Domestic researchers have succeeded in constructing a demonstration plant equipped with membrane distillation technique, the next generation seawater desalination technology, for the first time in the world. It is likely to speed up the commercialization of eco-friendly seawater desalination technology as it consumes less energy and reduces waste water created in the process of turning sea water into fresh water.
The Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology announced on Tuesday that it independently developed “hollow fiber membrane (HFM) distillation module” and constructed a 1,500 m² demonstration plant that adopts membrane distillation technique on the site of Marine Science Institute of Pukyong National University. Membrane distillation is a process in which water vapor is passed through a hollow fiber membrane in which liquid water cannot pass, and then cooled to obtain water.
There are two seawater desalination technologies that have been commercialized up to date: One is distillation method where seawater is simply heated and cooled and the other is reverse osmosis method where high pressure is applied to seawater to separate water by creating reverse osmosis. These two methods are inefficient as they consume much energy
Another problem is the waste water discharged into the sea. The waste water could have a bad influence on the marine environment as it contains about twice as much salinity and chemical components than normal seawater. Researchers expect that membrane distillation technique can be a solution to this problem as hollow fiber membrane filters out pollutants like heavy metals. The amount of waste water produced when producing the same amount of water can be reduced by more than 30 percent, according to the researchers.