The integration of membrane distillation with reverse electrodialysis has been investigated as a sustainable sanitation solution to provide clean water and electrical power from urine and waste heat. Reverse electrodialysis was integrated to provide the partial remixing of the concentrate (urine) and diluate (permeate) produced from the membrane distillation of urine. Broadly comparable power densities to those of a model salt solution (sodium chloride) were determined during evaluation of the individual and combined contribution of the various monovalent and multivalent inorganic and organic salt constituents in urine. Power densities were improved through raising feed-side temperature and increasing concentration in the concentrate, without observation of limiting behaviour imposed by non-ideal salt and water transport. A further unique contribution of this application is the limited volume of salt concentrate available, which demanded brine recycling to maximise energy recovery analogous to a battery, operating in a ‘state of charge’. During recycle, around 47% of the Gibbs free energy was recoverable with up to 80% of the energy extractable before the concentration difference between the two solutions was halfway towards equilibrium which implies that energy recovery can be optimised with limited effect on permeate quality. This study has provided the first successful demonstration of an integrated MD-RED system for energy recovery from a limited resource, and evidences that the recovered power is sufficient to operate a range of low current fluid pumping technologies that could help deliver off-grid sanitation and clean water recovery at single household scale.
- reverse electrodialysis (RED)
- salinity gradient energy