Superhydrophobic surfaces for enhanced condensation in air gap membrane distillation (AGMD) may provide significantly improved distillate production rates and increased thermal efficiency. While AGMD is one of the most thermally efficient membrane distillation desalination configurations, large transport resistances in the air gap limit distillate production rates. AGMD experiments were performed with combinations of untreated, hydrophobic, and superhydrophobic condensation surfaces. A nanostructured copper oxide coated condensing surface produced durable 164°±4° contact angles and jumping droplet condensation. Tests were also performed on the air gap spacer, in this case a small diameter support mesh, to judge the effects of superhydrophobic treatment and conductivity on distillate production for AGMD. A novel visualization technique was implemented to see through PVDF membranes and confirm air gap behavior. The experiments were compared with numerical modeling of AGMD film-wise condensation and flooded-gap MD. The results indicate that the introduction of superhydrophobic surfaces can result in improvements in distillate production in excess of 60% over standard AGMD. However, for high distillate production, condensation on the superhydrophobic plate transitions from a partially wetted droplet morphology to Wenzel flooded (wetting) conditions. Mildly hydrophobic condensing surfaces were found to provide moderate improvement in distillate production. Superhydrophobic support meshes made a negligible difference in distillate production, but high conductivity support meshes showed significant increases in flux at the expense of increased conduction losses. The results outline recommended superhydrophobic condensation conditions at varied feed and cold side temperatures for substantial improvement to distillate production rate for AGMD systems in a flat plate configuration.
Warsinger, D. E. M., Swaminathan, J., Maswadeh, L. A., & Lienhard, J. H. (2015). Superhydrophobic condenser surfaces for air gap membrane distillation. Journal of Membrane Science, 492, 578–587. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.memsci.2015.05.067