Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Solar-Powered Membrane System for Emergency Drinking Water Supply

EPA Grant Number: SU835528
Title: Solar-Powered Membrane System for Emergency Drinking Water Supply
Investigators: Mi, Baoxia , Birney, Catherine
Institution: University of Maryland
EPA Project Officer: Levinson, Barbara
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $14,714
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2013) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability



We propose to develop, test, and study a novel membrane separation system that holds great promise as a sustainable water purification technology for emergency or household drinking water supply.  This system will integrate two emerging membrane processes: forward osmosis (FO) and membrane distillation (MD) and use solar panel to power the system. The proposed system will have a number of advantages including enhanced energy sustainability and high-quality product water.


We will build a solar-powered FO-MD system, which is composed of a solar thermal panel to heat water, a three-channel membrane unit, three water tanks, two electronic scales, and a computer to record data.  A thorough study will be carried out to clearly understand the effects of temperature, solute concentration, membrane module configuration, and operating parameters on water flux and contaminant removal of the combined FO-MD process. The following tests will be performed to evaluate the performance of the FO-MD system:

  • Membrane fluxes will be monitored by measuring the weight change of the feed and effluent water tanks. 
  • Product water quality and solute transport will be monitored using conductivity meter.
  • The energy and process sustainability will be evaluated by calculating energy flow in the membrane system and monitoring membrane fouling and integrity over time.

Expected Results:

The project will result in a solar-powered membrane system for emergency drinking water supply.  The membrane system can be applied for on-site treatment of various water sources including contaminated field water, brackish water, storm water, and gray water.  This system will be able to produce high-quality drinkable water as the high-rejection FO and MD membranes behave as dual retention barriers. The system will be operated under atmospheric pressure and low temperature, providing much flexibility for scaling up/down for on-site water treatment.  This system is also expected to have low environmental impact and enhanced energy sustainability.

Supplemental Keywords:

emergency water supply, solar-thermal water treatment, thermal membrane process, off-grid drinking water supply;