The integrated desalination system could provide drinking water to poor and rural communities at a lower cost
A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield, UK and Port Said University in Egypt have partnered under a two-year project in order to develop a system that would convert seawater into drinking water, using biomass energy as a heat source. Desalination projects require enormous amounts of energy, and solar energy alone, due to inconsistent sunlight, can’t efficiently power a desalination system. So, Energy 2050, an energy research institute based at the University of Sheffield, is combining biogas, a renewable energy source produced from waste and cattle manure, and solar energy to develop a sustainable way to provide fresh and safe water in poor and rural communities in Egypt.
A hybrid system using biogas and solar is an entirely new technology with only a handful of studies being attempted so far and the researchers will work out the optimum way of integrating the two technologies to maximize fresh water production. Being in the middle of a huge water crisis, where growing population and scarcity of water resources make freshwater supplies increasingly stressed, Egypt seems ideal for such a desalination project. First, a biogas resource survey will be conducted in the country, and a model-based design and optimization of the hybrid desalination system will follow. Also important is to investigate the operational strategies to ensure cost-effective and reliable drinking water supply. ‘The first part of the project will see us look at how to maximise fresh water production at the lowest cost. We’ll also be investigating how different wastes can help us to produce the most energy to supply the system’, said Mark Walker, research associate at Energy 2050.
Although still in research stages, this hybrid energy system has the potential to grow. “Initially the system would be designed for rural Egypt, such as the Sinai and Red Sea areas, as well as poor communities without access to clean water in the Nile-Delta and Upper Egypt,” said Walker. “However, the developed technology would be applicable to many areas of the world where freshwater resources are scarce but seawater or brackish water is available.”
Environmental and Economic Advantages
According to Mark Walker, the development of this sustainable method will have both environmental and economic advantages. “The system will be powered by renewable energy from solar and biomass resources and therefore will not be associated with greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “Furthermore, the system will reduce the demand for freshwater from currently available sources while providing a solution to local organic waste management. Access to freshwater and biogas are associated with reductions in poverty levels in rural areas through increases in health and quality of life prospects.” He also pointed out that “anaerobic digestion, which produces biogas, can provide a sustainable option for the management of organic wastes and convert them into a nutrient rich biofertiliser, which can increase the sustainability of local farming”.
A pilot demonstration system will be built in Egypt and will be monitored by the joint UK/Egyptian team to assess its performance, while the whole project has been funded by the British Council’s Newton Fund Institutional Links programme and Science and Technology Development Fund in Egypt (STDF).
Source: University of Sheffield