Distilling value from industrial waste

Hot and salty water is a common by-product of industries such as textiles, food and dairy production. But new technology that allows this water to be purified, collected and re-used on site has been developed by Victorian scientists.

Their compact module, smaller than the size of a human, can transform a wasteful industrial operation into an efficient process that recycles energy, water and materials.

“We’ve calculated that our module can reduce water use by more than 90 per cent in some industrial settings,” Professor Mikel Duke says.

Developed by Mikel and Professor Stephen Gray with their colleagues at Victoria University, the technology applies a patented arrangement of heat exchangers and polymeric membranes for distillation.

“The membranes act like a Gor-Tex jacket – they let water vapour, but not liquid water, pass through,” Mikel says.

The vapour is collected as clean water. Some contaminants – such as salts, minerals and food solids – can be isolated as another source of value.

“Recovered products cover the cost of the technology through avoiding costly waste-management procedures, or as a source of revenue in themselves,” Mikel says.

A commercial prototype of the membrane distillation module is currently in production. The researchers are also looking beyond Australia for further developments.

“We are discussing opportunities with the Chinese Academy of Sciences,” Stephen says.

Victoria University developed this technology and its applications in partnership with Grampians-Wimmera-Mallee Water, Australian Textile Mills, City West Water, Dairy Innovation Australia Limited, Ecogen Energy, CSIRO and Pinches Industries.

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Victoria University
Donna Hannan