New desalination technology to reduce cost of producing water

reverse osmosisA professor at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, who has co-authored a book on a technology widely used in desalination and production of drinking water in the GCC region, said modifications in membrane separation technology will help cut costs of doing business.

“Membrane modification techniques are aimed at increasing the efficiency and performance of membrane separation and making them attractive for specific separations,” said Dr Nidal Hilal, an international expert in desalination and membrane technology and a professor in nano-membranlogy and water technologies at the Masdar Institute.

Membrane separation is a technology which selectively separates — or fractionates — materials via pores and/or minute gaps in the molecular arrangement of a continuous structure.

Membrane separations are classified by pore size and by the separation driving force. These classifications include microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, ion-exchange and reverse osmosis.

Dr Hilal is the co-author of a recently published book by CRC Press, entitled .

His remarks assume significance following an industry study by the Freedonia Group that reports global demand for membranes is projected to increase a healthy nine per cent annually to $19.3 billion by 2015, while demand for water desalination products and services is forecast to increase 9.3 per cent annually to $13.4 billion by 2015.

Oil-rich nations are increasingly shifting to more efficient membrane desalination systems, or reverse osmosis, and the Middle East and North Africa will account for about two-thirds of global demand for desalination products and services, the study adds, further pointing out that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait are the largest desalination markets in the Middle East.

Dr Hilal’s book presents a comprehensive review of the current developments within membrane separation processes with a focus on process optimisation through control of membrane surface properties for key industrial applications.According to him, membrane processes have many other applications apart from desalination.

“Membrane processes are used in pharmaceutical industries to separate valuable medical products as they are capable to separate solid materials such as powders in the size range between one nanometer and 10 microns,” he said.

“Membrane modification techniques will have significant impact on industry as they will lead to an improved efficiency of membrane processes that offer more products at less cost.”

He said the UAE and the region will benefit from operating better fouling-resistant membranes in RO desalination plants as it will reduce operational fouling problems and therefore reduce cost.

Source: Chicago Tribune (via Khaleej Times)

Desalination is not always very environmentally friendly, especially where concentrated salt water is returned to the sea where it can destroy local ecosystems.  However, in many parts of the world such as the Middle East, this type of water procurement is the only feasible option.  Hopefully as membrane efficiency increases, so will the technology move towards more environmentally sustainable methods too.

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