An analytical flow-by capacitive deionization model

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In flow-by capacitive deionization (CDI) brackish water flows between two electrodes that capacitively remove salt. We assume low inlet concentrations so “salt shocks” appear in the electrodes and the process becomes diffusion-limited. For unit charge efficiency, a simplified model is derived consisting of two coupled partial differential equations. We obtain approximations, and exact solutions in terms of the Lambert W function, for the salt concentration as a function of time and space and for the equilibrium charge-voltage relation. These surprisingly simple solutions compare well with the results from comprehensive two-dimensional simulations. Useful analytical expressions are obtained for optimal geometrical and operational parameters that maximize the productivity and minimize the specific energy losses. By making cells much thinner the productivity can be increased an order of magnitude compared to typical values in the literature. The optimal electrode is found to be roughly six times thinner than the spacer. The associated pressure drop is around 0.4 bar per 1 mM of inlet salt concentration, making our recommendations practically feasible only for relatively low concentrations. The obtained model and analytical expressions provide useful guidance to strongly improve the design process.