Water and Desalination

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Water scarcity is present worldwide in diverse societies and settings, and the situation is continuing to worsen: our renewable freshwater supply from net precipitation over land is fixed, whereas world population will rise to 9 billion by 2050 from 3 billion in 1960. Further, the world’s population is increasingly an urban population amounting to more than 50% today and on track to reach 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world by 2050. The projected impact of global climate change and rising standards of living compound these challenges. The provision of water for the world’s diverse populations will require energy-efficient, low-carbon technologies for creating potable water from saline sources (the oceans, in particular) and from impaired water supplies (by recycling of used water). Increased urbanization implies that infrastructure-scale solutions will be essential; but, in addition, the rural developing world faces an urgent need for small-scale, locally-powered water purification systems.

Our current research encompasses humidification-dehumidification (HDH) desalination, membrane distillation systems, forward osmosis, pressure-retarded osmosis, electrodialysis, nanofiltration, hybrid cycles, thermophysical properties of saline waters, scale formation, and remediation of waste water from oil/gas operations and other industrial processes. Improving the energy efficiency of desalination and water purification processes is a core focus of all our work. 

Our research sponsors in recent years have included: the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science; Cadagua; Chevron; the Singapore-MIT Alliance in Research and Technology; the MIT-Tata program; the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals through the Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy; the MASDAR Institute in Abu Dhabi; BP; the MIT Deshpande Center for Technology and Innovation; the MIT MISTI program; friends of MIT; and others. In addition, students in our group have benefited from a wide range of fellowship awards over the years.

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Lip of Horseshoe Falls, Niagara River (copyright 2015).

Lip of Horseshoe Falls, Niagara River (copyright 2015).