UCLA Creates Mini Mobile Modular Desal System
Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science are working hard to help alleviate California's water deficit with their new mini-mobile-modular (M3) "smart" water desalination and filtration system.
Traditionally, small yet very expensive stationary pilot plants are constructed to determine the feasibility of using available water as a source for a large-scale desalination plant. The M3 system helps cut both costs and time.
"Our M3 water desalination system provides an all-in-one mobile testing plant that can be used to test almost any water source," said Alex Bartman, a graduate student on the M3 team who helped to design the sensor networks and data acquisition computer hardware in the system. "The advantages of this type of system are that it can cut costs, and because it is mobile, only one M3 system needs to be built to test multiple sources. Also, it will give an extensive amount of information that can be used to design the larger-scale desalination plant."
The M3 demonstrated its effectiveness in a recent field study in the San Joaquin Valley in which it desalted agricultural drainage water that was nearly saturated with calcium sulfate salts, accomplishing this with just one reverse osmosis (RO) stage.
"In this specific field study by our team, in the first part of the reverse osmosis process, 65 percent of the water that was fed in was recovered as drinking water, or potable water," said Yoram Cohen, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and lead investigator on the team. "We can potentially go up to 95 percent recovery using an accelerated chemical demineralization process that was also developed here at UCLA. This first field study with the M3 was a major achievement and the first phase of our high-recovery RO process demonstration program."
In addition to its use as a pilot-scale testing unit, the M3, according to Bartman, could also be deployed to various locations and used to produce fresh water in emergency situations.
Though the system is compact enough to be transported anywhere in the back of a van, it can generate 6,000 gallons of drinking water per day from the sea or 8,000 to 9,000 gallons per day from brackish groundwater. By Cohen's estimate, that means producing enough drinking water daily for up to 6,000 to 12,000 people.
"The system measures in real-time water pH, temperature, turbidity and salinity," said Cohen, who is also the director of UCLA's Water Technology Research (WaTeR) Center, which is overseeing this project. "It can control a variety of process variables, including the precise measure of chemical additives to condition the water. All the valves are computer-controlled, so the system can adjust itself automatically. We can also see how much energy we're using, and in the software, we've also included various techniques for optimizing the system so that it can run with minimum energy consumption."
Rahardianto said that the highly saline agricultural drainage wastewater in the San Joaquin Valley is one of the most difficult source waters to desalt.
"It has been a persistent issue for communities in the valley, one of California's most productive agricultural regions," he said. "While numerous attempts have been made to develop and test various desalting technologies since the 1960s, a practical, cost-effective solution has not yet been adopted, increasingly affecting the ability to sustain agricultural productivity in the region."
According to Stephen Gray, director of the Institute for Sustainability and Innovation at Victoria University, "the M3 system is a very significant improvement in desalination operations, allowing the membrane systems to effectively and quickly adapt to changes in water quality and to achieve high water recoveries. Such advances are of great importance to Australia and many other places in the world, where many communities are facing shortages in fresh water supplies and are becoming more reliant on saline water sources."
"We envision a future where many of these systems are deployed all around the world and their operation monitored from a central location," Bartman said. "The M3 could be used to rapidly test water sources so that desalination plants can be constructed to augment the diminishing fresh water supply. The system could also be used in the event of emergencies to provide a quick source for fresh drinking water where it is needed most."
Creating the M3 was a unique multidisciplinary team project involving faculty and students from the chemical, electrical and civil engineering departments with expertise in control theory and optimization, process design/monitoring, computational fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and software development.