The US Department of Energy this week announced awards totaling $27.5 million for 16 water infrastructure projects. Modern technology has the potential to reduce energy use in aging water infrastructure, particularly in wastewater treatment, which demands up to 2% of domestic electricity use each year. These projects, operating in 13 states, have the potential to reduce carbon emissions and water-treatment costs while improving water quality and equity of distribution nationwide. Each team will work to bring new water and wastewater-treatment technologies from the applied research and development stage to commercial readiness.
“We can’t leave any stones unturned on the road to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which is why DOE is diving into making our water infrastructure more energy efficient” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a press release. “By modernizing our water infrastructure, we can reduce electricity demand and turn water utilities into clean energy producers. The next-generation innovations DOE is investing in will also lower costs while increasing access to clean water for Americans, and drive us toward a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future.”
In recent years, a growing number of utilities responsible for clean water have moved from strict wastewater treatment to a broader model of water-resource management. This involves collecting and treating wastewater along with cleaning waterways, producing water grades suitable for industry and agriculture along with drinkable water for households, and recovering energy. Energy efficiency in equipment, processes, and operations is a fundamental part of this transition, and facility retrofits can yield energy savings as high as 50%. The wastewater these utilities treat is also a potential source of thermal, chemical, and hydraulic energy — and contains five times more of this energy than what is necessary to treat it. With the right technology, it’s possible to convert wastewater into renewable power, along with chemicals, fertilizers, and reusable water.
The 16 projects selected by DOE — led by teams from universities, water utilities, manufacturers, national laboratories, and small and minority-owned businesses — will help provide sustainable water sources and affordable treatment options to industry, municipalities, agriculture, utilities, and the oil and gas sector. They are based out of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Virginia.
These projects will tackle several objectives, including:
- Developing widely applicable treatment processes to produce renewable power, extract chemicals and fertilizers, and reuse water locally, while simultaneously minimizing energy consumption and waste generation
- Evaluating flexible grid service for opportunities to generate biopower from wastewater
- Deploying artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive process controls to improve resilience and efficiency
- Addressing environmental justice and social inequities produced by lack of access to clean water among rural and Native communities
- Improving wastewater-treatment options for agriculture and livestock