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Smith, Liu review modeling processes to inform future water desalination efforts

6/24/2020

Julia Park

Kyle Smith
Assistant Professor Kyle Smith. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

By studying the pros and cons of recent modeling characteristics of electrochemical deionization processes, scientists can identify new research directions in modeling capabilities.

That’s the recent take from Assistant Professor Kyle Smith and his doctoral students Sizhe Liu and Vu Quoc Do in their review article authored in the journal Current Opinion in Electrochemistry, as part of their special collection, “Environmental Electrochemistry 2020.” They were invited to write the review after Smith gave a lecture in Durban, South Africa, for the International Society of Electrochemistry. 

The article, “Modeling of electrochemical deionization across length scales: Recent accomplishments and new opportunities,” reviews the theoretical models used in electrochemical deionization processes, most notably for applications in water desalination. The researchers focus on the advantages and disadvantages of the modeling strategies’ ability to quantify energy consumption and ion removal, their feasibility of scaling up to large systems, and their discovery of interactions between atoms and electrons that affect selectivity in ion removal processes.

Liu, first author of the review article, said that new modeling processes can be used to inform electrode material/microstructure design, to assign energy losses to electrode-scale mass and charge transport mechanisms, to bridge length scales, and to capture kinetic and diffusion processes when battery-like electrode materials are used.

“With further advancements in atomistic modeling methods, in future research I expect discoveries of new electrode materials to be enabled and more powerful macroscopic models to be developed,” Liu said.

Additionally, related work from Smith was featured recently by WaterWorld. He noted that battery materials could help alleviate some of the sustainability issues in the desalination process that stem from the need for disposal of waste brine. Smith’s latest work in this area involves deionization devices that can reversibly store and release cations using a class of materials commonly used for rechargeable batteries: intercalation materials. While their recent experiments at small scale have shown order-of-magnitude improvements in water production rates, Smith said the economic potential for scaling up to large desalination plants is also possible provided water production rates are scalable.