Membrane Distillation for Strategic Water Treatment Applications: Opportunities, Challenges, and Current Status
© 2020, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Purpose of Review: Membrane distillation (MD) has been known as a promising water treatment process for many years. However, despite its advantages, MD has never been able to compete with other processes for industrial water treatment and supply. Instead, it has been orientated towards several unique strategic water treatment applications. This review aims to uncover the opportunities and technical challenges pertinent to the MD process and the current status of its strategic water treatment applications most notably including decentralised small-scale desalination for fresh water provision in remote areas, hybridisation with forward osmosis (FO) for treatment of challenging polluted waters, regeneration of liquid desiccant solutions for air conditioning, and treatment of acid effluents for beneficial reuse. Recent Findings: Pilot and small-scale MD systems have been demonstrated for decentralised desalination using various renewable energy sources to supply fresh water in remote, rural areas and on ships where other desalination processes are inefficient or unfeasible. For this strategic desalination application, MD is technically viable, but more works on configuration modification and process optimisation are required to reduce the process energy consumption and water production costs. For the three other strategic applications, the technical viability of the MD process has been proved by extensive lab-scale researches, but its economic feasibility is still questionable due to the lack of large-scale evaluation and the uncertain costs of MD systems. Summary: The orientation of MD towards strategic water treatment applications is clear. However, huge efforts are required to facilitate these applications at commercial and full scale.