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Water Management
NETL Water Management, Treatment and Analysis Noted as Part of International World Water Day

NETL technology research and innovation dedicated to more efficient energy-related water management approaches and recovery of heavy metals like lead and useful rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic water supplies are being highlighted by the Laboratory March 22 as part of its recognition of International World Water Day — a United Nations designated time for reflecting on the importance of water in daily life.

World Water Day was established in 1993 to increase awareness and action dedicated to sustainably managing water resources.

NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., explained that NETL is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) only national laboratory dedicated to fossil energy research and has a long and distinguished record of performing water management research and development because of the heavy use of water in energy production.

“Water research encompasses the need to reduce the amount of freshwater used by power plants and minimize potential impacts of plant operations on water quality,” Anderson said. “NETL is developing a 21st Century America that can count on abundant, sustainable fossil energy and water resources to achieve the flexibility, efficiency, reliability and environmental quality essential for continued security and economic health.”

One example is an innovative new technology capable of removing lead from municipal drinking water supplies that was developed by the Laboratory’s McMahan Gray. Gray and his team created absorbent materials that can remove lead from water supplies and be regenerated and put back into service once it “fills up” — a significant technology contribution to safer, cleaner water. A video about the technology is available here.

Sorbents are materials or substances that collect molecules of another substance by either physical or chemical sorption. Only 100 microns in diameter, the tiny white pellet looks like a grain of very fine sand. When ounces or even pounds of these pellets are put together, they can remove contaminants down to the parts per trillion level,

Gray’s product was developed using basic immobilized amine/silica (BIAS) formulations to sort gases and capture CO2 from coal-burning power plants. Recognizing implications for other essential functions, Gray and his team adapted the award-winning CO2 capture technology to create a product can remove heavy metals, like lead and mercury, and even rare earth elements (REEs), from water. In addition to a home-based application, the technology can also be adapted to treat municipal and industrial wastewater on a large scale.

One key application of the work is a home-based water filter that can be recycled repeatedly, saving money and resources. The home-based application can remove lead that water may pick up as it moves through pipes from previously treated municipal sources to individual houses, and its regenerative/recycling capability makes it environmentally desirable.

While the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, made headlines, contaminated water continues to affect many Americans. Filters using Gray’s technology could allow millions of Americans to economically control the quality of the water they use every day. More NETL commercialization information about the technology is available here.

Meanwhile, NETL continues to address water use in power generation. Thermoelectric power generation accounts for more than 40 percent of freshwater withdrawals (143 billion gallons of water per day) and more than 3 percent of freshwater consumption (4 billion gallons per day) in the United States.  As the cost associated with water consumption increases, so will the need for water treatment, recovery, and reuse.

NETL is working to reduce energy related water consumption by developing more efficient power generation technologies that can increase water re-use or incorporate alternative sources of water through treatment. NETL’s analysis team models how and when water is used by energy systems to identify how technology can reduce the water needs of power plants and other energy systems. These analyses will result in helping to better inform decision-makers and scientists about how to effectively manage energy and water resources in the 21st Century.

Anderson said NETL recognizes International World Water Day by continuing its efforts to provide effective energy-related water management technologies and analysis and develop effective new products that can improve the lives of people on a global basis.