Energy efficient desalination

2 min read

Australian research into energy efficient desalination aims to reduce the financial and environmental costs of producing desalinated water.

The delivery of energy efficient desalination received a boost today with the establishment of a major new research collaboration between CSIRO and nine of Australia’s leading universities.

The research aims to dramatically increase efficiency, and reduce the financial and environmental costs of producing desalinated water. The research will help advance water desalination as an alternative water supply option for Australia.

The research addresses one of the biggest challenges currently facing Australia, the delivery of sustainable water supplies. It will focus on energy efficient and environmentally sound desalination and water recycling programs.

CSIRO in partnership with nine Australian Universities, has established the Advanced Membrane Technologies for Water Treatment Research Cluster. The Membrane Cluster brings together some of Australia’s leading scientists from a range of disciplines in a bid to place Australia at the forefront of novel membrane development.

Led by Professor Stephen Gray of Victoria University, the multi-disciplinary research team will carry out a comprehensive evaluation of existing membranes and develop new energy efficient membranes.

‘Many desalination and recycling programs rely on a process called reverse osmosis, where the water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane, removing salts and any other contaminants,’ Professor Gray said.

‘These membranes need regular replacement and cleaning, but they also require a large amount of energy to force water through what are nano-sized pores.

‘We aim to improve membrane design to increase their energy efficiency and reliability, thus reducing the financial and environmental costs of producing desalinated and recycled water.

'We also aim to improve membrane ’anti-fouling’ properties - that is, the ability of the membrane to ‘self-clean’. When contaminants are removed from water, some of them adhere to the surface. These contaminants build up on the surface, increasing the pressure and energy required.  Chemicals are used to clean the membranes, but membrane surfaces that are less sticky would reduce the pressure and energy required and the frequency of cleaning.’

‘In combination with other research projects led by CSIRO, we aim to reduce by up to 50 per cent the amount of energy required to desalinate seawater using membranes. This same technology will have benefits for the treatment and recycling of wastewater. This also means we could potentially provide more secure water supplies while minimising greenhouse gas emissions,’ added Mr Alan Gregory, urban water research leader at CSIRO.

Other partners are: the University of NSW, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, RMIT, Curtin University of Technology, the University of Queensland, Deakin University and Murdoch University.

Funding for the research was announced by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, under the Flagship Collaboration Fund Cluster funding. The Fund is designed to facilitate the involvement of the wider Australian research community in addressing the critical national challenges targeted by the Flagships.

As part of the $A305 million over seven years provided by the Australian Government to the National Research Flagships, $A97 million was specifically allocated to further enhance collaboration between CSIRO, Australian universities and other publicly funded research agencies.