First MIDES Microbial-Powered Desalination Demonstration Site Opens in Spain

As climate and other factors impact water availability, desalination is increasingly a key option for producing drinking water resources. On 27 November 2019, partners from the MIDES consortium inaugurated the first project demonstration site at the Aqualia Racons Brackish Water Desalination Plant in Denia, Spain. The MIDES project (for Microbial Desalination) features a natural process aimed to drastically lower energy use in desalination while also treating waste water. Desalination is increasingly a key option for producing drinking water resources. However, other conventional desal technologies require significant energy, with reverse osmosis (RO) units consuming at least 3 kWh/m3 of electricity. “Yesterday we opened the desalination plant with the lowest energy consumption anywhere in the world,” said Victor Monsalvo, Head of Eco-efficiency with Aqualia, MIDES coordinating organization. “This is the first time bio technology is being used for a sustainable desalination process at this scale.”

IHE Delft is a member of the MIDES consortium, with staff members Maria Kennedy, Sergio Salinas, Angeles Mendoza, and Matt Luna responsible for project Work Package deliverables. IHE Msc students Sonam Jamtsho and Prina Shrestha are assisting and contributing to research.
The MIDES Work Packages for IHE Delft include:
  • WP7: Life cycle assessment, and environmental & social impact assessment of the microbial desalination cell technology. 
  • WP8: Dissemination and communication, including organization of the Desalination Innovation School taking place in Denia around the launch of the first demonstration site.
  • WP9: Coordination and Management of various aspects of the project research and implementation.

What will MIDES do?

Microbial Desalination Cells (MDC) can generate around 1.8 kWh of bioelectricity while treating of 1 m3 of wastewater. This energy is used to remove salt content in seawater, which lowers the energy required to complete desalination. The goal of the first demonstration site is to produce 150 L/h of desalinated water with less than 0.5 kWh/m3 of energy used.

The challenge

The MIDES (Horizon 2020*) consortium of 10 organizations from 7 countries has been working since 2016 to scale up this MDC configuration from successful laboratory results with new materials to this demonstration phase. The Denia demo site will produce drinking water in challenging real environment conditions by treating brackish water through advances in ultrafiltration pre-treatment, MDC application, disinfection and remineralization. A ceramic microfiltration process will pretreat the raw water from the Racons River, a complex water source with dense organic matter and high membrane fouling capacity. “We started with only drops of water from a tiny MDC system at laboratory scale, and now we can even swim in our production amount!” added Mr. Monsalvo.

The process

The MDC simultaneously desalinates saline water and treats wastewater. Electroactive bacteria in the anode side of the MDC feed on organic compounds in wastewater, and release electrons. These electrons travel to the cathode side to create an electrostatic force that breaks the salts into a positively charged-particle that goes to the cathode – and a negatively charged particle that goes to the anode. “In short, this MDC process generates electricity to reduce salt content in saline water, and also limits the environmental impact that carbon-rich compounds would have if they were discharged into natural water sources,” said Dr. Angeles Mendoza Sammet, Lecturer of Environmental Planning and Mgmt. with IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, from the demo site launch in Denia.

The future

A low-energy drinking water production process like MIDES can benefit communities with access to a salt/brackish water source, but are lacking the power infrastructure to support conventional desalination. MIDES is also planning two future demo sites for different water conditions. “This first plant in Denia will optimize the process and serve as a reference site in the progress of this breakthrough solution. We look forward to publishing demo site results in early 2020, and fully exploring our MDC capabilities,” concluded Mr. Monsalvo.

The MIDES consortium

Aqualia (lead partner)                                                  LEITAT

IHE Delft Institute for Water Education                        Mikrolin

IMDEA Water                                                               Oncontrol

FUJIFILM                                                                     SGL Carbon

SimTech Simulation Technology                                  University of Gabes

*The MIDES project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 685793.


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