Performance of a small solar-powered hybrid membrane system for remote communities under varying feedwater salinities

16 November 2010

An estimated 1 billion people are living both without access to clean drinking water or electricity. The small photovoltaic (PV)-powered hybrid membrane system described here is designed to address the plight of some of these people. PV and membrane technologies are chosen due to suitability for operation in remote and often harsh conditions. An ultrafiltration (UF) pre-treatment is included to remove bacteria and most pathogens, while a reverse osmosis (RO) or nanofiltration (NF) membrane desalinates the brackish feedwater. Several parameters were examined in order to optimise the system performance, including i) feed salt concentration, ii) operating pressure, iii) system recovery, iv) specific energy consumption (SEC, kWh/m3), and v) salt retention. In addition, experiments were performed over a whole day to determine system performance under varying levels of solar radiation. The minimum SEC (relatively high due to the current single-pass mode of operation) varies from 5.5 kWh/m3 at a feed concentration of 1 g/L salt to 26 kWh/m3 at a feed concentration of 7.5 g/L salt, which is the upper limit of the system in terms of salt concentration.