Researchers discover a way to simultaneously desalinate water, produce hydrogen and treat wastewater

Dec 03, 2010
Researchers discover a way to simultaneously desalinate water, produce hydrogen and treat wastewater

(PhysOrg.com) -- Fresh water and reusable energy. Humans are on a constant hunt for a sustainable supply of both. Water purification requires a lot of energy, while utility companies need large amounts of water for energy production. Their goal is to find a low-energy-required treatment technology. Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science may have discovered an answer.

Last year, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology incorporated into microbial fuel cells, a new technology that can treat wastewater and produce electricity simultaneously. However, putting it into practical use proved to be challenging due to current fluctuation.

Zhiyong (Jason) Ren and his team with the University of Colorado Denver discovered, after six months from the initial hypothesis to completion, that they could produce hydrogen gas, which is collectable and storable, thus making improvements in the technology. The study, titled Concurrent Desalination and Hydrogen Generation Using Microbial Electrolysis and Desalination Cells, was published in Environmental Science & Technology on December 1 and is funded by the Office of Naval Research.

"Ships and their crews need energy generated on-site as well as fresh drinking ," said Ren. "Thus, the Navy is very interested in both low energy desalination and renewable ."

A recent study by Logan group at Penn State University also demonstrated similar findings in that the energy contained in hydrogen gas not only can offset the used for the desalination process but has surplus that can be used for downstream processing.

Next steps for Ren and his team will include using real wastewater to test the efficiency as well as optimizing the reactor configuration to improve system performance.

"This discovery is a milestone for our new research group," said Ren. "We are very excited about our findings and will continue working to improve the technology."

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More information: Paper online: DOI: 10.1021/es1022202

Provided by University of Colorado Denver

4.3 /5 (25 votes)

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User comments : 14

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plasticpower
1.8 / 5 (4) Dec 03, 2010
And when the microbes escape and desalinate our oceans we might realize it wasn't just a sweet idea. Most ships that would need this are battleships or subs that, if hit, will most likely explode and sink, letting the microbes out.
Ratfish
1 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2010
And when the microbes escape and desalinate our oceans we might realize it wasn't just a sweet idea. Most ships that would need this are battleships or subs that, if hit, will most likely explode and sink, letting the microbes out.


Yes, but think of the energy...THE ENERGY!!!111
technicalengeneering
1 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2010
I guess a nuclear reactor under my house poses less of threat. btw won't need the energy as long as the oil hasn't run dry...
SincerelyTwo
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2010
We need fusion to get going, now that will be the winner if we find a way to make it practical.
PPihkala
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 03, 2010
And when the microbes escape and desalinate our oceans we might realize it wasn't just a sweet idea.

And where would all that salt go from oceans, if this escape would happen? Again, if this would be reasonable risk, how much do you think there should be bacteria to do this to oceans? There is way too much of water in oceans for any problem like this. If you want to find real problems, just look at gulf of Mexico, where BP had some minor mishap last spring...
aswicks
4 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2010
And when the microbes escape and desalinate our oceans we might realize it wasn't just a sweet idea. Most ships that would need this are battleships or subs that, if hit, will most likely explode and sink, letting the microbes out.


Unless the bacteria have figures out a way to transmutate the NaCl I doubt that it will be a problem. Where will the salt go??
Caliban
4.9 / 5 (7) Dec 03, 2010
From my reading of the article, it appears that the desalination is not through microbial action, but electrochemical.
toyo
4.8 / 5 (4) Dec 04, 2010
Yes I agree with Caliban, Plasticpower.
I think you have misunderstood how the cell functions.
High salinity actually inhibits the microbial action.
Newbeak
1 / 5 (1) Dec 04, 2010
This is one scheme among many.This one is already up and running: http://www.saltwo...logy.php
Skeptic_Heretic
2 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2010
Unless the bacteria have figures out a way to transmutate the NaCl I doubt that it will be a problem. Where will the salt go??
Sea salts aren't necessarily table salt.
Dug
4.3 / 5 (3) Dec 04, 2010
You never see any economics (fiscal or physical) in these "gee whiz" tech articles about these so called "cutting edge" processes. You don't even see any quantified energy budget discussion that would give an idea about their relative probability of success - whether the net energy produced is significant enough to warrant further research efforts/dollars. Our entire world seems to be driven by mindless media (consumed by a mindless public) driven PR dollars - in a vacuum of basic journalistic skills and integrity.
jsa09
1 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2010
Unless the bacteria have figures out a way to transmutate the NaCl I doubt that it will be a problem. Where will the salt go??
Sea salts aren't necessarily table salt.


Most of it is.
jsa09
4 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2010
You never see any economics (fiscal or physical) in these "gee whiz" tech articles about these so called "cutting edge" processes. You don't even see any quantified energy budget discussion that would give an idea about their relative probability of success - whether the net energy produced is significant enough to warrant further research efforts/dollars. Our entire world seems to be driven by mindless media (consumed by a mindless public) driven PR dollars - in a vacuum of basic journalistic skills and integrity.


Have you only just noticed that?
Ralinos
not rated yet Dec 06, 2010
An integrated BES (bio-electrochemical system) called MEDC (microbial electrolysis and desalination cell) was developed to concurrently:
1. desalinate salt water
2. produce hydrogen gas
3. "potentially" treat waste water

where as the current method of producing hydrogen through electrolysis PRODUCES waste water AND requires salt. So unless they are creating new microbes, & not just using existing ones in new ways, I have no problem with this tech.