Desalination coupled with salinity-gradient solar ponds

Andrew Swift, Huanmin Lu, John C. Walton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

143 Scopus citations


Thermal desalination by salinity-gradient solar ponds (SGSP) is one of the most promising solar desalination technologies. Solar ponds combine solar energy collection with long-term storage and can provide reliable thermal energy at temperature ranges from 50 to 90°C. Solar-pond-powered desalination has been studied since 1987 at the El Paso Solar Pond Project, El Paso, Texas. From 1987 to 1992, the research mainly focused on the technical feasibility of thermal desalination coupled with solar ponds. Since 1999, the research has focused on long-term reliability, improvement of thermodynamic efficiency, and economics. During this period, a small multi-effect, multi-stage flash distillation (MEMS) unit, a membrane distillation unit, and a brine concentration and recovery system (BCRS) were tested over a broad range of operating conditions. The most important variables for the MEMS operation were flash range, concentration level of reject brine, and circulation rate of the first effect. The brine concentration and recovery system is part of the goal of developing a systems approach combining salinity-gradient solar pond technology with multiple process desalination and brine concentration. This systems approach, called zero discharge desalination, proposes concentrating brine reject streams down to near NaCl saturated solutions and using the solution to make additional solar ponds. In addition to presenting the test results on the MEMS and BCRS units, this paper also presents a summary of solar pond operation experiences obtained from the 16-year operation at the El Paso solar pond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-23
Number of pages11
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - May 1 2001


  • Brince concentration
  • Low-temperature processes
  • Solar desalination
  • Solar pond
  • Thermal processes
  • Zero discharge desalination


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