Project Name: Energy Where it Matters: Delivering Heat to the Membrane/Water Interface for Enhanced Thermal Desalination
Funding Opportunity: Solar Desalination
SETO Subprogram: Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power
Location: Los Angeles, CA
SETO Award Amount: $1,999,249
Awardee Cost Share: $516,644
Principal Investigator: David Jassby

This project team will manufacture new materials for membrane distillation (MD) in solar-thermal desalination systems that can conduct thermal and electrical energy in specific directions. This will enable the efficient use of solar-thermal energy for the desalination of high-salinity brines generated from industrial activities like oil and gas production. When coupled with an external solar-thermal source, the membranes will deliver thermal and electrical energy directly to the membrane/water interface. This could reduce system costs, increase efficiency, and reduce membrane fouling.  


To improve solar desalination systems, the research team will develop MD membranes made of a porous material that is repelled by water and has a coating that conducts heat and electricity. The team will characterize the material properties of the membranes and use the membranes to treat high-salinity brines in the lab. They will evaluate the membranes’ performance through experiments and modeling, and develop a techno-economic analysis of the system’s performance.


This system would eliminate the use of multiple, costly metal heat exchangers as well as the need to pretreat and frequently clean the membranes, thereby increasing efficiency. Creating MD membrane materials that conduct energy in different directions allows for the delivery of thermal and electrical energy directly to the membrane/water interface, which increases energy efficiency and dramatically simplifies system operation. This targeted energy delivery would also reduce membrane cleaning and operational downtime, which would increase the system’s efficiency.