Geothermal for Desalination

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

Geothermal desalination utilizes geothermal energy to power desalination processes, providing a sustainable and environmentally friendly method for producing freshwater from seawater or brackish water. This technology is particularly relevant for regions facing water scarcity or limited access to freshwater resources, especially those with abundant geothermal energy potential.

Impact on climate action

Geothermal for Desalination under Geothermal Energy advances climate action by providing sustainable freshwater solutions. By utilizing geothermal heat to power desalination processes, this innovation reduces energy consumption, lowers carbon emissions, and addresses water scarcity challenges, contributing to climate resilience and sustainable development.

Underlying
Technology

  • Multi-Stage Flash (MSF) Desalination: This technology uses geothermal energy to heat seawater, which is then flashed into steam in multiple stages under vacuum. The steam condenses into freshwater, leaving behind concentrated brine.
  • Multi-Effect Distillation (MED): This technology uses a series of evaporators and condensers to evaporate and condense seawater multiple times, producing freshwater with each stage. Geothermal energy provides the heat for the initial evaporation stage, and subsequent stages utilize waste heat from the previous stages.
  • Membrane Distillation (MD): MD is an emerging desalination technology that uses a hydrophobic membrane to separate water vapor from saline water. Geothermal energy can be used to provide the heat needed for the evaporation process.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Hybrid Geothermal-PV Desalination Systems: Combining geothermal energy with photovoltaic (PV) technology can improve the efficiency and reliability of desalination systems. PV panels can generate electricity to power pumps and other equipment, while geothermal energy provides heat for the desalination process.
  • Low-Temperature Geothermal Resources: Utilizing low-temperature geothermal resources for desalination can be cost-effective and efficient, especially for membrane distillation and other low-temperature desalination technologies.
  • Advanced Membrane Materials: Researchers are developing new membrane materials with improved performance and reduced fouling for membrane distillation and other membrane-based desalination processes.
  • Brine Management and Minimization: Innovations in brine management and minimization techniques are crucial for reducing the environmental impact of geothermal desalination.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Modular Desalination Units
  • Co-Generation Opportunities
  • Hybrid Geothermal-PV Desalination Systems
  • Low-Temperature Geothermal Resources
  • Advanced Membrane Materials
  • Brine Management and Minimization
  • Modular Geothermal Desalination Units
  • Geothermal-Powered Reverse Osmosis
  • Integration of Geothermal with Waste Heat Recovery
  • Smart Control Systems for Geothermal Desalination
  • Enhanced Geothermal Wells for Desalination
  • Energy-Efficient Desalination Cycles
  • Geothermal-Driven Zero Liquid Discharge
  • Advanced Thermal Desalination Techniques
  • Geothermal-Powered Forward Osmosis
  • Geothermal Energy Storage for Desalination
  • Sustainable Geothermal Brine Disposal
  • Geothermal-Powered Electrochemical Desalination

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Trevi Systems:
    • Technology Enhancement: Trevi Systems focuses on developing innovative desalination solutions powered by geothermal energy. Their technology combines geothermal heat with membrane distillation (MD) or reverse osmosis (RO) processes to desalinate seawater or brackish water efficiently. By harnessing the sustainable heat energy from geothermal sources, Trevi Systems offers a renewable and cost-effective approach to water desalination.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Trevi Systems stands out for its integration of geothermal energy into desalination processes, providing a sustainable alternative to traditional fossil fuel-powered desalination plants. Their technology enables the utilization of geothermal resources for water treatment, reducing energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and operating costs.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Trevi Systems serves municipalities, industrial facilities, agricultural operations, and remote communities seeking reliable and sustainable water supply solutions. Their geothermal-powered desalination systems are deployed in coastal regions, arid areas, and geothermal hotspots worldwide, addressing water scarcity challenges and promoting environmental sustainability.
  2. SOURCE Global:
    • Technology Enhancement: SOURCE Global specializes in atmospheric water generation (AWG) systems powered by renewable energy sources, including geothermal energy. Their technology extracts moisture from the air and condenses it into clean drinking water using renewable energy inputs such as geothermal heat. SOURCE Global’s systems provide an off-grid and sustainable water supply solution for various applications, including drinking water provision and agricultural irrigation.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: SOURCE Global stands out for its focus on decentralized water generation using renewable energy, including geothermal heat. Their atmospheric water generation technology offers a scalable and resilient solution for water production in regions with limited access to traditional water sources, reducing reliance on groundwater extraction and surface water supplies.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: SOURCE Global serves communities, businesses, and humanitarian organizations seeking off-grid water solutions powered by renewable energy. Their geothermal-powered atmospheric water generators are deployed in remote areas, disaster relief operations, and water-stressed regions, providing a sustainable and reliable source of clean drinking water.
  3. Desolenator:
    • Technology Enhancement: Desolenator develops solar-powered desalination systems that utilize renewable energy to produce clean drinking water from seawater or brackish water sources. While not directly using geothermal energy, Desolenator’s technology shares the goal of sustainability by harnessing renewable energy sources. Their systems employ solar thermal evaporation and distillation processes to purify water, offering a decentralized and environmentally friendly water treatment solution.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Desolenator stands out for its solar-powered desalination technology, which addresses water scarcity challenges in off-grid and remote locations. By leveraging renewable energy sources, such as solar power, Desolenator provides a sustainable alternative to conventional desalination methods, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and mitigating environmental impacts.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Desolenator serves communities, households, disaster relief agencies, and humanitarian organizations seeking sustainable water solutions in water-stressed regions. Their solar-powered desalination systems are designed for use in off-grid settings, including remote islands, rural villages, and disaster-affected areas, providing access to clean and safe drinking water without reliance on centralized infrastructure.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is actively involved in research on integrating geothermal energy with desalination technologies to address water scarcity challenges in regions with abundant geothermal resources.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing novel hybrid systems that utilize geothermal heat to power thermal desalination processes such as multi-effect distillation (MED) or multi-stage flash (MSF) distillation. MIT also explores advanced materials and heat exchange techniques to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of geothermal-desalination systems.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their research have applications in coastal regions, islands, and arid areas where access to freshwater is limited. By harnessing geothermal energy for desalination, MIT’s research aims to provide sustainable and decentralized solutions for freshwater production, contributing to water security and socio-economic development.
  2. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST):
    • Research Focus: KAUST conducts cutting-edge research on coupling geothermal energy with innovative desalination technologies to address water-energy nexus challenges in arid environments.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing integrated geothermal-desalination systems based on membrane distillation (MD), reverse osmosis (RO), or electrochemical desalination processes. KAUST also investigates the use of waste heat recovery and thermal energy storage techniques to enhance system performance and operational flexibility.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their research find applications in remote communities, off-grid installations, and industrial facilities requiring freshwater supply and thermal energy. By leveraging geothermal resources for desalination, KAUST’s research aims to promote sustainable development, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and alleviate water stress in water-scarce regions.
  3. National University of Singapore (NUS):
    • Research Focus: NUS is actively engaged in research on utilizing geothermal energy for desalination applications, focusing on developing efficient and environmentally sustainable solutions for freshwater production.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves exploring the integration of geothermal heat with membrane-based desalination processes such as forward osmosis (FO), pressure-retarded osmosis (PRO), or membrane distillation (MD). NUS also investigates hybrid systems and integrated resource management approaches to optimize energy-water utilization and minimize environmental impacts.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their research have applications in urban water supply, industrial wastewater treatment, and agricultural irrigation. By combining geothermal energy with desalination, NUS’s research aims to address water security challenges, promote renewable energy deployment, and foster sustainable development in water-stressed regions.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Geothermal desalination plants are being implemented in various regions around the world, particularly in water-scarce areas with abundant geothermal resources. For example, several geothermal desalination plants are operating in the Middle East and North Africa, providing freshwater for municipal and industrial use.