evaporators are high-cost and an energy-intensive process. By the method of counter-flow RO, it is now possible to reduce brine production three-fold. The other advantages of this method are an increase in freshwater yield and an increase in the RO membrane's usability.
This method is primarily used for desalination plants that use thermal methods. Wastewater from oil and gas plants contain organic materials that damage RO membranes. Humidification involves passing a carrier gas through the brine to evaporate water in it. This mimics the action of air moving water in nature. The evaporated water is then condensed to produce pure water.
#4: Improved RO Membranes
Researchers are currently working on improving the quality of membrane materials by looking for membranes that operate at extremely high pressures and high salinities. Researchers are not only experimenting on new RO membrane materials. They are also working out the impact of membranes when they operate together. Better RO membranes will reduce brine production, increase freshwater yield while reducing energy consumption.
The other two innovations are not directly related to desalination technology but play a crucial role in desalination plants. They are:
#5: Improved Water Pumps
The desalination industry is heavily reliant on water pumps. There are tons of water to be moved around. Water has to be pumped in from the sea and freshwater has to be transferred to the storage tanks before being transported to the city. Leading industrial pump manufacturers like Sintech offer a range of pumps for desalination plants. These pumps are specifically designed to meet the challenges of desalination plants and deliver high performance at low energy consumption. To know more about our R&D in seawater desalination pump, get in touch with our team. We would love to share our latest developments.
#6: Smarter Digital Technology
Today's desalination plants are fitted with high-range sensors that better detect and anticipate problems, thereby reducing plant downtime. This, in turn, cuts down costs and enhances the flow of day-to-day operations.
Thanks to these innovations, the latest generation of RO plants operate at the lowest energy possible. Globally, over 300 million people rely on water from desalination plants for all or some of their daily needs.
Ongoing innovations in desalination technology are not only beneficial for the industry. These advancements profoundly impact the global water crisis, helping us move from water scarcity to water security. To state it in simple terms, innovations in desalination technology help us create a more sustainable and water positive future.