On the Potential of Using Dual-Function Hydrogels for Brackish Water Desalination
Although current desalination technologies are mature enough and advanced, the shortage of freshwater is still considered as one of the most pressing global issues. Therefore, there is a strong incentive to explore and investigate new potential methods with low energy consumption. We have previously reported that reversible thermally induced sorption/desorption process using polymeric hydrogels hold promise for water desalination with further development. In order to develop a more effective hydrogels architecture, polyelectrolyte moieties were introduced in this work as pendent chains and a thermally responsive polymer as network backbone using reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerisation. The ability of the comb-type polymeric hydrogels to desalinate water was evaluated. These hydrogels were proved to absorb water with low salinity from brine solution of 2 g L⁻¹ NaCl and release the absorbed water at relatively low temperature conditions of 50 °C. The fraction of the grafted polyacrylic acid and the comb-chain length were varied to understand their influence on the swelling/deswelling behaviour for these hydrogels. The ionic fraction in the hydrogels and the resulting hydrophilic/hydrophobic balance are crucial for the proposed desalination process. In contrast, the comb-chain length impacted the swelling behaviour of hydrogels but showed relatively little influence on the dewatering process.