Flow electrode capacitive deionization (FCDI) is a promising electrochemical technique for brackish water desalination; however, there are challenges in estimating the distribution of resistance and energy consumption inside a FCDI system, which hinders the optimization of the rate-limiting compartment. In this study, energy consumption of each FCDI component (e.g., flow electrodes, membranes and desalination chamber) was firstly described by using in situ potential measurement (ISPM). Results of this study showed that the energy consumption (EC) of the flow electrodes dominated under most conditions. While an increase in the carbon black content in the flow electrodes could improve the energy efficiency of the electrode component, consideration should be given to the contribution of ion exchange membranes (IEMs) and the desalination chamber to the EC. Based on the above analysis, system optimization was carried out by introducing IEMs with relatively low resistance and/or packing the desalination chamber with titanium meshes. Results showed that the voltage-driven desalination capability was increased by 39.3% with the EC reduced by 17.5% compared to the control, which overcame the tradeoff between the kinetic and energetic efficiencies. Overall, the present work facilitates our understanding of the potential drops across an FCDI system and provides insight to the optimization of system design and operation.

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