Colorado State University (CSU) researchers are embarking on two groundbreaking projects with the aim of significantly reducing the energy costs associated with water desalination and purification. These initiatives, funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), align with the program’s overarching goal of revolutionizing the cost and energy landscape of desalination over the next five years, addressing the growing global need for drinkable saltwater.
The most effective method for desalination currently involves reverse osmosis filtration systems, which exert substantial pressure over extended periods to force saltwater through tiny membrane passages. However, the energy intensity of this process, especially on a large scale, remains a significant challenge.
Led by Steven Conrad, associate professor of systems engineering, the first project aims to enhance energy grid efficiency by identifying opportunities for energy conservation and management between filtration desalination plants and their connected power grids. The team, in collaboration with partners such as the Electric Power Research Institute, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, The Salt River Project (AZ), and the Water Replenishment District (CA), will model and select optimal ways to integrate existing water treatment plants with modern electric grids. The objective is to leverage new technology and sustainable energy processes to reduce overall system costs, with a total project value of approximately $900,000.
Co-led by Tiezheng Tong, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Jason Quinn, professor of mechanical engineering, the second project focuses on lowering the cost and energy requirements for achieving zero-liquid discharge in desalination. Addressing the energy-intensive brine crystallization step, the team, in collaboration with Washington University in St. Louis, Clarkson University, Argonne National Laboratory, and OLI Systems, Inc., will explore sustainable approaches to improve efficiency and reduce carbon intensity. This project carries a total award of $1.3 million, with CSU receiving $295,000.
Both projects, set to commence in December 2023 and lasting at least two years, anticipate contributing to the development of better desalination technology. By lowering energy costs, these initiatives aim to mitigate the environmental impact of traditional water transportation and make clean drinking water more accessible, particularly in regions like the U.S. Pacific Southwest. With a commitment to creating water treatment systems with minimal negative impacts, CSU endeavors to provide a valuable tool for meeting global water needs.
The projects also underscore CSU’s dedication to advancing water technology and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration to address societal challenges at a profound level. As these endeavors unfold, they are expected to not only benefit graduate students involved in the research but also offer broader value to the global community.