Return to NETL Home
Go to US DOE

U.S. Department of Energy
DOE Selects Five Innovative Water Management Projects

AUGUST 6, 2003  

Focus Is on Technologies and Concepts for Coal-fired Electric Utility Boilers

Q: What do zebra mussels and the water found in underground coal mines have in common?
A: Both will be studied as part of research funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) to address the intimate link between electricity generation and water.

As part of the first targeted solicitation under a new water-management initiative, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected five projects that will address water issues faced by coal-fired power plants. The projects will be funded on a cost-shared basis, with DOE contributing a total of $3.5 million over two years. Part of DOE's Innovations for Existing Plants program, the projects range from reducing water consumption by using coal-mine water for power plant cooling, to controlling zebra mussels, a species of mollusks not native to North America that can clog water-intake pipes. All of the projects support the President's National Energy Policy by helping the existing fleet of coal-based power systems meet current and future environmental requirements.

Processes for producing electricity from fossil fuels are highly dependent upon water. In the United States, about 25 gallons of water are needed for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated from coal. Indirectly, U.S. consumers may use as much water turning on lights and running appliances as they do taking showers and watering lawns. Protecting our freshwater resources while providing the energy needed to power the Nation into the 21st century is critically important.

In July 2002, NETL and two other DOE laboratories–Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories–cosponsored a workshop on the interdependency of water and electricity energy. Representatives from government, industry, and academia provided input on water and energy production issues. Based on their input, NETL issued the solicitation to develop cost-effective approaches to better manage freshwater use and minimize water-quality impacts at coal-fired power plants.

Three projects will investigate the use of non-traditional water sources to reduce the amount of fresh surface- and groundwater needed for power plant cooling and other process purposes:

  • West Virginia University Research Corporation will assess the feasibility of using underground coal-mine water to condense the steam generated in power plants. The amount of mine water available, the quality of the water, and the types of water treatment needed will be analyzed. The benefits of using mine water are two-fold: it may prevent flooded mines from overflowing into rivers and streams, which can damage ecosystems, and it may reduce the amount of fresh surface- and groundwater used in cooling towers. DOE award: $179,615; project duration: 12 months.

  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will evaluate the feasibility of using water produced from the extraction of coalbed methane to meet up to 25 percent of the cooling water needs at the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. To initiate the project, researchers will evaluate the quality, quantity, and location of the produced water. They will also evaluate the existing produced-water collection, transportation, and treatment systems for possible use in delivering cooling water to the generating station. EPRI is joined in this effort by team members Water and Waste Water Consultants, Public Service of New Mexico, Ceramem, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. DOE award: $578,444; project duration: 24 months.

  • University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (UNDEERC), with the Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation (SWPC), will seek to develop an economical and environmentally effective desiccant-based process to substantially reduce water consumption at coal-fired power plants by recovering a large amount of the water in the flue gas. The researchers will also determine how the process can be integrated into various power-generating systems to recover water, improve efficiency, and reduce emissions of acid gases and carbon dioxide. In addition to EERC and SWPC, this project will have an Industrial Advisory Board consisting of representatives of Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. and Basin Electric Power Cooperative. DOE award: $930,000; project duration: 24 months.

The fourth project will focus on advances in cooling water intake technology:

  • New York State Educational Department will evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of using a non-toxic bacterium to control zebra mussels. Zebra mussels are a chronic problem for power plants because they can infest cooling water intake systems and cause power plants to go offline, often during peak demand times. Rochester Gas & Electric Corporation has offered one of its coal-fired power plants as a test site for a pilot demonstration of this green technology. The proposed research extends a currently funded DOE research project to the pilot-demonstration level by evaluating the feasibility of control within the entire service-water system of the plant. DOE award: $910,688; project duration: 36 months.

Scientists in the fifth project will conduct research directed at advanced pollutant measurement and treatment technology:

  • Tennessee Valley Authority, in partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute, will evaluate the use of an integrated passive treatment system for removal of nitrogen, arsenic, selenium, and mercury from the wastewater produced by coal-fired power plants. Current methods used to remove air pollutants from power plant stack gases can create potential water-quality problems. DOE award: $667,505; project duration: 36 months.

- End of NETL Reports -

For more information, contact:
David J. Anna, DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, 412-386-4646,