Water Management R&D Research Areas

water-research-focus-area.pngThe Water Management and Research program focuses in three main areas: optimizing water usage, non-traditional sources of water, and energy water analysis. These research areas allow for concentrated efforts in reducing water consumption across fossil-fueled power generating plants, and developing cost-effective, transformational technologies that enhance plant performance and reduce carbon emissions.

Water Management R&D efforts support the goals of reducing the amount of freshwater used by power plants and minimizing any potential impacts of plant operations on water quality. Water Management R&D also addresses utilization concerns such as drought analysis impacts and the need for systems engineering and analysis efforts to better define industry needs.


U.S. Water Withdrawal
Coal Fired Units - County Level

U.S Water Consumption
Coal Fired Units - County Level

In concert with the Water-Energy Nexus initiative, the challenge for this initiative centers on reducing water use and consumption for thermoelectric power generation. Thermoelectric power generation accounts for over 40% of freshwater withdrawals (143 billion gallons of water per day) and over 3% of freshwater consumption (4 billion gallons per day) in the United States. Crosscutting research is needed to lead a critical national effort directed at removing barriers to sustainable, efficient water and energy use, developing technology solutions, and enhancing understanding of the intimate relationship between energy and water resources.  


U.S. Freshwater Withdrawal
USGS, Estimated Use of Water
in the United States in 2005,
USGS Circular 1344, 2009

U.S. Freshwater Consumption
USGS, Estimated Use of Water
in the United States in 1995,
USGS Circular 1200, 1998


Process Efficiency

Improvements in heat transfer technology and better thermal integration of power plant systems (particularly new plants that include carbon capture technologies) will need greater efficiency to reduce their water needs.


Energy and Water Interface

To develop domestic energy resources and protect the water supply while providing reliable power in the 21st century.

Water Treatment

Research is being performed in this program area to develop advanced technologies to reuse power plant cooling water and associated waste heat and to investigate methods to recover water from power plant flue gas. Considering the quantity of water withdrawn and consumed by power plants, any recovery or reuse of this water can significantly reduce the plant’s water requirements. Water treatment research is focused on high dissolved solids waste streams.

Data Collection, Modeling, and Analysis

The focus is to improve the quality and amount of data collected, conduct comprehensive modeling efforts of complex systems, and provide crosscutting analyses to help inform decision-makers and support policy development. Stakeholder decision making must target qualitative and quantitative scenarios, probabilistic approaches, insights into system shocks and extremes, and improved characterization of uncertainties.

Environmental Control Concepts
The Environmental Control has conducted an integrated R&D effort directed at technologies and concepts to reduce the amount of freshwater used by power plants and to minimize any potential impacts of plant operations on water quality. The vision for the this program area is to develop 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. To accomplish this crosscutting research is needed to lead a critical national RD&D effort directed at removing barriers to sustainable, efficient water and energy use, develop technology solutions, and enhance understanding of the intimate relationship between energy and water resources.

Benefit Analyses
The Program is focused on the key benefit of increases in process efficiency and performance, reduction of environmental risk, and opportunities to lower cost with the introduction of new technologies improved efficiency, increased availability, improved systems performance, and advanced systems modeling.

Water Management R&D Summary Level Benefits

  • Advanced techniques improve cycle efficiencies and waste heat and water recovery within the plant that can save:
    • 8.3 billion tons of water per year
    • Reduce capital and operating costs of fossil-fuel plants
  • Water reuse and treatment technologies are vital for plant efficiency
    • Resistant membrane would increase reuse of treated effluent by 50% at 180,000 mg/L
    • Result in a 35%-90% cost reduction when compared to existing membranes
    • Turbo expander reduces treatment costs of high-salinity water by 20%
    • COHO (CO2-H2O) combines forward osmosis membrane and CO2-based draw process that reduces the volume of wastewater.

Note: Analysis based on 2011 coal costs and 2011 coal-fired power plant fleet
Source: 2014. Carney, B., Shuster, E. "Exploring the Possibilities: The NETL Power Plant Water Program." Cornerstone: The Official Journal of the World Coal Industry.