Low-temperature isothermal Rankine cycle for desalination

  • Opubo Igobo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In brackish groundwater desalination, high recovery ratio (of fresh water from saline feed) is desired to minimise concentrate reject. To this effect, previous studies have developed a batch reverse osmosis (RO) desalination system, DesaLink, which proposed to expand steam in a reciprocating piston cylinder and transmit the driving force through a linkage crank mechanism to pressurise batches of saline water (recirculating) in a water piston cylinder unto RO membranes. However, steam is largely disadvantaged at operation from low temperature (< 150oC) thermal sources; and organic working fluids are more viable, though, the obtainable thermal cycle efficiencies are generally low with low temperatures. Consequently, this thesis proposed to investigate the use of organic working fluid Rankine cycle (ORC) with isothermal expansion, to drive the DesaLink machine, at improved thermal efficiency from low temperature thermal sources. Following a review of the methods of achieving isothermal expansion, ‘liquid flooded expansion’ and ‘expansion chamber surface heating’ were identified as potential alternative methods. Preliminary experimental comparative analysis of variants of the heated expansion chamber technique of effecting isothermal expansion favoured a heated plain wall technique, and as such was adopted for further optimisation and development. Further, an optimised isothermal ORC engine was built and tested at < 95oC heat source temperature, with R245fa working fluid – which was selected from 16 working fluids that were analysed for isothermal operation. Upon satisfactory performance of the test engine, a larger (10 times) version was built and coupled to drive the DesaLink system. Operating the integrated ORC-RO DesaLink system, gave freshwater (approximately 500 ppm) production of about 12 litres per hour (from 4000 ppm feed water) at a recovery ratio of about 0.7 and specific energy consumption of 0.34 kWh/m3; and at a thermal efficiency of 7.7%. Theoretical models characterising the operation and performance of the integrated system was developed and utilised to access the potential field performance of the system, when powered by two different thermal energy sources – solar and industrial bakery waste heat – as case studies.
Date of Award15 Feb 2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPhilip A Davies (Supervisor)


  • reverse osmosis (RO)
  • batch operation
  • desalination
  • quasi-isothermal
  • solar
  • waste
  • heat recovery
  • organic Rankine cycle (ORC)

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