Energy-efficient desalination not a pipe dream

Wednesday, 23 May, 2007

The delivery of energy-efficient desalination received a boost 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, through the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, and 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 multidisciplinary research team will carry out a comprehensive evaluation of existing membranes and develop new energy-efficient membranes.

"These membranes need regular replacement and cleaning, but they also require a large amount of energy to force water through nano-sized pores," says Professor Gray.

"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.

The Cluster research will link with and inform related CSIRO research into membrane and carbon nanotube water filtration technologies.

Alan Gregory, urban water research leader at CSIRO, believes that in combination with other research projects led by CSIRO, the aim will be to reduce, by 50%, the amount of energy required to desalinate seawater using membranes.

"This same technology will have benefits for the treatment and recycling of wastewater," he says, adding that it also means it could potentially provide more secure water supplies while minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

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