S. Korean researchers to develop new solar-thermal desalination technology

Lim Chang-won Reporter() | Posted : January 17, 2019, 11:04 | Updated : January 17, 2019, 11:04

A file picture shows a desalination plant built by Doosan Heavy Industries. [Courtesy of Doosan Heavy Industries]

SEOUL -- A state-funded research institute will join hands with researchers from private companies and colleges to develop innovative solar-thermal desalination technologies. It aims to build a test plant capable of producing 10 tons of fresh water per day in South Korea by 2020.

The goal, outlined by the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) on Thursday, is to build desalination facilities with a capacity of 1,000 tons in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries by using a cost-competitive innovative high concentration photovoltaic thermal (HCPVT) system.

The HCPVT system is capable of converting 80 percent of the collected solar energy into useful electrical and thermal output.

Thermal distillation has been used for desalination plants that must be connected to a power grid due to the large amounts of energy used. Reverse osmosis, which forces seawater through a semi-permeable membrane, requires less energy than distillation, but it is still energy intensive.

Compared to reverse osmosis desalination facilities using solar power, the HCPVT system can reduce the amount of enrichment water, KIMM said, adding it would also develop technology to precisely track the sun's position for solar power generation.

Thermal solar concentrates the light energy of the sun to produce high heat. Unlike photovoltaic solar panels that directly produce electricity from the interaction of photons with semiconductor materials, thermal solar can be used to produce electricity. Or, the heat energy can be used for desalination.

Scientists have tried to develop new desalination technologies to solve global problems. There are about 17,000 desalination plants being operated in some 150 countries to produce about 75 million tons of fresh water daily. South Korea leads the global desalination industry, building a number of facilities especially in the Middle East.
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