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World Water Day
NETL’s Pioneering Research Supports the Goals of International World Water Day

On Monday, March 22, 2021, NETL will join with the global community to observe World Water Day, a time designated by the United Nations to draw attention to the fact that 2.2 billion people live without access to safe water.

“As the demand for clean, fresh water increases both nationally and globally, NETL continues to expand its research portfolio to ensure that water is used in the most efficient and environmentally sound manner possible while producing clean and reliable energy. Energy production accounts for about 40% of water withdrawals and about 10% of consumption in the U.S.; therefore, the work we do at NETL is critically important to environmental sustainability,” said NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

Photo 1NETL executes and manages a wide spectrum of in-house and external projects targeting both water availability and quality issues. Projects include researching new technologies to reduce cooling water demand, to use non-traditional sources of water for thermoelectric generation and resource recovery, and to treat and recover valuable products from the effluents of mining and drilling operations.

These projects, which range in scope from modeling and analysis to early stage research and fully realized commercial solutions, highlight NETL’s diverse capabilities and competencies that can help solve existing and emerging water issues in the energy sector and beyond.

Research on water-related issues is carried out in a synergistic manner across NETL programs. The Lab leverages its unique capabilities in machine learning, advanced data analytics, carbon capture and storage, critical minerals and rare earth element (REE) recovery, and systems modeling and analysis to discover solutions and address the critical link between sustainable energy and water.

Collectively, these activities support the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Security Grand Challenge, an initiative to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure and affordable water.

NETL has discovered and refined technologies to remove lead and other harmful metals from municipal drinking water supplies. The Lab’s technology relies on sorbents that collect molecules of another substance by either physical or chemical sorption. The product was developed using basic immobilized amine/silica (BIAS) formulations, which were deployed to sort gases and capture carbon dioxide from power plants.

NETL researchers saw other implications for the technology and created a product that can remove heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, from drinking water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

The Lab’s water-energy research portfolio also includes projects that focus on extracting REEs and critical minerals, which are used to build components for wind turbines, computers, medical devices, smart phones and other valuable products, from acid mine drainage (AMD), a significant source of water pollution in multiple states that results in ecological destruction in watersheds and contaminated water sources.

In a recent field test at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, located near Settlers Cabin Park, NETL researchers demonstrated that BIAS can successfully extract REEs from AMD generated by abandoned mining operations. The technology could provide municipalities and property owners with an option to raise revenue to pay for environmental mitigation.
NETL and its partners have developed advanced technologies applicable to the recovery, treatment and reuse of water for energy production. The ClearSky® Plume Abatement System developed by SPX in partnership with NETL is a commercial technology to minimize cooling plumes and reduce evaporative water loss.

The moisture capture technology recovers an average of 18% of the water evaporated from a cooling tower, offering an economical and environmentally friendly solution for reducing the amount of water used by fossil energy power plants.

For more information about these and other projects, visit where you can also sign up for NETL’s Water-Energy Quarterly e-Newsletter.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.