Desalination Methods for Brackish Water (1): Distillation and Electrodialysis


Desalination, or the process of removing salt from water, is a crucial technology to address the growing demand for freshwater in regions with brackish water sources. Various methods exist for desalinating brackish water, each with its own set of principles, trial utility, and advantages and disadvantages. Among these methods, reverse osmosis membrane technology has proven to be highly adaptive and effective, standing out as a rational choice for brackish water desalination.

Desalination Principles and Characteristics:

The primary goal of desalination is to reduce or eliminate the salt content from brackish water, making it suitable for consumption or meeting water quality standards. Different desalination methods are employed, with major techniques including distillation, electrodialysis, and reverse osmosis. In this exploration, we will focus on distillation and electrodialysis.

Distillation Method:

Distillation involves heating brackish water or seawater to induce boiling and evaporation, followed by condensing the vapor back into fresh water. Distillation is one of the earliest desalination methods with several variations, including multiple-effect evaporation, multistage flash distillation, steam distillation, and membrane distillation.

The main advantages of distillation include its simple structure, ease of operation, and the high quality of the produced freshwater. However, it is important to note that various distillation techniques exist, each with its unique characteristics.

Electrodialysis Technique:

Electrodialysis (ED) is a membrane separation technology used in desalination, leveraging ion-exchange membranes under the influence of an electric field. This process separates ions, allowing fresh water to be obtained by reducing the salt concentration in a compartment. The ED device utilizes directed ion migration induced by a direct current electric field, with ion-exchange membranes permitting the passage of either cations or anions.

While electrodialysis offers benefits such as simplicity, high desalination rates, low production costs, and environmental friendliness, it does have some drawbacks. Strict water quality requirements and the need for pre-treatment of the feedwater are among the challenges associated with this method.

Application Characteristics of Electrodialysis in Brackish Water Desalination:

  1. Effective Removal of Soluble Inorganic Salts: Electrodialysis achieves removal rates ranging from 66% to 93% for ions like iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, chloride, as well as toxic elements such as arsenic and fluoride. This makes ED suitable for brackish water desalination requirements.
  2. Limited Removal of Oxygen Demand, Nitrogen Compounds, and Silica: ED demonstrates lower removal rates, approximately 15% to 45%, for parameters like oxygen demand, NH3-N, NO3-N, NO2-N, and silica. However, given the low initial concentrations of these elements in source water, the reduced removal rates are still acceptable for meeting the requirements of potable water standards.
  3. Challenges with Sulfate Removal: Electrodialysis achieves a removal rate of 63.8% for SO4-2. However, when applied to water with specific compositions, such as Na2SO4 or Na2SO4·Cl2, meeting drinking water standards becomes challenging.
  4. Energy Consumption Considerations: The energy consumption of electrodialysis is closely linked to the salinity of the feedwater. Higher salinity requires more energy consumption. Therefore, ED is particularly suitable for desalinating low-salinity brackish water.


While electrodialysis has proven effective for desalinating brackish water, certain limitations, such as the inability to remove organic substances and bacteria and relatively high operational energy consumption, have led to its gradual replacement by reverse osmosis systems in brackish water desalination projects. This highlights the need for a comprehensive understanding of each desalination method and the careful selection of technology based on specific water source characteristics and project requirements.

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Further reading

brine water desalination system

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