Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Wastewater produces electricity and desalinates water

10.08.2009
A process that cleans wastewater and generates electricity can also remove 90 percent of salt from brackish water or seawater, according to an international team of researchers from China and the U.S.

Clean water for drinking, washing and industrial uses is a scarce resource in some parts of the world. Its availability in the future will be even more problematic.

Many locations already desalinate water using either a reverse osmosis process -- one that pushes water under high pressure through membranes that allow water to pass but not salt -- or an electrodialysis process that uses electricity to draw salt ions out of water through a membrane. Both methods require large amounts of energy.

"Water desalination can be accomplished without electrical energy input or high water pressure by using a source of organic matter as the fuel to desalinate water," the researchers report in a recent online issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

"The big selling point is that it currently takes a lot of electricity to desalinate water and using the microbial desalination cells, we could actually desalinate water and produce electricity while removing organic material from wastewater," said Bruce Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, Penn State

The team modified a microbial fuel cell -- a device that uses naturally occurring bacteria to convert wastewater into clean water producing electricity -- so it could desalinate salty water.

"Our main intent was to show that using bacteria we can produce sufficient current to do this," said Logan. "However, it took 200 milliliters of an artificial wastewater -- acetic acid in water -- to desalinate 3 milliliters of salty water. This is not a practical system yet as it is not optimized, but it is proof of concept."

A typical microbial fuel cell consists of two chambers, one filled with wastewater or other nutrients and the other with water, each containing an electrode. Naturally occurring bacteria in the wastewater consume the organic material and produce electricity.

The researchers, who also included Xiaoxin Cao, Xia Huang, Peng Liang, Kang Xiao, Yinjun Zhou and Xiaoyuan Zhang, at Tsinghua University, Beijing, changed the microbial fuel cell by adding a third chamber between the two existing chambers and placing certain ion specific membranes -- membranes that allow either positive or negative ions through, but not both -- between the central chamber and the positive and negative electrodes. Salty water to be desalinated is placed in the central chamber.

Seawater contains about 35 grams of salt per liter and brackish water contains 5 grams per liter. Salt not only dissolves in water, it dissociates into positive and negative ions. When the bacteria in the cell consume the wastewater it releases charged ions -- protons -- into the water. These protons cannot pass the anion membrane, so negative ions move from the salty water into the wastewater chamber. At the other electrode protons are consumed, so positively charged ions move from the salty water to the other electrode chamber, desalinating the water in the middle chamber.

The desalination cell releases ions into the outer chambers that help to improve the efficiency of electricity generation compared to microbial fuel cells.

"When we try to use microbial fuel cells to generate electricity, the conductivity of the wastewater is very low," said Logan. "If we could add salt it would work better. Rather than just add in salt, however in places where brackish or salt water is already abundant, we could use the process to additionally desalinate salty water, clean the wastewater and dump it and the resulting salt back into the ocean."

Because the salt in the water helps the cell generate electricity, as the central chamber becomes less salty, the conductivity decreases and the desalination and electrical production decreases, which is why only 90 percent of the salt is removed. However, a 90 percent decrease in salt in seawater would produce water with 3.5 grams of salt per liter, which is less than brackish water. Brackish water would contain only 0.5 grams of salt per liter.

Another problem with the current cell is that as protons are produced at one electrode and consumed at the other electrode, these chambers become more acidic and alkaline. Mixing water from the two chambers together when they are discharged would once again produce neutral, salty water, so the acidity and alkalinity are not an environmental problem assuming the cleaned wastewater is dumped into brackish water or seawater. However, the bacteria that run the cell might have a problem living in highly acidic environments.

For this experiment, the researchers periodically added a pH buffer avoiding the acid problem, but this problem will need to be considered if the system is to produce reasonable amounts of desalinized water.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia and Ministry of Science and Technology, China, supported this work.

A'ndrea Elyse Messer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psu.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Did you know that the wrapping of Easter eggs benefits from specialty light sources?
13.04.2017 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH

nachricht To e-, or not to e-, the question for the exotic 'Si-III' phase of silicon
05.04.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>