Membrane Distillation (MD) is a thermal desalination process in which water vapour is transported through a hydrophobic porous membrane. Due to a partial pressure difference of vapour between a liquid surface and an air or gas stream, water is vaporised although the liquid phase is much below boiling temperature. A hydrophobic membrane can separate the two phases – liquid water and either vapour or vapour-gas mixture – in order to avoid the transfer of liquid or allow compact stream arrangements. Thus, MD is a non-isothermal membrane separation process with combined heat and mass transfer over the membrane. Parallel arrangement of the membranes in flat or spiral wound configuration allows generating multi-effect setups. The steam, generated over a first membrane layer can be condensed in the permeate channel using the latent heat of condensation for heating an adjacent feed channel. This way, a diversity of possible stream arrangements and system configurations arises. The main distinguishing feature is the configuration of the permeate channel. In order to minimize sensible heat transfer from the hot feed channel to the next feed channel, as it is the main drawback of direct contact configurations (Direct Contact MD (DCMD), DCMD with Liquid Gap (LGDCMD),s. Fig. (a)), either air or any other sweep gas can be filled in the permeate channel. The Air Gap (AGMD) or Sweep Gas Membrane Distillation (SGMD, s. Fig.(c)) minimize the heat transfer over the permeate channel by dividing the condensate from the membrane. The main drawback of these configurations is the higher diffusion resistance over the gas and the worse condensation due to the presence of non-condensable gases. This problem can be handled by running the system under vacuum for removing the non-condensable gases (Vacuum Membrane distillation (VMD), s. Fig. (b)). (Khayet Souhaimi & Matsuura, 2011) Besides the application of flat membranes, systems based on hollow fibre membranes are researched. The main advantage of Membrane Distillation systems is the low temperature heat (below 100 °C) at low pressure for running the system. For that cheap construction materials (plastics) can be used. As described before, the usage of membranes allows compact system setups which reduces the footprint of the plant.
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