Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have developed an innovative technology that addresses two significant environmental challenges: utilizing industrial waste heat and generating clean water. This breakthrough was highlighted in a recent university press release.

Industrial heat is a major component of global energy consumption. After being used in industrial processes, a significant portion of this heat is typically wasted, released into oceans or the atmosphere. In Norway alone, it is estimated that 20 TWh of heat is wasted annually—equivalent to half the energy demand of Norwegian households or the energy used for heating homes. Kim Kristiansen, a doctoral researcher in NTNU’s Department of Chemistry, sought a more efficient way to repurpose this wasted energy.

Industrial processes not only generate waste heat but also produce contaminated water. Kristiansen’s innovative solution involves evaporating impure water through small pores in a water-repellent membrane. This process allows clean, drinkable water to condense on the other side. The method is particularly effective for removing solid impurities that do not evaporate with the water and can be applied to seawater desalination.

The key innovation is using waste industrial heat to power this water purification process. Kristiansen has spent years studying the temperature differences involved when water is pumped through one side of the membrane and cools on the other, developing theories and verifying them in the lab.

While access to pure water is not a major issue in Norway, this technology holds great potential for industrialized countries facing water supply challenges globally.

The development of this solution builds on previous research from the TNO laboratory in the Netherlands, where a prototype called MemPower was created to generate water and power simultaneously. However, funding limitations halted further development. NTNU continued the work, but industrial adoption has been slow. Kristiansen attributes this hesitation to the historical limitations of membrane technology, particularly its durability in harsh industrial conditions.

Despite these challenges, Kristiansen emphasizes the potential of technologies like MemPower. He notes ongoing international efforts in both academia and industry to overcome these obstacles and commercialize the technology. His latest research indicates that this new approach can compete with other membrane-based energy generation processes, paving the way for broader commercial applications.

This NTNU innovation not only presents a method for efficiently utilizing waste industrial heat but also provides a viable solution for producing clean water. As the technology gains traction and overcomes existing limitations, it could play a crucial role in addressing global energy and water challenges.

By Impact Lab