Membrane capacitive deionization (MCDI) is a water desalination technology based on applying a cell voltage between two oppositely placed porous electrodes sandwiching a spacer channel that transports the water to be desalinated. In the salt removal step, ions are adsorbed at the carbon–water interface within the micropores inside the porous electrodes. After the electrodes reach a certain adsorption capacity, the cell voltage is reduced or even reversed, which leads to ion release from the electrodes and a concentrated salt solution in the spacer channel, which is flushed out, after which the cycle can start over again. Ion-exchange membranes are positioned in front of each porous electrode, which has the advantage of preventing the co-ions from leaving the electrode region during ion adsorption, while also allowing for ion desorption at reversed voltage. Both effects significantly increase the salt removal capacity of the system per cycle. The classical operational mode of MCDI at a constant cell voltage results in an effluent stream of desalinated water of which the salt concentration varies with time. In this paper, we propose a different operational mode for MCDI, whereby desalination is driven by a constant electrical current, which leads to a constant salt concentration in the desalinated stream over long periods of time. Furthermore, we show how the salt concentration of the desalinated stream can be accurately adjusted to a certain setpoint, by either varying the electrical current level and/or the water flow rate. Finally, we present an extensive dataset for the energy requirements of MCDI, both for operation at constant voltage and at constant current, and in both cases also for the related technology in which membranes are not included (CDI). We find consistently that in MCDI the energy consumption per mole of salt removed is lower than that in CDI. Within the range 10–200 mM ionic strength of the water to be treated, we find for MCDI a constant energy consumption of ∼22 kT per ion removed. Results in this work are an essential tool to evaluate the economic viability of MCDI for the treatment of saltwater.

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