The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project is the translation of a decentralized solar-powered water treatment unit with the potential to increase global desalination operations and to promote secure and sustainable water resources. The proposed technology may be attractive to customers, including rural/tribal communities, large gated communities, golf courses and resorts, rural hospitals and schools, governmental properties for emergency/disaster settings, and industrial applications such as gas production facilities and agricultural farmland. Since the core technology may provide significant benefits in either new treatment facilities or for plant retrofits, existing large-scale water treatment plants also may be potential customers. Overall, the proposed technology is well-positioned to lower freshwater production costs as well as the carbon footprint for communities requiring decentralized water solutions.

This I-Corps project is based on the development and translation of a cost-effective, energy-efficient, solar-powered electrodialysis (ED) technology that will address the needs of brackish groundwater desalination plants. The proposed process will use an integrated solar cell/three-dimensional (3D) electrodialysis unit to recover >98% of the water from brackish sources using photon energy from sunlight as the only energy input. Currently, over one-third of the total operating cost of a typical desalination plant is the electrical cost of running the plant. The proposed technology will use Sun’s energy to drive the desalination process, enabling a reduction in energy consumption and carbon footprint. While energy costs constitute one-third of the total operating cost in incumbent ED systems, the electrodes constitute nearly one-third of the overall system cost. To lower the system cost, the technology will employ a proprietary electrode design that replaces of current platinum group-based planar electrodes with low-cost carbon-based three-dimensional (3-D) electrodes. The initial results demonstrate significantly improved (3x) demineralization and higher current efficiencies compared to planar electrodes when operated in a commercial ED reversal system. The 3-D electrodes also prevent unwanted side reactions, thereby improving the overall stability of the electrodialysis stack.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of Iowa
Iowa City
United States
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