Renewable Energy Powered Membrane Technology. 1. Development and Characterization of a Photovoltaic Hybrid Membrane System
In isolated communities where potable water sources as well as energy grids are limited or nonexistent, treating brackish groundwater aquifers with small-scale desalination systems can be a viable alternative to existing water infrastructures. Given the unavailability of power in many such situations, renewable energy is an obvious solution to power such systems. However, renewable energy is an intermittent power supply and with regards to the performance of intermittently operated desalination systems, only very limited experience exists, both with regards to efficiency as well as water quality. In this paper, this lack of knowledge is addressed by evaluating a system operated with varying parameters (pressure and flow) with constant power as a step toward defining a safe operating window, and they provide a basis for interpreting future data obtained with a renewable energy source. Field trials were performed on a brackish (5300 mg/L TDS; 8290 μS/cm) bore in Central Australia with a photovoltaic-powered membrane filtration (PV-membrane) system. Four nanofiltration and reverse osmosis membranes (BW30, ESPA4, NF90, TFC−S) and a number of operation parameter combinations (transmembrane pressure, feed flow, TFC-S) and operating parameters transmembrane pressure and feed flow were investigated to find the best operating conditions for maximum drinking water production and minimum specific energy consumption (SEC). The ESPA4 membrane performed best for this brackish source, producing 250 L/h of excellent drinking water (257 mg/L TDS; 400 μS/cm) at an SEC of 1.2 kWh/m3. The issue of brine disposal or reuse is also discussed and the article compares the salinity of the produced brine with livestock water. Since the feedwater is disinfected physically using ultrafiltration (UF), the brine is free from bacteria and most viruses and hence can be seen more as a reusable product stream than a waste stream with a disposal problem.