Environmental science & technology

Integrating tunable anion exchange with reverse osmosis for enhanced recovery during inland brackish water desalination.

PMID 25839209


For inland brackish water desalination by reverse osmosis or RO, concentrate or reject disposal poses a major challenge. However, enhanced recovery and consequent reduction in the reject volume using RO processes is limited by the solubility of ions present in the feedwater. One of the most common and stubborn precipitate formed during desalination is calcium sulfate. Reducing or eliminating the presence of sulfate would allow the process to operate at higher recoveries without threat to membrane scaling. In this research, this goal is accomplished by using an appropriate mixture of self-regenerating anion exchange resins that selectively remove and replace sulfate by chloride prior to the RO unit. Most importantly, the mixed bed of anion exchange resins is self-regenerated with the reject brine from the RO process, thus requiring no addition of external chemicals. The current work demonstrates the reversibility of the hybrid ion exchange and RO (HIX-RO) process with 80% recovery for a brackish water composition representative of groundwater in San Joaquin Valley in California containing approximately 5200 mg/L of total dissolved solids or TDS. Consequently, the reject volume can be reduced by 50% without the threat of sulfate scaling and use of antiscaling chemicals can be eliminated altogether. By appropriately designing or tuning the mixed bed of anion exchange resins, the process can be extended to nearly any composition of brackish water for enhanced recovery and consequent reduction in the reject volume.