Perspectives and design considerations of capillary-driven artificial trees for fast dewatering processes

Perspectives and design considerations of capillary-driven artificial trees for fast dewatering processes

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Recent progresses on nanocapillary-driven water transport under metastable conditions have substantiated the potential of artificial trees for dewatering applications in a wide pressure range. This paper presents a comprehensive performance analysis of artificial trees encompassing the principle for negative capillary pressure generation; impacts of structural, compositional, and environmental conditions on dewatering performance; and design considerations. It begins by delineating functionalities of artificial trees for evaporation (leaves), conduction (xylem), and filtration (root) of water, in the analogy to natural trees. The analysis revealed that the magnitude of (negative) capillary pressure in the artificial leaves and xylem must be sufficiently large to overcome the osmotic pressure of feed at the root. The required magnitude can be reduced by increasing the osmotic pressure in the artificial xylem conduits, which reduces the risk of cavitation and subsequent blockage of water transport. However, a severe concentration polarization that can occur in long xylem conduits would negate such compensation effect of xylem osmotic pressure, leading to vapor pressure depression at the artificial leaves and therefore reduced dewatering rates. Enhanced Taylor dispersions by increasing xylem conduit diameters are found to alleviate the concentration polarization, allowing for water flux enhancement directly by increasing leaf-to-root membrane area ratio.

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