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Senior & Graduate Students

Design and Simulation of a Humidification-Dehumidification process

for Seawater Desalination
Rana Sabouni, Afra Al-Tayyarri, Huda Obaid, Lila Murad, Shymaa Al-Molla
Muftah H. El-Naas, muftah@uaeu.ac.ae and Mohamed Abdulkarim,
Chemical & Petroleum Engineering Department,
U.A.E. University, Al-Ain, P.O. Box: 17555, U.A.E.

The UAE depends heavily on seawater desalination for fresh water supply, producing about
13% of the world production. In this study, a new desalination process using
humidification/dehumidification technology is designed and simulated. The process consists
of two columns: the first is used as a stripper for humidification, while the second is used as a
two-phase separator for dehumidification. Dry air is heated and fed to the first column, where
it is humidified by the seawater feed. The humid air then enters the second column
(dehumidification column), where condensation and separation take place. The fresh water is
collected at the bottom of the dehumidification column. A full process was designed and
simulated using HYSYS. Cost estimation and a HAZOP study were carried out to assess the
economical and environmental impacts pertaining to the process. The study confirms that the
process is a promising option for water desalination.

Water is a basic human requirement for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. The continuous rise
in the worlds population and the expansion of industrial facilities around the globe have resulted in
growing demand for fresh water supply from natural resources (rivers, fresh water lakes, and brackish
wells). These resources have been steadily declining in quality due to industrial, agricultural and domestic
wastes. Therefore the need for new fresh water resources to balance the growing consumption rate has been
a serious concern facing governments and world organizations for the past 50 years. The fact that 96% of
the earths surface is covered with saline water has been a substantial catalyst for developing water
desalination technologies. Today, there are more than 7500 desalination plants in operation worldwide and
about two thirds of those are operating in the Middle East [1].

Due to the limited resources in UAE, the government is looking for different sources of water. The GCC
(Gulf Countries Council) countries including the UAE have dry climates, soil conditions and long coasts
with limited natural sources of fresh water. These areas are mostly covered with sands and the weather is
hot and humid in summer and warm in winter. The evaporation rate of water is rather high and the annual
rainfall rate does not exceed 200 mm in any of the GCC countries. In addition, the GCC countries lack
natural sources for freshwater such as rivers and lakes. Also, ground water is limited and may contain some
human contamination.

In the United Arab Emirates, desalination of seawater is considered nowadays as the main source of
freshwater to fulfill the growing demand due to the increase in population and the development that the
U.A.E. is witnessing in various fields.

The main objective of this project is to design, model and simulate a Humidification Dehumidification
process with high efficiency to desalinate UAE seawater. The project involves experimentation, process
design, process simulation , as well as environmental and economical evaluation.

Experiments were carried out to examine the effect of different parameters on the process and to determine
the optimum conditions. Two sets of experiments were conducted; the objective of the first set is to
examine the effect of feed temperature on the humidity of the air leaving the humidification column
(packed column). The results are shown in Table 1.

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Table 1: Results of four runs on the humidification column.

Water, T(oC) Air, T(oC)

Tin Tout Humidity
Air Water
stream stream Tin Tout Td Tw Td Tw Inlet Outlet
Cold Cold 18.89 18 23.3 19.5 20 81 80 48
Hot Hot 37.8 26.5 46.1 25 31.1 18 31 48
Cold Hot 35 23 25.5 19 26.7 15.5 68 52
Hot Cold 25 23 50 28 40 30 28 55

From the above results it is found that, two runs (namely, the second and fourth runs) did meet the goal of
this experiment, where the humidity of air leaving the packed column (humidification column) was higher
than the humidity of air entering the packed column. However, in the other two runs (namely, first and
third) the humidity of air leaving the humidification column decreased compared with humidity of air
entering the humidification column and that was contrary to the objective of this experiment. Analyses of
the product water for the two optimum runs are shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Analysis for saline water properties.

Volume (ml) TDS (mg/L) Conductivity (c/cm)
Feed 16500 49600
25 6730 1960
Product water 59 1150 348

Material balance calculations represent an essential part of the design of any chemical engineering process..
In general it is done in order to find the flow rates, compositions and temperatures for each stream in the
process [2]. Summery of the materials balances are shown the tables 3, 4, and 5. The following figure
represents the flow sheet of material balance:

TAo,mAo Air (m A2)

Tw = 60oC
mw =1000 kg/hr


TA = 30oC
mA= 2000 kg/hr
yAi = 0.98
Reject Product (mw2)

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Table 3: The assumption to solve the process. Table 4: Material balance on the stripper.
Give Data: mAo(kg/h) 2097.1
mw (kg/hr) 1000 mwo(kg/h) 903
Tw (oC) 60 yAo 0.94
Cpw (kJ/kg.oC) 4.1
Xwo 0.06
mA (kg/hr) 2000
TA (oC) 30 Cpavrg(kJ/kg.oC) 2.037
CpA (kJ/kg.oC) 1.0057 TAo(oC) 50.1
yA 0.98 Two(oC) 54.2
Xw 0.02
TA2 (oC) 30

Table 5: Material balance on the separator (DHC).

mw2(kg/hr) ? O? 5
mA2(kg/hr) 2000
yA2 0.68
xw2 0.32
Tw2(oC) 33

The energy balance calculations were done to determine the process energy requirements such as heating
and cooling (as shown in the figure below). Summery of the calculated energy requirements is shown in
Table 6. The following are the assumptions and procedure of the energy balance calculations:

1- Reference temperature used = 23oC at 1 atm.
2- The air is ideal gas

Twi=23oC Tw=60oC mA2

Two phase separator

Heater Pump

TAi=23oC TA=30oC

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Table 6: Summary of energy requirements.

Unit Power (kW)

Pump 0.22
Blower 54
Air Heater 4
Water Heater 42


The parametric study was carried out to simulate the effect of inlet temperatures and inlet flow rates of
saline water and air on the production of desalinated water. For each simulation case, one parameter was
varied while others were kept constant. Summary of the results is shown in Table 7.

Fig. 5.1: HYSYS program simulation process.

Table 7: Summarized results for the parametric simulation study.

Parametric studied Effect
Varying temperature of inlet air No affect on the water production
(above and below 30oC)
Varying the flow rate of inlet air Water production decreased
(above and below 2000 kg/hr)
Varying temperature of saline water Water production decreased
(above and below 60 oC)
Varying the flow rate of saline water Water production decreased
(above and below 1000 kg/hr)

In all air-water contact systems, heat and mass transfer occur simultaneously, which makes the analysis of
these systems rather complicated. However, for air-water systems a major simplification can be made by
assuming that mass and heat transfer equations are analogous. According to this analogy, the essential
equations for HTUNTU are derived based on the heat transfer equations (for countercurrent column shown
in Figure 6.1. The equations are written for specific case where the liquid (water) cools (mainly by

STD - 120 The Seventh Annual U.A.E. University Research Conference

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evaporation) as it goes down the column, and the gas (air) becomes hotter as it rises up the column [3].
Calculation results are summarized in Table 8.

Y w, out
H y, out

Y w, in T w, out
H y, in

Fig. 6.1: Countercurrent humidification column.

Table 8: Summary results of stripping column design.

Number of Transfer Unit (m) 0.5

Height of Transfer Unit (m) 0.7
Packing Height (m) 0.35
Flooding velocity (m/s) 4704
Area (m2) 0.4
Diameter of the column (m) 0.7
Total Height of the Column (m) 2.57
Material construction of the column Stainless steel clad
Material construction of packing Stainless steel

6.2 Design of Gas-Liquid Separator

A vertical separator is used to separate the fresh water from the hot humid air that consist some water. In
the separator, the fluids enter the vessel striking a diverting baffle, which initiates primary separation.
Liquid water removed by the inlet baffle falls to the bottom of the vessel. The gas moves upward, usually
passing through a mist extractor to remove suspended mist, and then dry gas flows out. Liquid removed by
the mist extractor is coalesced into larger droplets, which then fall through the gas to the liquid reservoir in
the bottom. According to the separator conditions, carbon steel was selected as material of construction.
Streams flow rates and vessel dimensions are presented in tables 9 and 10.

Table 9: Gas and liquid flow rates Table 10: Vessel dimensions

Species m (kg/hr) Terminal velocity 2.3 m/sec

Air 1960 Diameter 0.5 m
H2O 137.05 Height 1.5 m
Total 2097.05

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6.3 Design of Storage Tanks
The first tank is used for storing the saline water, which is used as feed for separation process. It is located
before the humidification column (before saline water pump). Material of construction for saline water tank
is carbon steel (clad), because of the present of salts in the water. The second tank is the production water
tank. These vertical cylindrical tanks, with flat bases and conical roofs, are universally used for the bulk
storage of liquids at atmospheric conditions. Carbon steel was chosen as material of construction because of
low temperature of the product water [4]. Specifications and dimensions for the two tanks are given in
Tables 11 and 12.

Table 11: Specifications for two storage tanks. Table 12: Storage tank dimensions.
Tank (1) Tank (2)
Tank (1) Tank (2)
Liquid flow rate (kg/hr) 1000 97.05 Volume (m3) 1 1.94
Time (min) 30 300 Diameter (m) 1.1 1.1
Height (m) 2.2 2.2

A detailed assessment of the total cost for the process was carried out. Summaries of the purchase cost for
different pieces of equipment and the total process cost are shown in the tables 13 and 14 [5].

Table 13: Purchase cost of major equipments (PCE).

Equipment Purchased cost (US$)

Water Heater 1855
Product pump 1126
Product Storage tank 5500
Stripping column 11293
Two phase separator 4500
Feed pump 1745
Air Blower 39810
Air Heater 497
Feed Storage tank 7500
Total (PCE) 73826

Table 14: Summary of process costs.

Item of cost US $
Total physical plant cost 297,666
Fixed capital 431,615
Total Investment cost 517,938
Operating cost 208,981
A. Fixed cost 207,878
B. Variable cost 1103
Direct production cost 208,982
Sales expenses 41,796
Annual production cost 250,778
Production cost $/kg 0.3
Profit 161,446
Return on Investment (years) 3.39

STD - 122 The Seventh Annual U.A.E. University Research Conference

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This project was dedicated to the design of a new desalination plant using Humidification-Dehumidification
technology. Experiments and computer simulations using HYSYS were carried out to determine the
optimum conditions for the process. The plant was designed to produce 97 kg/hr of desalinated water
using 1000 kg/hr of saline water and 2000 kg/hr of air as feed. The capital and operating costs for the plant
were estimated. The overall assessment of the plant cost indicated that the plant could pay back for the total
investment in a period of about three years and eight months (3.39 years).

The outcome of this project confirms that the humidification and de-humidification process is a promising
option for water desalination, and it is environmental friendly compared with other traditional techniques. It
is also very versatile, relatively portable, and can be applied to remote areas.

The authors would like to express their thanks and appreciations to the technicians at the Chemical and
Petroleum Engineering Department for their help with the experimental work. Special thanks are due to
Mr. Sami Abulallah for his help.

[1] James F. Klausner, Mohamed Darwish, and Renwei Mei, Desalination, Innovative
Diffusion Driven Desalination Process
[2] Richard M.Felder, Elementary Principles of Chemical Processes, Third edition, Wiely,
[3] Phillip C. Wankat, Separation in Chemical Engineering: Equilibrium staged separations,
Prentice Hall, 1988.
[4] Walas, S.M., Chemical Process Equipment: Selection and Design, Butterworths,
Stoneham, MA, 1998.
[5] Sinnott R.K., Chemical Engineering Design, Third edition, 1999.

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