Intermittent direct joule heating of membrane surface for seawater desalination by air gap membrane distillation

Farah Ejaz Ahmed, Boor Singh Lalia, Raed Hashaikeh, Nidal Hilal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Air gap membrane distillation (AGMD) is a low-temperature separation process applied commonly to desalination of (hyper)saline feeds. The low energy efficiency of heating the bulk feed solution to drive vapor transport in MD must be addressed through novel materials and techniques. In this work, we introduce the concept of intermittent electrical heating at the membrane surface using electrically conductive carbon nanotube structure (CNS) films pressed on commercial polypropylene (PP) membranes. First, the Joule heating effect was optimized by varying the mass loading of the CNS layer between 1.4 and 4.2 mg cm−2. The effect of mass loading on porosity, electrical properties and cross-sectional morphology of the CNS layer was also investigated. Electrical conductivity of CNS films increases with increasing CNS mass loading. A CNS loading of 1.4 mg cm−2 yielded the highest electrical resistance, which translated into higher Joule heat generation, and highest steady-state temperature in response to applied current. When an alternating current of 2 A was passed through the CNS films in air, the maximum surface temperature achieved was 184 °C, 126 °C and 100 °C at CNS loadings of 1.4 mg cm−2, 2.8 mg cm−2 and 4.2 mg cm−2, respectively. Maximum surface temperature and spatial temperature distribution of CNS films were verified using a steady-state thermal-electric simulation. CNS films exhibited rapid thermal cycling between on and off states, due to their low thermal mass, with low thermal time constants for both heating and cooling. CNS film with a loading of 1.4 mg cm−2 was then pressed onto a commercial PP membrane and applied to AGMD for seawater desalination, with the conductive layer in direct contact with the feed solution. Intermittent heating was carried out by passing a current of 2 A for 10 min at 20 min intervals, for 10 cycles. Feed outlet temperature increased by > 9 °C during each cycle, which improved average permeate flux by 78%. While specific thermal energy consumption increased by 34%, a 25% enhancement was found in GOR, indicative of higher thermal energy efficiency. We have demonstrated the effectiveness of intermittent membrane surface heating for simultaneous performance enhancement and improved energy efficiency for seawater desalination using MD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120390
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
StatePublished - Apr 15 2022


  • Air gap membrane distillation
  • CNTs
  • Conductive membrane
  • Desalination
  • Energy savings
  • Joule heating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation


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