All existing commercial seawater desalination processes, i.e. thermally-driven and membrane-based reverse osmosis (RO), are operated with universal performance ratios (UPR) varying up to 105, whilst the UPR for an ideal or thermodynamic limit (TL) of desalination is at 828. Despite slightly better UPRs for the RO plants, all practical desalination plants available, hitherto, operate at only less than 12% of the TL, rendering them highly energy intensive and unsustainable for future sustainability. More innovative desalination methods must be sought to meet the needs of future sustainable desalination and these methods should attain an upper UPR bound of about 25 to 30% of the TL. In this paper, we examined the efficacy of a multi-effect distillation (MED) system operated with thermocline energy from the sea; a proven desalination technology that can exploit the narrow temperature gradient of 20°C all year round created between the warm surface seawater and the cold-seawater at depths of about 300–600m. Such a seawater thermocline (ST)-driven MED system, simply called the ST-MED process, has the potential to achieve up to 2 folds improvement in desalination efficiency over the existing methods, attaining about 18.8% of the ideal limit. With the major energy input emanated from the renewable solar, the ST-MED is truly a “green desalination” method of low global warming potential, best suited for tropical coastal shores having bathymetry depths of 300m or more.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): 7000000411
Acknowledgements: The research reported in this paper was supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, Project # 7000000411.