Energy to be harvested from water flows in nature and industry

Monday 01 Dec 14


Claus Hélix-Nielsen
Professor, Head of Department
DTU Environment
+45 45 25 22 28

A new generation of membranes can supply industry and the world population with clean water, while also harvesting energy. The new membranes are to be developed and implemented in the international, multidisciplinary Memento project, with funding from InnovationsFonden.

The Memento project is receiving a grant of DKK 12 million from InnovationsFonden for a four-year development and test project using membranes to treat wastewater and supply energy in the form of methane gas and electricity.

According to project leader Claus Hélix-Nielsen, Associate Professor at DTU Environment, the research has the potential to help satisfy rising global demand for energy and water resources.

"Climate change, urbanization and rising population growth in third world countries is increasing pressure on global energy and water resources. Water is also used extensively in many industrial production processes, resulting in large quantities of wastewater requiring treatment. The global market for technological solutions which can increase energy and water efficiency in industrial production alone is huge," notes Claus Hélix-Nielsen


Methane and power production

The Memento project aims to develop a new generation of existing aquaporin membranes, as well as completely new membranes with ion channels.

The existing aquaporin membranes are to be tested and tailored to two types of energy generation: 

  1. The membranes can be incorporated into closed wastewater treatment plants and combined with anaerobic bacteria to help treat water and produce methane—supplying both clean water and energy. Wastewater treatment plants have the potential to become energy producers rather than consumers.
  2. Using a membrane to separate solutions with high salt concentrations from water with low salt concentration results in the clean water being pulled through the membrane. This results in a pressure differential which can be used to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

Energy where fresh water and salt water meet

Whereas aquaporin membranes are water permeable, the research project aims to develop completely new membranes which allow ions to pass instead of water. These ion membranes will be tested for their ability to harvest electricity where fresh water and salt water meet.

"If sea water and fresh water are separated by two membranes—one of which allows only the passage of positive ions and the other only negative ions—the electrical energy linked to the passage of the ions through the membranes can be directly utilised," explains project leader Claus Hélix-Nielsen.

The ion membrane technology has the potential to serve in power stations of the future in natural settings, for example where rivers and streams flow into the sea.

The Memento research project is an initiative of DTU Environment, with participation from the University of Copenhagen, Grundfos, Aquaporin, DHI and two foreign partners: Maribor University, Slovenia and Colorado School of Mines, USA.

News and filters

Get updated on news that match your filter.