New technology to reduce water shortages


A new low-energy desalination technology is expected to help mitigate the effects of water shortages and improve the efficiency of crop production.

A new low-energy desalination technology, developed at Aston University and the University of Birmingham, and patented by University of Birmingham Enterprise, will soon begin field tests in Palestine, where it is expected to help mitigate the effects of water shortages and improve the efficiency of crop production.

Groundwater resources around the world are increasingly depleted and salinised, and desalination can be energy intensive and costly.

The new technology uses a solar-powered desalination system, made of a novel combination of existing off-the-shelf products which can be deployed easily and relatively cheaply in locations that are ‘off-grid.’ The field testing project and the technology are described in a paper published in the November issue of Desalination and Water Treatment.

University of Birmingham scientists, led by Professor Philip Davies from the School of Engineering, worked with academics and students in the UK, IsraelJordan and Palestine to construct desalination prototypes based on a simple but efficient batch-reverse osmosis (RO) technology that recovered at least 70% of salinised water, making it useful for irrigation purposes.

Groundwater desalination poses serious problems when it comes to disposing of brine, which is a by-product from the process. Further tests have shown that the process designed by the Birmingham team can minimise this problem by converting up to 90% of the incoming water with just a small volume of brine remaining – and without the hefty energy penalty incurred in standard RO systems when working at such high recovery.

Professor Davies commented: “We designed the system to be implemented with levels of engineering expertise available in many areas of the world. This approach can be applied other regions where groundwater resources are depleted and affected by salinisation, including the US, North AfricaIndiaBangladesh and Pakistan.”

The Birmingham desalination system has shown energy savings of 33-66% compared to existing systems (at recovery of 80%), and self-cleans by repetitive flushing. Researchers expect the system to have lower maintenance costs due to longer membrane life.

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