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Research is testing a better way to remove salt from seawater

New research from Binghamton University could lead to a more energy-efficient desalination method to convert seawater into fresh water for human consumption or agricultural use.

Assistant Professor Cosan Daskiran – a faculty member in the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Mechanical Engineering – will lead research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a $10 million investment in the Water Power Technologies Office’s Powering the Blue Economy Initiative.

Daskiran and his collaborators from Lehigh University and Cleveland State University received a $607,819 grant to develop, test and establish a proof-of-concept for their integrated tidal desalination system, which creates drinkable water through renewable energy with using the rotational force of hydrokinetic turbines instead of electrical energy.

The conventional desalination process usually uses the reverse osmosis approach, where the entire module is operated at pressures higher than the thermodynamic minimum energy requirement. Daskiran and his team want to develop a centrifugal reverse osmosis (CRO) system, which harnesses the rotational energy of ocean turbines to generate varying centrifugal pressure within the desalination module, optimizing operational efficiency.

“Currently, renewable energy sources generate electricity, which is then used by conventional reverse osmosis modules to purify water. However, the process of converting mechanical energy into electricity introduces inefficiencies, reducing overall system efficiency.” Daskiran said. “Our centrifugal reverse osmosis concept aims to eliminate conversion losses by integrating the turbine directly with the CRO system. This approach not only improves efficiency, but also streamlines the system, making it more compact.”

University of Colorado Professor Emeritus William Krantz invented the technology behind centrifugal reverse osmosis, and he serves as a senior advisor for the DOE project. Daskiran plans to apply this idea to seawater desalination, believing it could significantly reduce energy needs compared to conventional methods.

“If we reduce energy consumption by 30%, we expect a corresponding decrease of about 6% in the cost of desalinated water,” he said. “At first glance this may not seem that important, but when you look at the enormous amount of water being produced, it becomes crucial.”

Daskiran worked with his collaborator at Cleveland State, Assistant Professor Mustafa Usta, during their time at Lehigh studying for their doctorates. While Daskiran focused on turbine power generation, Usta delved into desalination – so this new DOE project brings together both areas of expertise.

The first phase of the project involves the design, engineering and production of the centrifugal reverse osmosis module, which will be supported by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations. In the second phase, the effect of the CRO module on turbine performance will be studied with high-fidelity simulations and experiments at Lehigh’s Tidal Turbulence Test Facility, managed by Professor Arindam Banerjee, department chair of Lehigh’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics.

“The main goal is to provide remote communities without an electricity grid with potable water,” Daskiran said. “Climate change-induced disasters such as floods and power outages can also jeopardize the safety of drinking water sources in coastal urban areas. This underlines the urgent need for desalination systems based on renewable energy, such as the integrated tidal desalination system being developed in this project.”

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