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Contemporary Urban Affairs

2017, Volume 1, Number 3, pages 49– 53

Membrane Permeability Threshold for Osmotic Power

Plant Efficiency
* A. Berger1, A. Lebrun2, S. Khan3, Q. Masson-Pilet4, A. Supizet5
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ECE Paris School of Engineering, France
Article history: In a context of ever-growing electricity consumption and need for less polluting
Received 2 August 2017 sources of energy, salinity gradient power (SGP) based on osmosis is a promising
Accepted 23 August 2017 technology. Salinity difference between two solutions separated by a semi-permeable
Available online 12 October membrane leads to the pressure increase. The aim of this study is to find the critical
2017 permeability threshold of a membrane for the dimensioning an osmotic power plant.
Keywords: Using Spiegler-Kedem equations, the various fluxes across the membrane have been
Osmotic Energy, calculated, and delivered power is explicitly derived in terms of system parameters.
Membranes, A necessary condition for economic viability is that its upper bound is larger than a
Permeability, critical threshold value below which osmotic power plant is not profitable. As it is
Osmotic Pressure. directly proportional to membrane permeability, fixing the optimal membrane
permeability value will in turn enable conceive more efficient membranes specifically
made for osmotic energy production, as such membranes do not exist today.
CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2017) 1(3), 49-53. Doi: 10.25034/ijcua.2018.3679
Copyright © 2017 Contemporary Urban Affairs. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction harnessing of this energy for conversion into

The considerable and very fast growing energy power can be accomplished by means of
consumption consecutive to the economic Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO) (Kim, and
development of many countries is acutely raising Elimelech, 2013; Helfer, et al., 2014; Wang, et al.,
the question of avoiding disastrous 2012). This technique uses a semipermeable
environmental consequences which could membrane to separate a less concentrated
inevitably occur if only conventional fossil solution, or solvent, (for example, fresh water)
sources are used. To cope with such situation, a from a more concentrated and pressurized
large effort has been oriented toward other solution (for example sea water), allowing the
sources such as less damaging renewable ones solvent to pass to the concentrated solution side
(Lewis, et al., 2011; Kumar, et al., 2011). Aside (Post, 2009). The additional volume increases the
solar, wind, geothermal and hydraulic sources, pressure on this side, which can be depressurized
they also include other less evident ones which by a hydro-turbine to produce power and
may however represent interesting alternatives in electricity (Kleiterp, 2012) .As seventy percent of
specific situations. Earth surface is covered with water, 97 percent
Such is the osmotic power which is the process of of which is saltwater, the process created by
converting the pressure differential between mixing seawater with freshwater generates a
water with high salinity and water with lower or resulting osmotic power which could serve as
no salinity into hydraulic pressure (Loeb, 1975; *Corresponding Author:
Mishra, 2013; Kho, 2010; The European ECE Paris School of Engineering, France
Commission, 2004; Helfer, et al., 2013; Skilhagen, E-mail address:
et al., 2012; Skilhagen, and Aaberg, 2012). The

both renewable and consistent electricity with Cd, Ci and Cf the solute concentration in the draw
source. While still in early stages, best estimates solution, at the barrier-layer/support interface, and in the
of the global production potential of osmotic feed solution respectively, and Es = exp Jv De1] with 
power exceed 1,600 terawatt-hours, the the support thickness. Equality of fluxes in the barrier layer
equivalent of half of Europe entire energy and the support gives from (1,2,3) the non-dimensional
demand. There are two primary sources for equation
osmotic power: 1) natural occurrence where
{(1)(1E1)1 + E(1E)1} = (1r)(1E)1 
river water meets the sea water, and 2) merging
two man-made water sources from processing with  = 1 Ci/Cd,  the solute reflection coefficient, r =
plants Cf/Cd, /DeL,  the support thickness, L the barrier
Both methods can be viable but in 1), seawater layer thickness, De the effective diffusion coefficient of the
averages 40 grams of salt/ liter + River Water, solute, E = expX, X = F( <P>), F = ARTCdL/, 
less power is provided than in than 2), where the salt stoichiometric coefficient and finally <P> = (Pd
brine (from desalination) averages 60 grams of  Pf)/RTCd. For a given dimensionless hydrostatic-
salt/ liter + treated water. The higher the salinity, pressure difference <P>, (4) is a transcendental equation
the more free energy can be extracted, and the in (dimensionless concentration difference across the
more power can be generated. Today osmotic barrier layer) which determines the operating conditions of
power is a promising renewable energy source the osmotic plant for a given set of system parameters.
(RES) provided conversion factor from pressure
differential can be made large enough (Dinger, 3. Osmotic Power Plant Production
et al., 2012; Bræin, et al., 2010; Straub, et al., The basic energy production system is
2016). In the following, some elements on this composed of a compression unit which delivers
question will be discussed in PRO case. In pressurized salted water injected in a chamber
particular, the threshold value for permeability with a filtering membrane across which a flux of
coefficient which characterizes membrane salted water Js is crossing, see Figure 1.
efficiency for viable economic application is

2. Osmosis Pressure Representation

Potential osmotic pressure π, the maximum osmotic
pressure in a solution separated from osmosed fluid by a
selectively permeable membrane, is given by

 = CiRT (1)

with π the potential osmotic pressure (Pa), C the solute

molar concentration (mol m3), R = 8,314 J. mol−1 . K −1 ,
T solution temperature (°K), and I the particle number per
entity. Given the solutions, D and F with respective
osmotic pressures D and F, where D is draw solution
(most concentrated), and F feed one (less concentrated), Figure 1. Sketch of Osmotic Plant Balance
osmotic pressure difference DF between the two JS is Salt Flux across the Membrane.
solutions is typically equal to 12 bars for water fluid, ie,
12.105Pa. Let P = PD  PF with PD and PF the pressures of The power produced per surface unit of installed
solutions D and F. With Spiegler-Kedem [18] model flux
equations can be integrated and one gets volume and solute membrane is given W = JmP with W in Watts/m2,
fluxes Jv and Js flowing through the membrane with or else in non-dimensional form
<W> = W/A(RTCd)2 = <P>(<P>) (5)
pressure retarded osmosis

Jv = A(P) ; Js = Em)1Jv CdEm  Ci) (2) <W> is maximum when <P> = 2 and is then
equal to <W> = ()But this is not necessarily
with Jv , Js (m.s1) the volume and solute fluxes across the possible as  and <P> are also linked by (4) which
membrane,  the solute reflection coefficient, A(m.Pa1 imposes a constraint on system coefficients. One
s1) the membrane fluid permeability, and Em = exp (1 effectively gets for z = the transcendental
) JvL1] with  the solute permeability. Similarly in equation
the support one gets
Js = Es)1Jv CiEs  Cf) (3)
z{(1)(1E(z)1)1 + E(z)(1E(z))1} =  (1r)(1E(z))1 2

A. Berger1, A. Lebrun, S. Khan, Q. Masson-Pilet, A. Supizet 50


with E(z) = expFz which relates “physical” z

(concentration performance) to “technical” F (barrier
quality). From this different limits can be evaluated
for possible power output from the system (Yip, and
Elimelech, 2012; Yip, and Elimelech, 2011; Lin et al.,
2014). However simple ones are directly obtained
from (6) for <W>. In the case of very large  for
instance, (4) takes the very simple form

Y =  (Ln(1x))/x (7)

where x = [1r((1)1] and Y = (1r)F/2. In Figure 2 . Permeability Coefficient vs Osmotic

definition interval x  [0,1], Y is monotonically Pressure Difference.
increasing from 1 to + , and normalized delivered 4. Conclusion
power <W> = Kx2, with K = [1r((1)1]2, From analysis of equations representing osmotic
varies monotonically between 0 and K, showing that physical phenomenon, it is shown that in Pressure
larger <W> corresponds to larger x. More generally Retarded Osmosis case, the harnessing of
salinity-gradient energy taking place at the
parametric dependence of power output W can be
interface between waters of different salt
obtained from (6) to get best parameter range. When
concentration could provide an interesting and
returning to dimensional expression, W is upper
almost inexhaustible energy source if systems
bounded by Wsup = KA(RTCd)2, and a necessary coefficients satisfy operating conditions which
condition for economic efficiency is that have been explicitly stated within Spiegler-
Kedem model. However, even in optimum mode
W sup = KA(RTCd)2 ≥ Wcrit (8)
operating case, satisfaction of economic
viability condition expressed by fixed specific
where Wcrit is the threshold value above which the
membrane power output Wthres  5 Wm 2 is not
osmotic plant is viable. Wsup is larger with larger draw
always met. Aside theoretical research on
concentration Cd, larger temperature T and larger A, optimizing system operating mode, this
which has to be determined to satisfy economic weakness is urging further study of membrane
system efficiency demand, ie here A ≥ Acrit = physical properties, such as porosity and
4WcritFor usual figure of delivered power Wd = tortuosity pore length, to design most efficient
5Wm2, and with typical = 12.105Pa for water, one hydraulic permeability of the barrier layer.
gets, for instance, A ≥ Acrit = 1.38 mPa1s1. More
generally the variation of Acrit vs sees Figure 2, Acknowledgments
indicates for  [6.105,20.105] the “efficiency” The authors are very much indebted to ECE Paris
interval A  [4.91012,5.41011] which is still at School of Engineering for having provided the
technical limit today (Straub, et al., 2016; Zhang, and necessary setup for the development of the
Chung, 2013). To cope with these economic operating project, to Drs. S. Mouhali for advices during the
constraints, extension of simple osmotic barrier effect research and Pr. M. Cotsaftis for help in the
have been recently considered (Chou, et al., 2013; preparation of the manuscript.
Chou, et al., 2012; Yip, et al, 2010; Banchik, et al., 2014;
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