Samantha McVety: A Synergetic Solution to Small-scale Water Challenges

May 1, 2017 10:01 pm Published by

Title: A Synergetic Solution to Small-scale Water Challenges
By: Samantha McVety

Project Summary:
This project attempts to combine novel membrane technology and inexpensive, elementary solar thermal technology to create a system that is technically and economically accessible to freshwater-scarce regions. Experience with regions lacking clean water during international study motivated me to solve water challenges with innovative technology that address decentralized communities' needs.

Main Issue:
Would plastic solar thermal, a significantly less expensive heat source, be able to produce high enough temperatures to drive Membrane Distillation?

If plastic solar thermal can provide high enough temperatures given heat losses over the membrane, what is the produced freshwater yield?

Having established proof of concept the following questions were addressed: What improvements can be made to improve efficiency?

Does a techno-economic analysis support this work as a viable and cheaper alternative?

Learning Outcomes:
I started with an idea and investigated it theoretically until a feasible idea was funded; then carried out the design-build of a bench-scale system which was challenging and rewarding. Learning research is a series of problems, all solvable, was a powerful experience. I have gained lab, modeling and technical skills.

Student Contribution:
Samantha McVety is the main contributor on this project advised by Dr. Amy Childress and supported by all the members of Dr. Childress' Research Group. Samantha McVety carried out literature review, design, implementation, experimental trials and analysis of the results.

For communities of limited freshwater demand, disconnected from sources of energy and water, and with small technical capabilities, in semi-arid climates worldwide, solar powered membrane distillation (SPMD) has the potential to produce needed potable water. While many researchers have investigated different solar desalination systems, none of them have proven best either technically or economically. This research aims to analyze the potential for decentralized water production using membrane desalination systems fed with thermal energy from plastic solar thermal, which could drastically reduce the cost of a SPDM system. To study the performance of plastic solar thermal for its use with MD, experiments were run to collect time-varying temperature measurements. Results showed plastic solar thermal would be a suitable option for coupling with MD technology. These findings will be useful in future work, developing and testing a complete SPMD   system, and performing a robust cost analysis. Developing a plastic solar thermal MD system at a cost effective price would permit obtaining fresh water by means of an environmentally friendly process even in remote areas with no access to electricity or other conventional energy sources.


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