Reverse osmosis (RO) is currently the dominant technology for desalination, accounting for 62% of the global desalination market (see the report "Emerging Green Desalination: Solar and Wave Technologies"). Even in the Middle East, which represents more than 50% of the thermal desalination market, RO capacity is gradually growing due to its lower energy requirements. In comparison to RO, MD can provide safe drinking water with a small footprint, low operating temperature and pressure, and high resistance to scaling and fouling. It has found niche applications like brine concentration, particularly in industries where it's possible to use low-grade heat to decrease operational costs. Nevertheless, significant energy consumption, risks of membrane wetting and leaks, and high initial capital investments remain key pain points for MD.
Rice University’s Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT), a federally funded research center formed in 2015 to develop compact, mobile, and off-grid water treatment systems, recently published a paper describing its newly-developed solar desalination method – nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation (NESMD).
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