A Liquid Desiccant Cycle for Dehumidification and Fresh Water Supply in Controlled Environment Agriculture

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Environmental Science and Engineering
Liquid Dessicant; controlled environment agriculture; membrane distillation; membrane dehumidification; aquaponics; evaporative cooling
thesis / dissertation description
Controlled environment agriculture allows the production of fresh food indoors from global locations and contexts where it would not otherwise be possible. Growers in extreme climates and urban areas produce food locally indoors, saving thousands of food import miles and capitalizing upon the demand for fresh, tasty, and nutritious food. However, the growing of food, both indoors and outdoors, consumes huge quantities of water - as much as 70-80% of global fresh water supplies. The utilization of liquid desiccants in a closed indoor agriculture cycle provides the possibility of capturing plant-transpired water vapor. The regeneration/desalination of these liquid desiccants offers the potential to recover fresh water for irrigation and also to re-concentrate the desiccants for continued dehumidification. Through the utilization of solar thermal energy, the process can be completed with a very small to zero grid-energy footprint. The primary research in this dissertation focused on two areas: the dehumidification of indoor environments utilizing liquid desiccants inside membrane contactors and the regeneration of these desiccants using membrane distillation. Triple-bore PVDF hollow fiber membranes yielded dehumidification permeance rates around 0.25-0.31 g m-2 h-1 Pa-1 in lab-scale trials. A vacuum membrane distillation unit utilizing PVDF fibers yielded a flux of 2.8-7.0 kg m-2 hr-1. When the membrane contactor dehumidification system was applied in a bench scale controlled environment agriculture setup, the relative humidity levels responded dynamically to both plant transpiration and dehumidification rates, reaching dynamic equilibrium levels during day and night cycles. In addition, recovered fresh water from distillation was successfully applied for irrigation of crops and concentrated desiccants were successfully reused for dehumidification. If applied in practice, the liquid desiccant system for controlled environment agriculture offers the potential to reduce water use in controlled environment agriculture by as much as ~99%.