NISKAYUNA, N.Y. — Nov. 10, 2015 — Researchers from GE are using steam turbine technology to cool and treat salty water as part of a desalination project with the U.S. Department of Energy, according to a press release.

Drawing on GE’s experience with steam turbines, oil & gas compressors, 3D printing and water processing, chemical engineers have developed a 3D printed mini-turbine to compress and stream a mixture of air, salt and water through a hyper-cooling loop that freezes seawater, noted the release. This process naturally separates the salt in solid form, leaving just the ice which is then melted, leaving clean water.

GE claims that if it proves successful, such a system could reduce the cost of water desalination by as much as 20 percent, stated the release.

“Cooling the salty water, or brine droplets, by expanding cold gas in the turbine would greatly reduce the energy required for desalination,” explained Douglas Hofer, a GE steam turbine specialist who is leading the development of the turbine technology, in the release. “The heat transfer between the cooling gas and brine would be much more efficient compared to conventional thermal desalination systems.”

“97.5 percent of the earth’s water supply is virtually inaccessible because water desalination is still too expensive and difficult to deploy at a large scale. By putting desalination ‘on ice,’ we hope to change that dynamic,” added Vitali Lissianski, a chemical engineer and project leader at GE’s Energy Systems Lab, in the release. “Freezing seawater to treat it is nothing new, but the way we are doing it is very different. We’re tapping into our wealth of technical knowledge in turbomachinery to devise a cost-effective solution.”

The program with the Department of Energy will continue through mid-summer of next year, with GE aiming to demonstrate the feasibility of its new concept, reported the release.

You can find the entire release here.