Tailoring Advanced Desalination Technologies for 21st Century Agriculture


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Abstract: Substantial parts of the U.S., particularly drier landlocked regions, are facing acute water shortages and water quality issues that decrease agricultural productivity. Reduced crop yields cause billions of dollars in losses annually, affecting the livelihoods of thousands. A combination of population growth, inefficient agricultural practices, and resource demanding consumption trends is only expected to increase pressure on our water supplies. This research proposal seeks to address water and food security issues by cost-effectively and energy-efficiently enhancing water quality and water supply in greenhouses; a $22.93 billion dollar industry in 2017 that is rapidly growing at an annual rate of 8.92%. Greenhouses widely practice desalination of salty irrigation water to improve their operations. However, currently used desalination methods do not tailor greenhouse waters based on crop requirements. This work investigates a fully integrated desalination solution that treats and tailors brackish source waters ingreenhouses to save fertilizer and water. Specifically, this project experimentally studies multi-ion transport in and assesses the economic viable of monovalent selective electrodialysis (MSED). MSED allows for the selective removal of monovalent ions damaging to crops and the retention of divalent ions beneficial for crops, unlike the widely used reverse osmosis (RO), which removes all ions from greenhouse source water. First, we evaluate the techno-economic feasibility of MSED compared to other brackish desalination technologies for agricultural applications, based on primary market research we conduct with over 70 greenhouses.
These include conventional technologies, such as reverse osmosis (RO) and electrodialysis (ED), and advanced technologies, such as closed circuit reverse osmosis (CCRO). The analysis determines the levelized costs of water, the capital costs and energy requirements of these technologies, and how these vary with feed salinity, system capacity and recovery ratio. Then, we build a bench-scale setup to experientially characterize MSED membrane properties, including monovalent selectivity, ion transport, limiting current and resistance, for multiple brackish feedwaters and for two sets of MSED membranes: the widely used Neosepta ACS/CMS membranes and the new Fujifilm Type 16 membranes. Both MSED membranes show notable monovalent selectivity for all tested compositions, reflecting the potential of the technology for selective desalination in greenhouses. The measurements are compared to a model for MSED in multi-ion solutions. The model predicts multi-ion transport for the Neosepta and Fujifilm MSED systems within 6% and 8%, respectively.

 

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