PROJECT PROFILE: Fraunhofer USA Center for Energy Innovation (Solar Desalination)

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Project Name: Desalination by Membrane Distillation Using Ceramic Membranes
Funding Opportunity: Solar Desalination
SETO Subprogram: Concentrating Solar Power
Location: Storrs, CT
SETO Award Amount: $873,648
Awardee Cost Share: $218,926
Principal Investigator: Jeffrey McCutcheon

The goal of this work is to design, fabricate, and use the first ceramic membranes for membrane distillation (MD) in solar thermal desalination systems. These membranes will be able to withstand contact with chemicals and high heat that would break down conventional MD membranes. This could enable direct and high-recovery treatment of hot wastewaters, such as those produced by oil and gas exploration, directly at the source to increase the amount of fresh water available for use.
Ceramic membranes made in various geometries.
Ceramic membranes made in various geometries. Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer IKTS.

APPROACH

The team will develop a stronger ceramic membrane that can tolerate the passage of water vapor in a high temperature, chemically abrasive MD environment. The approach will later be adapted to include more complex membrane shapes with greater surface areas to allow more water vapor to pass through, thereby increasing efficiency. The team will model the performance of these geometries, verify the accuracy of the model, and then calculate a price per cubic meter for the water used in the ceramic membrane MD process.

INNOVATIONS

Ceramic membranes can be expensive and are not typically used for MD. But their cost has come down recently, due to the development of membranes with new, unique shapes that can pack more surface area into smaller volumes. These membranes can also last a lot longer than conventional membranes do in extremely hot saltwater environments that require MD for treatment or water removal. The reduced cost of the membranes combined with longer lifetimes could help reduce the cost of desalination.