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Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Sep 15;43(18):7148-52.

A new method for water desalination using microbial desalination cells.

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State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100084, P.R. China.


Current water desalination techniques are energy intensive and some use membranes operated at high pressures. It is shown here that water desalination can be accomplished without electrical energy input or high water pressure by using a source of organic matter as the fuel to desalinate water. A microbial fuel cell was modified by placing two membranes between the anode and cathode, creating a middle chamber for water desalination between the membranes. An anion exchange membrane was placed adjacent to the anode, and a cation exchange membrane was positioned next to the cathode. When current was produced by bacteria on the anode, ionic species in the middle chamber were transferred into the two electrode chambers, desalinating the water in the middle chamber. Proof-of-concept experiments for this approach, using what we call a microbial desalination cell (MDC), was demonstrated using water at different initial salt concentrations (5, 20, and 35 g/L) with acetate used as the substrate for the bacteria. The MDC produced a maximum of 2 W/m2 (31 W/m3) while at the same time removing about 90% of the salt in a single desalination cycle. As the salt was removed from the middle chamber the ohmic resistance of the MDC (measured using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) increased from 25 Omega to 970 Omega at the end of the cycle. This increased resistance was reflected by a continuous decrease in the voltage produced over the cycle. These results demonstrate for the first time the possibility for a new method for water desalination and power production that uses only a source of biodegradable organic matter and bacteria.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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