A comprehensive study was conducted to elucidate the effect of operating conditions on the performance of a multi-effect vacuum membrane distillation pilot plant. A theoretical assessment of the energy and exergy efficiency of the process was achieved using a mathematical model based on heat and mass transfer, which was calibrated using experimental data obtained from the pilot plant. The pilot plant was a solar vacuum multi-effect membrane distillation (V-MEMD) module comprising five stages. It was found that a maximal permeate mass flux of 17.2 kg/m2
·h, a recovery ratio of 47.6%, and a performance ratio of 5.38% may be achieved. The resulting gain output ratio (GOR) under these conditions was 5.05, which is comparable to previously reported values. Furthermore, the present work systematically evaluated not only the specific thermal energy consumption (STEC), but also the specific electrical energy consumption (SEEC), which has been generally neglected in previous studies. We show that STEC and SEEC may reach 166 kWh/m3
and 4.5 kWh/m3
, respectively. We also observed that increasing the feed flow rate has a positive impact on the process performance, particularly when the feed temperature is higher than 65 °C. Under ideal operational conditions, the exergetic efficiency reached 21.1%, and the maximum fraction of exergy destruction was localized in the condenser compartment. Variation of the inlet hot and cold temperatures at a constant differential showed an interesting and variable impact on the performance indicators of the V-MEMD unit. The difference with the lowest inlet temperatures exhibited the most negative impact on the system performance.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited