Nanotechnology lowers desalination costs

desal-plantFlinders University research that could dramatically slash the energy and maintenance needs of desalination plants has just been given a major boost.

The Australian Research Council has extended a three-year Linkage Grant for ‘The Nanotechnology Desalination Research Project – Low Energy Desalination Membranes’ for two more years.

Program Manager, Dr Milena Ginic-Markovic of Flinders School of Chemical and Physical Sciences said the project team was making excellent progress in improving the performance and efficiency of desalination.

“Desalination plant operators around the world, especially seawater facilities such as that under construction in Adelaide, know full well the problems that biofouling of reverse osmosis membranes can cause in relation to increased energy consumption, chemical usage and deterioration of water quality.

Improving membrane design is one way of helping to combat this issue,” Dr Ginic-Markovic said.

“Biofouling is costly: it increases the amount of energy needed to force the seawater through the membranes; it forces parts of the plant to periodically shut in order to clean the membranes by backwashing or with chemicals; and it reduces the life of the membranes,” she said.

“By introducing nanoparticles in two layers in the membrane system, we can improve the flow of water, reduce the need for cleaning and strengthen the membrane structure.”

Dr Ginic-Markovic said the process has the potential to reduce biofouling by 75 per cent, thereby reducing reverse osmosis energy needs by 30 per cent, halving the downtime for cleaning and extending the life of the membranes from two to 10 years.

Dr Stephen Clarke, Leader of Flinders Materials & BioEnergy Group and Chief Investigator of the project said the potential savings for desalination plants were significant.

“All reverse osmosis membranes are currently imported,” Dr Clarke said.

“By improving the efficiency of desalination using our technology, fewer membranes are needed, lowering freight, handling and waste disposal costs,” he said.

“Desalinated water will play an increasing important role in ensuring Australia has a secure water supply. So it’s important technology for Australia and for the rest of the world.”

Photo: SA Water

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