The negative effect of an air gap layer presented between the membrane and cooling plate on air gap membrane distillation (AGMD) performance was diminished largely by inserting a water gap membrane distillation (WGMD) module in series. The new design of air-gap–water-gap membrane distillation (AG-WG)MD was evaluated experimentally by comparing with an AGMD system under different operating conditions. In theory, mass and heat transfer in the new (AG-WG)MD and imitative AGMD systems were analyzed. Experimental outcomes showed that a new (AG-WG)MD design profoundly enhanced flux (Pd) and gained output ratio (GOR), and greatly decreased energy consumption (STEC) and heat input (EH.I). At a concentration of 5,000 mg/L, coolant temperature of 20 °C, and flow rate of 18 L/h, Pd was promoted by 76.26%, 40.84%, 35.45%, 30.91%, and GOR by 46.38%, 33.46%, 31.27%, 26.65%, in addition to STEC being reduced about 55.63%, 46.81%, 43.66%, 38.30%, and EH.I around 31.31%, 25.84%, 23.53%, 20.55%, from the AGMD to (AG-WG)MD system at feed temperatures of 50 °C, 60 °C, 70 °C, and 80 °C, respectively. The outcomes proved that the AGMD performance could be significantly promoted by integrating with WGMD in a combined MD system. This combination increased the temperature difference across the membrane and decreased thermal-concentration boundary layers for the AGMD system.

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