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 The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells
17.07.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH

nachricht Behavior-influencing policies are critical for mass market success of low carbon vehicles
17.07.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Machine-learning predicted a superhard and high-energy-density tungsten nitride

18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts

18.07.2018 | Life Sciences

Why might reading make myopic?

18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>