Test-Bed for Solar Membrane Distillation Applications at Pilot-Scale

The installation is designed for evaluating solar thermal desalination applications. There are two solar fields of flat-plate collectors available: one of 20 m2 with two parallel rows of five collectors in series (Solaris CP1 Nova, by Solaris, Spain), and another one of 40 m2 with four large-aperture collectors in parallel (LBM 10HTF, by Wagner Solar, Spain). Both fields are connected to water storages of 1500 liters acting as heat buffers for thermal regulation and storage, and have a distribution system which enables simultaneous connection of several units. The test-beds allow for a stationary heat supply using the thermal heat storage or for direct supply of solar energy without buffering. The installation is fully automated and monitored (temperatures and flows) and allows for heat flow regulation. The maximum thermal power is 7 kWth in one case and 14 kWth in the other, and hot water can be supplied with temperature up to about 90°C.

The installation has a separate water circuit that can be used for cooling (about 3.5 kWth) in the desalination units and as a device for supplying simulated seawater, with the possibility of working in open or closed loop. In the latter case, both the distillate and brine flows are collected and mixed together to be fed again into the desalination units after passing through a heat dissipation system. The installation currently operates with Membrane Distillation modules and has a wide range of different commercial and pre-commercial units from different commercial manufacturers. The list of MD modules that have been evaluated or are under evaluation is:

  1. Plate and frame air-gap (AG) MD commercial modules from Scarab (total membrane area 2.8 m2).
  2. Two plate and frame permeate-gap (PG) MD prototypes from Keppel Seghers (both with total membrane area 9 m2), a compact one (M33) and another which is split in three separate modules connected in series for higher energy recovery (PT5).
  3. 3) Spiral-wound PGMD commercial modules Oryx 150 from Solar Spring (10 m2).
  4. 4) Two spiral-wound AGMD modules from Aquastill with membrane areas of 7 m2 and 24 m2 each.
  5. WTS-40A and WTS-40B units from Aquaver, based on multi-effect vacuum membrane distillation technology using modules fabricated by Memsys (5.76 m2 and 6.4 m2 total membrane area respectively).
Figure 33. Internal (a) and external (b) views of the Membrane Distillation experimental test bed within the PSA low-temperature solar thermal desalination facility.

Bench-Scale Unit for Testing Membrane Distillation applications in Air-Gap, Permeate-Gap and Direct Contact Configurations

The installation consists of a test-bed with a small plate and frame module (Figure 34)that can be used for evaluating direct-contact, air-gap or permeate-gap membrane distillation. The module is made of polypropylene and designed so that the membrane can be replaced very easily. The module has a condensation plate on the cold side to operate on air-gap configuration, but it can be closed at the bottom to operate on permeate-gap keeping the distillate inside the gap or spared to operate on direct-contact mode. The effective membrane surface is 250 cm2.

The installation has two separate hydraulic circuits, one on the hot side and another on the cold side. On the hot side, there is a tank of 80 liters equipped with an electric heater (3 kW) controlled by a thermostat (90°C maximum), and circulation is made from the storage and the feed side of the module by a centrifugal pump. On the cold side there is a chiller (800 W at 20°C) controlled by temperature and water is circulated between a cold storage of 80 liters and the module. The circuit is heat insulated and fully monitored for temperature, flow rate and pressure sensors, connected to a SCADA system.

Bench-Scale Unit for Flat Sheet Membrane Distillation Testing

The facility is a high precision laboratory grade research equipment (Figure 35) designed for testing fundamental and feasibility test trials on membrane distillation. It possesses the following unique features that are essential for representative and scalable results:

  1. Cell format with representative flow distribution. The cell size is sufficient for flow distribution and regime to be applicable to full-scale MD technology.
  2. Adjustable MD channel configuration to all channel variants (PGMD, AGMD, DCMD, VMD, VAGMD).
  3. Temperature precision of 0.5°C.
  4. Driving force temperature difference controllable.
  5. Fully automated control system and large range of possible parameter settings by touch screen PLC.
  6. Practical A4 format for membrane and condenser foil materials.
Figure 33. Internal (a) and external (b) views of the Membrane Distillation experimental test bed within the PSA low-temperature solar thermal desalination facility.
Figure 33. Internal (a) and external (b) views of the Membrane Distillation experimental test bed within the PSA low-temperature solar thermal desalination facility.

Bench-Scale Unit for Tests with 2-stage Forward Osmosis and Pressure-Retarded Osmosis

The installation consists of a test-bed with two small plate and frame modules of forward osmosis (FO) which can be connected in series or in parallel. There is, therefore, one pump for the draw solution and two for the feed solution, each with variable flow and flow-rate measurements. The hydraulic circuit has been modified so that the modules can be operated in pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) mode. For that purpose, steel pipes and a high-pressure pump (3 L/min; up to 17 bar) are installed in the draw side, and cells with operational pressure up to 15 bar are used. The cells have each a total effective membrane area of 100 cm2, and hydraulic channels in zig-zag 4 mm wide and 2 mm deep. The system uses one container for the draw solution and two for the feed solutions, each placed on a balance in order to measure changes in the mass flow rates of the draw solution and the feed solution of each cell. The containers have an automatic dosing system to keep the salinities constant. The system has two conductivity meters for low salinity and one for high salinity, as well as pressure gauges in each line and temperature readings.

Figure 36. Bench-scale unit for testing FO and PRO.

Pilot Plant for Studying Combinations of Forward Osmosis and Reverse Osmosis

The plant has three different units that can be coupled in different ways between them: (i) a forward osmosis; (ii) reverse osmosis; (iii) microfiltration. The forward osmosis (FO) unit uses a 4” spiral-wound Cellulose Triacetate (CTA) membrane with eleven membrane leaves of 1.5 m2 surface each, supplied by HTI. The nominal flow rate is 3.6 m3/h. The reverse osmosis (RO) unit has 4 vessels that can be connected in series or in parallel, each of which hosting 4 membranes. The nominal flow rate is 3 m3/h, and the pumping system is able to work at different pressures up to a maximum of 80 bar. The unit is designed so that SWRO, BWRO or NF membranes can be used. Finally, there is a MF unit with 3 m3/h nominal flow rate. The installation is completely monitored with pressure sensors, conductivity- and flow-meters, and is designed in a flexible way regarding the interconnection of the units, so that FO can be used as a pre-treatment for RO, or NF can be used in combination with FO, and even the FO can be used in PRO mode using the pumping system of the RO unit.

Figure 37. Test bed for FO-RO combination research.