A new pilot plant will test new technology to remove salts from bore water, industrial wastewater and sea water to produce high-quality drinking water.

QUT researchers have been working with the Japanese chemical conglomerate Asahi Kasei for three years on the technology that uses solar energy or low-grade waste heat produced by industry to remove dissolved salts from water samples.

The pilot plant, which has been commissioned at the QUT Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct, will have the ability to process 1,000 litres of water a day through a process called membrane distillation.

The QUT researchers have developed a system that means the membranes can be used for more than 2,000 hours filtering salt water before the membrane needs cleaning.

One of the advantages of the system is that it can use industrial ‘waste’ heat, which is heat produced as a by-product, and use that to distil the water through the membranes.

“We can tap into that and make water on the spot for the companies,” says research leader Professor Graeme Millar.

The new membrane technology could even be used to treat of coal seam gas (CSG) associated water, bore water in remote communities, reverse osmosis brine and seawater to produce high-quality drinking water.

“Agriculture is the major consumer of freshwater resources in Australia,” Professor Millar said.

“Consequently, there is a need to develop means to use impaired water resources such as coal seam gas associated water for irrigation purposes.”

Professor Millar said the planned design of a commercial module built using this system would be able to convert 1 million litres a day of water, with uses ranging from installations at mining, agricultural and industrial sites to portable solar-powered units that could be used by emergency services in the wake of natural disasters.

“It offers low-cost water treatment for remote communities,” Professor Millar said.

“It’s about taking those brackish waters and making them drinkable.”