This study aimed to optimise an air gap membrane distillation (AGMD) system for seawater desalination with respect to distillate production as well as thermal and electrical energy consumption. Pilot evaluation data shows a notable influence of evaporator inlet temperature and water circulation rate on process performance. An increase in both distillate production rate and energy efficiency could be obtained by increasing the evaporator inlet temperature. On the other hand, there was a trade-off between the distillate
production rate and energy efficiency when the water circulation rate varied. Increasing the water circulation rate resulted in an improvement in the distillate production rate, but also an increase in both specific thermal and electrical energy consumption. Given the small driving force used in the pilot AGMD, discernible impact of feed salinity on process performance could be observed, while the effects of temperature and concentration polarisation were small. At the optimum operating conditions identified in this study, a stable AGMD operation for seawater desalination could be achieved with specific thermal
and electrical energy consumption of 90 and 0.13 kW h/m3, respectively. These values demonstrate the commercial viability of AGMD for small-scale and off-grid seawater desalination where solar thermal or low-grade heat sources are readily available.