Metal-alloys tubes are used in the falling-film evaporator of the multi-effect distillation (MED) that is the dominant and efficient thermal seawater desalination process. However, the harsh seawater environment (high salinity and high temperature) causes scale precipitation and corrosion of MED evaporators’ metal tubes, presenting a serious technical challenge to the process. Therefore, the metal/metal alloys used as the material of the MED evaporators’ tubes are expensive and require high energy and costly tube fabrication process. On the other hand, polymers are low-cost, easy to fabricate into tubes, and highly corrosion-resistant, but have low thermal conductivity. Neverthe-less, thermally conductive fillers can enhance the thermal conductivity of polymers. In this article, we carried out a feasibility-study-based techno-economic and socioeconomic analysis, as well as a life-cycle assessment (LCA), of a conventional MED desalination plant that uses titanium tubes and a plant that used thermally enhanced polymer composites (i.e., polyethylene (PE)-expanded graphite (EG) composite) as the tubes’ material. Two different polymer composites containing 30% and 40% filler (expanded graphite/graphene) are considered. Our results indicate that the MED plant based on polymer composite tubes has favored economic and carbon emission metrics with the potential to reduce the cost of the MED evaporator (shell and tubes) by 40% below the cost of the titanium evaporator. Moreover, the equivalent carbon emissions associated with the composite polymer tubes’ evaporator is 35% lower than titanium tubes. On the other hand, the ozone depletion, acidification, and fossil fuel depletion for the polymer composite tubes are comparable with that of the titanium tubes. The recycling of thermally enhanced polymers is not considered in this LCA analysis; however, after the end of life, reusing the polymer material into other products would lower the overall environmental impacts. Moreover, the polymer composite tubes can be produced locally, which will not only reduce the environmental impacts due to transportation but also create jobs for local manufacturing.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Polymers and Plastics