Nanoparticles promise cleaner, cheaper desalination

desal-pic2A research project at Flinders University that promises to reduce dramatically the energy and maintenance costs of desalination has received a grant of $388,000 from the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination (NCED).

Senator Don Farrell, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, yesterday announced funding of $3 million for 12 projects nationally. Senator Farrell visited Flinders earlier this week to tour the laboratories of the Nanotechnology Desalination Research Project in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.

The program’s manager, Dr Milena Ginic-Markovic (pictured with Senator Farrell) said the research team was making excellent progress in improving the performance and efficiency of the reverse osmosis process of desalination.

She said that two of the key problems that exist with the current membrane technology are biofouling and mechanical degradation of the membranes.

“The objectives of this three-year project will be to develop a coating for commercially available membranes, which will inhibit biofouling and/or biofoulant growth or reproduction, and to design and synthesise a ‘universal’ additive for membrane materials, which will significantly reduce the compaction experienced by current, state-of-the-art polymeric membranes,” Dr Ginic-Markovic said.

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

If the potential reduction of biofouling by 75 per cent is achieved, the energy bill of a desalination plant will be reduced by up 30 per cent, downtime for cleaning could be halved and the life of the membranes extended from two to 10 years.

The NCED, based at Murdoch University, is a Commonwealth Government sponsored consortium of research and industry partners. Its aim is to build national capacity and capability to achieve breakthroughs in fundamental and applied research that will improve desalination at a commercial scale.

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