‘MIDES was born to develop new desalination technologies with low energy consumption’
English translation of iAgua article interview from 24 March 2020 with Juan Arévalo, head of the MIDES H2020 project.
By Águeda García de Durango, iAgua
The MIDES H2020 project aims to revolutionize desalination by developing a sustainable low-energy process with the Microbial Desalination Cell (MDC). The main development area is the Desalination Innovation Center that Aqualia has opened in Denia, Spain. To learn more, we spoke with Juan Arévalo, head of the MIDES H2020 project.
Question: What are the objectives of the MIDES H2020 project, and what results are expected?
Answer: The MIDES H2020 Project was born to develop new desalination technologies with low energy consumption. MIDES is the acronym for MIcrobial DESalination, and on that we base ourselves, on the use of bioelectrochemical systems to achieve the desalination of seawater currents with an energy consumption below 0.5 kWh / m3, using the energy contained in organic matter. We seek to scale this technology from the laboratory to the pilot plant, keeping in mind that figure of energy consumption to bring salinity from seawater to drinking water. That is the main objective that we set ourselves, the figure to follow, which in turn is complemented by other sub-objectives, all focused on scaling the technologies that are part of the project and energy efficiency in the desalination process, making it more sustainable.
Q.- Who are the partners of this project, and from which countries do they come? Who is part of the team?
A.- The MIDES project is made up of 10 partners from 7 different countries. We have a very cohesive, which includes all the elements included in the MIDES system. We have manufacturers of ion exchange membranes (Fujifilm, the Netherlands), carbon based current collector elements (SGL carbon, Germany) and recycled polymer elements (Mikrolin, Hungary). At the same time we are developing mathematical models to model the system (SimTech, Austria) and instrumentation and process control (OnControl, Portugal).
We have universities and research centers that provide the most scientific parts, such as IMDEA Agua (Spain) that are specialists in bioelectrochemistry and Leitat (Spain) that research alternative materials and configurations. The University of Gabes (Tunisia) supports post-treatment research and we have the IHE Delft (the Netherlands) in global life cycle analysis and communication tasks. All of this is coordinated by Aqualia, which in addition to collaborating in all aspects, we take care of the pilot-scale application in desalination facilities operated by Aqualia.
It is a broad consortium that covers all the aspects that the project may involve, from the development of materials to be incorporated to the modeling and control of processes, with a remarkable scientific and technical control of the systems.
Q.- What budget does MIDES have, and what is its origin?
A.- Globally, we have around 8 million euros, in a project co-financed by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 program.
Q.- Where are the experimental works being carried out, and what progress has been made so far in the framework of the project?
A.- The experimental works encompass many aspects of the project, since the elements that make up the equipment have been developed specifically for this application, adjusting to the needs of technology, from membranes to carbon elements.
Regarding the application of the equipment to treat water in a concrete way, at small scales (laboratory and pre-pilot) they have been developed in the IMDEA Agua facilities mainly, and in Leitat, but if we talk about pilot plants for the maximum development in the project, this is being carried out in desalination plants operated by Aqualia in Denia (Alicante). These plants are at the EDAS Racons, for treating highly complex brackish water, and in Guía de Isora (Tenerife) in the EDAM Fonsalía for the treatment of seawater.
Within the framework of the project we have managed to advance from practically a concept and little more at the beginning of the project, in a technology that was capable of desalting a couple of mL and only partially, to develop laboratory, pre-pilot systems and finally lead to construction of two large-scale pilots, which are capable of treating several m3 of seawater per day. It has been a very rapid development and the results are encouraging.
Q.- What technologies are being used to fulfill the objectives of the project?
A.- The central element of the process that is being defined is what we call Microbial Desalination Cells, or MDC. It is a system, partially derived from electrodialysis and to which bioelectrochemical systems are coupled to produce desalination with the energy contained in organic matter, such as waste water. Organic matter is an incredible source of energy, as seen in many other projects and applications, and we are searching if that energy can be used to desalinate a stream of water. Through the use of bioelectroactive bacteria, an electrical current is generated in the degradation process of this organic matter, which by means of ion exchange membranes produces the separation of ions due to the potential difference, so that we produce a desalinated current – and in turn treat waste water.
In addition, to complete the process there are pre-treatment and post-treatment systems. In this way we have a pre-treatment with ultrafiltration membranes of ceramic materials, with high permeability and low fouling, and various post-treatments, such as a reverse osmosis system at very low pressure for refining saline effluents and remineralization and disinfection systems.
The idea is to test a complete water treatment system, somewhat analogous to what is currently done in conventional desalination systems.
Q.- What are the biggest difficulties that have been found throughout the project?
A.- The biggest difficulties we have encountered throughout the process come from an obvious question, and that is that it is the first time that something like this has been done. MDC technology like we are developing at MIDES is something very new and involves a certain technical complexity. If we add to this that we are pioneers, the result is that there is no one to ask when doubts or questions arise. It is a common element to many technological developments, paving the way costs, but I consider that it is very interesting to learn on the go, to solve the questions that arise with inventiveness and ingenuity. Sometimes it is hard but in general it is a lot of fun.
Q.- What are the deadlines that are handled in MIDES H2020?
A.- We started this adventure in March 2016 and the project will most likely close in September of this year 2020, therefore, we are finishing what we consider the development of technology within the framework of the MIDES project. Here we will get to the pilot scale validation of the technology, and from then on we will have real data to see the next steps. We are very focused on this process, and are taking the necessary steps to bring this technology to the market.
Q.- Once the project is finished, what is the forecast of applying the technology and the results obtained in other facilities?
A.- When we finish the pilot phase, which is the final stage included in the project’s time frame, we must analyze the results obtained and evaluate, with more data in hand, the most favorable markets for the application of technology. It may even take a further step in scaling, a demonstration plant, before making applications on an industrial scale. As it is a technology that is simultaneously capable of treating wastewater and desalting salt water, it has great versatility for multiple uses: from water treatments for industry, tertiary systems, decentralized desalination, and possibly more.
Q.- Regarding the communication of the project, what initiatives have been launched to publicize it?
A.- The good thing about being such an active consortium is that it is easy to meet us at conferences, workshops or meetings, where we usually go to tell general or specific project questions, as well as updating the scientific community on what point we are developing.
We have a project website where we post information and news, and a Twitter profile where we update information. To highlight one of the events, I must emphasize the “Desalination Week” that we organized in Denia in Nov. 2019, with the presentation of the first pilot built on MIDES technology at Demo Site 1, in Denia, where Aqualia has the Desalination Innovation Center. It was a great success of participation and interest, and a lot of fun, really.
(original article in Spanish) https://www.iagua.es/noticias/aqualia/mides-h2020-nace-desarrollar-nuevas-tecnologias-desalacion-consumo-energetico?utm_source=notificaciones&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Aqualia