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A solvent-extraction approach for desalination of high-salinity brines

By Scott Jenkins |

Hypersaline industrial wastewater brines are difficult to treat. Current approaches for removing salt from such brines — such as evaporative distillation and reverse-osmosis (RO) — are problematic because evaporation is highly energy-intensive and RO cannot handle salt levels present in hypersaline brines, which can be several times that of seawater. Now, a research team led by Ngai Yin Yip at Columbia University (New York, N.Y.; www.columbia.edu) has developed a solvent-extraction method they call temperature-swing solvent extraction (TSSE), that dramatically lowers the energy requirements for separating salts from water compared to evaporative distillation, but can also handle very high salt levels. The research could lead to an effective means of treating high-salinity wastewaters from oil and gas production (produced water), as well as landfill leachate, fluegas desulfurization wastewater and concentrated brine from brackish water desalination processes (for areas with no discharge options). Using solvent-extraction principles, the process works by contacting the brine with a solvent mixture that extracts water from the brine, but that is also immiscible with water, so it can be easily separated. The Columbia team used three…
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