Brine (or briny water) is water with a high-concentration solution of salt (typically sodium chloride or calcium chloride). In diverse contexts, brine may refer to the salt solutions ranging from about 3.5% (a typical concentration of seawater, on the lower end of that of solutions used for brining foods) up to about 26% (a typical saturated solution, depending on temperature). Brine forms naturally due to evaporation of ground saline water but it is also generated in the mining of sodium chloride.[1] Brine is used for food processing and cooking (pickling and brining), for de-icing of roads and other structures, and in a number of technological processes. It is also a by-product of many industrial processes, such as desalination, so it requires wastewater treatment for proper disposal or further utilization (fresh water recovery).[2]

In nature

Main article: Saline water

A NASA technician measures the concentration level of brine using a hydrometer at a salt evaporation pond in San Francisco.

Brines are produced in multiple ways in nature. Modification of seawater via evaporation results in the concentration of salts in the residual fluid, a characteristic geologic deposit called an evaporite is formed as different dissolved ions reach the saturation states of minerals, typically gypsum and halite. Dissolution of such salt deposits into water can produce brines as well. As seawater freezes, dissolved ions tend to remain in solution resulting in a fluid termed a cryogenic brine. At the time of formation, these cryogenic brines are by definition cooler than the freezing temperature of seawater and can produce a feature called a brinicle where cool brines descend, freezing the surrounding seawater.

The brine cropping out at the surface as saltwater springs are known as "licks" or "salines".[3] The contents of dissolved solids in groundwater vary highly from one location to another on Earth, both in terms of specific constituents (e.g. halite, anhydrite, carbonates, gypsum, fluoride-salts, organic halides, and sulfate-salts) and regarding the concentration level. Using one of several classification of groundwater based on total dissolved solids (TDS), brine is water containing more than 100,000 mg/L TDS.[4] Brine is commonly produced during well completion operations, particularly after the hydraulic fracturing of a well.

Uses

Culinary

Main article: Brining

Brine is a common agent in food processing and cooking. Brining is used to preserve or season the food. Brining can be applied to vegetables, cheeses, fruit and some fish in a process known as pickling. Meat and fish are typically steeped in brine for shorter periods of time, as a form of marination, enhancing its tenderness and flavor, or to enhance shelf period.

Chlorine production

Main article: Chlorine production

Elemental chlorine can be produced by electrolysis of brine (NaCl solution). This process also produces sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and Hydrogen gas (H2). The reaction equations are as follows:

Refrigerating fluid

Brine is used as a secondary fluid in large refrigeration installations for the transport of thermal energy. Most commonly used brines are based on inexpensive calcium chloride and sodium chloride.[5] It is used because the addition of salt to water lowers the freezing temperature of the solution and the heat transport efficiency can be greatly enhanced for the comparatively low cost of the material. The lowest freezing point obtainable for NaCl brine is −21.1 °C (−6.0 °F) at the concentration of 23.3% NaCl by weight.[5] This is called the eutectic point.

Because of their corrosive properties salt-based brines have been replaced by organic liquids such as ethylene glycol.[6]

Sodium chloride brine spray is used on some fishing vessels to freeze fish.[7] The brine temperature is generally −5 °F (−21 °C). Air blast freezing temperatures are −31 °F (−35 °C) or lower. Given the higher temperature of brine, the system efficiency over air blast freezing can be higher. High-value fish usually are frozen at much lower temperatures, below the practical temperature limit for brine.

Water softening and purification

Brine is an auxiliary agent in water softening and water purification systems involving ion exchange technology. The most common example are household dishwashers, utilizing sodium chloride in form of dishwasher salt. Brine is not involved in the purification process itself, but used for regeneration of ion-exchange resin on cyclical basis. The water being treated flows through the resin container until the resin is considered exhausted and water is purified to a desired level. Resin is then regenerated by sequentially backwashing the resin bed to remove accumulated solids, flushing removed ions from the resin with a concentrated solution of replacement ions, and rinsing the flushing solution from the resin.[8] After treatment, ion-exchange resin beads saturated with calcium and magnesium ions from the treated water, are regenerated by soaking in brine containing 6–12% NaCl. The sodium ions from brine replace the calcium and magnesium ions on the beads.[9][10]

De-icing

In lower temperatures, a brine solution can be used to de-ice or reduce freezing temperatures on roads.[11]

Quenching

Quenching is a heat-treatment process when forging metals such as steel. A brine solution, along with oil and other substances, is commonly used to harden steel. When brine is used, there is an enhanced uniformity of the cooling process and heat transfer.[12]

Desalination

The desalination process consists of the separation of salts from an aqueous solution to obtain fresh water from a source of seawater or brackish water; and in turn, a discharge is generated, commonly called brine.[13]

Marine brine discharge in Chile with its surrounding marine life

Characteristics

The characteristics of the discharge depend on different factors, such as the desalination technology used, salinity and quality of the water used, environmental and oceanographic characteristics, desalination process carried out, among others.[14] The discharge of desalination plants by seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO), are mainly characterized by presenting a salinity concentration that can, in the worst case, double the salinity of the seawater used, and unlike of thermal desalination plants, have practically the same temperature and dissolved oxygen as the seawater used.[15][16]

Dissolved chemicals

The discharge could contain trace chemical products used during the industrial treatments applies,such as antiscalants,[17] coagulants, flocculantswhich are discarded together with the discharge, and which could affect the physical-chemical quality of the effluent. However, these are practically consumed during the process and the concentrations in the discharge are very low, which are practically diluted during the discharge, without affecting marine ecosystems.[18][19]

Heavy metals

The materials used in SWRO plants are dominated by non-metallic components and stainless steels, since lower operating temperatures allow the construction of desalination plants with more corrosion-resistant coatings.[20][14] Therefore, the concentration values of heavy metals in the discharge of SWRO plants are much lower than the acute toxicity levels to generate environmental impacts on marine ecosystems.[21][14][22]

Discharge

The discharge is generally dumped back into the sea, through an underwater outfall or coastal release, due to its lower energy and economic cost compared to other discharge methods.[19][23] Due to its increase in salinity, the discharge has a greater density compared to the surrounding seawater. Therefore, when the discharge reaches the sea, it can form a saline plume that can tends to follow the bathymetric line of the bottom until it is completely diluted.[24][25][26] The distribution of the salt plume may depend on different factors, such as the production capacity of the plant, the discharge method, the oceanographic and environmental conditions of the discharge point, among others.[15][24][23][27]

Marine environment

Brine discharge might lead to an increase in salinity above certain threshold levels that has the potential to affect benthic communities, especially those more sensitive to osmotic pressure, finally having an effect on their abundance and diversity.[28][29][30]

However, if appropriate mitigation measures are applied, the potential environmental impacts of discharges from SWRO plants can be correctly minimized.[19][27] Some examples can be found in countries such as Spain, Israel, Chile or Australia, in which the mitigation measures adopted reduce the area affected by the discharge, guaranteeing a sustainable development of the desalination process without significant impacts on marine ecosystems.[31][32][33][34][35][27][36] When noticeable effects have been detected on the environment surrounding discharge areas, it generally corresponds to old desalination plants in which the correct mitigation measures were not implemented.[37][31][38] Some examples can be found in Spain, Australia or Chile, where it has been shown that saline plumes do not exceed values of 5% with respect to the natural salinity of the sea in a radius less than 100 m from the point of discharge when proper measures are adopted.[33][27]

Mitigation measures

The mitigation measures that are typically employed to prevent negatively impact sensitive marine enviorment are listed below:[39][40][41]

Regulation

Currently, in many countries, such as Spain, Israel, Chile and Australia, the development of a rigorous environmental impact assessment process is required, both for the construction and operational phases.[42][43][44] During its developent, the most important legal management tools are established within the local environmental regulation, to prevent and adopt mitigation measures that guarantee the sustainable development of desalination projects. This includes a series of administrative tools and periodic environmental monitoring, to adopt preventive, corrective and further monitoring measures of the state of the surrounding marine environment.[45][46]

Under the context of this environmental assessment process, numerous countries require compliance with an Environmental Monitoring Program (PVA), in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the preventive and corrective measures established during the environmental assessment process, and thus guarantee the operation of desalination plants without producing significant environmental impacts.[47][48] The PVAs establishes a series of mandatory requirements that are mainly related to the monitoring of discharge, using a series of measurements and characterizations based on physical-chemical and biological information.[47][48] In addition, the PVAs could also include different requirements related to monitoring the effects of seawater intake and those that may potentially be related to effects on the terrestrial environment.

Wastewater

Main article: Industrial wastewater treatment § Brine treatment

Brine is a byproduct of many industrial processes, such as desalination, power plant cooling towers, produced water from oil and natural gas extraction, acid mine or acid rock drainage, reverse osmosis reject, chlor-alkali wastewater treatment, pulp and paper mill effluent, and waste streams from food and beverage processing. Along with diluted salts, it can contain residues of pretreatment and cleaning chemicals, their reaction byproducts and heavy metals due to corrosion.

Wastewater brine can pose a significant environmental hazard, both due to corrosive and sediment-forming effects of salts and toxicity of other chemicals diluted in it.[49]

Unpolluted brine from desalination plants and cooling towers can be returned to the ocean. From the desalination process, reject brine is produced, which proposes potential damages to the marine life and habitats.[50] To limit the environmental impact, it can be diluted with another stream of water, such as the outfall of a wastewater treatment or power plant. Since brine is heavier than seawater and would accumulate on the ocean bottom, it requires methods to ensure proper diffusion, such as installing underwater diffusers in the sewerage.[51] Other methods include drying in evaporation ponds, injecting to deep wells, and storing and reusing the brine for irrigation, de-icing or dust control purposes.[49]

Technologies for treatment of polluted brine include: membrane filtration processes, such as reverse osmosis and forward osmosis; ion exchange processes such as electrodialysis or weak acid cation exchange; or evaporation processes, such as thermal brine concentrators and crystallizers employing mechanical vapour recompression and steam. New methods for membrane brine concentration, employing osmotically assisted reverse osmosis and related processes, are beginning to gain ground as part of zero liquid discharge systems (ZLD).[52]

Composition and purification

Brine consists of concentrated solution of Na+ and Cl ions. Sodium chloride per se does not exist in water: it is fully ionized. Other cations found in various brines include K+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and Sr2+. The latter three are problematic because they form scale and they react with soaps. Aside from chloride, brines sometimes contain Br and I and, most problematically, SO2−
4
. Purification steps often include the addition of calcium oxide to precipitate solid magnesium hydroxide together with gypsum (CaSO4), which can be removed by filtration. Further purification is achieved by fractional crystallization. The resulting purified salt is called evaporated salt or vacuum salt.[1]

See also

References

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