Study of Thermally Responsive Ionic Liquids for Novel Water Desalination and Energy Conversion Applications

  • Yujiang Zhong

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The rapidly expanding of the global population in the 21st-century forces people facing two serious problems: water scarcity and energy shortage. Enormous continuous studies focus on providing enough fresh water and energy in a sustainable way. This thesis aims at exploring novel membrane processes based on thermally responsive ionic liquids with the upper critical solution temperature (UCST ILs) for water desalination and energy conversion from low-grade heat energy to electricity. A UCST IL protonated betaine bis(trifluoromethylsulfonyl)imide ([Hbet][Tf2N]) was first experimentally studied as a novel draw solute in a thermal forward osmosis (FO). A 3.2 M [Hbet][Tf2N] solution can be obtained via spontaneous phase separation from an IL and water mixture at room temperature. By heating and maintaining the temperature above 56°C, this solution can draw water from high-salinity solution up to 3.0 M, 5 times salty as the sea water. The IL draw solution can be easily regenerated by phase separation. Conducting the FO process at higher temperatures can also increase the water flux. According to the different choices of the freshwater polishing step, the electric energy consumption in this novel process was estimated as 26.3% to 64.2% of conventional one-step sea water reverse osmosis. Two UCST ILs with better performance, [Hbet][Tf2N] and choline bis(trifluoromethylsulfonyl)imide ([Choline][Tf2N]), were selected as the agents in a novel closed-loop thermally responsive IL osmotic heat engine (TRIL-OHE) to convert low-grade thermal energy to electricity. The specific energies of the [Hbet][Tf2N] system and the [Choline][Tf2N] system are 2500 kJ/t and 3700 kJ/t, which are 2.7 and 4.0 times of the seawater and river water system, respectively. The maximum power density measured from a commercial FO membrane is 1.5 W/m2 for the [Hbet][Tf2N] system and 2.3 W/m2 for the [Choline][Tf2N] system, leaving a big room to improve if highly permeable membranes are used. Another notable advantage of the TRIL-OHE is the heat released from the cooling stage can be largely recovered. A rigorous energy balance showed with a 70% heat recovery, the energy efficiency could be increased from around 20% to 70% of the Carnot efficiency in both UCST ILs systems.
Date of AwardApr 2018
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorZhiping Lai (Supervisor)


  • Ionic Liquid
  • osmotic heat engine
  • Forward osmosis
  • Phase separation
  • thermally responsive
  • Desalination

Cite this