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Fossil Energy Secretary Visits Test Site for Innovative NETL Freshwater Technology

During a visit to western North Dakota this week, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg got a firsthand look at technology originally developed for the U.S. Army but now to be assessed by NETL in producing fresh water from brine used in energy operations. The equipment is being tested at the University of North Dakota (UND) Energy & Environmental Research Center’s Brine Extraction and Storage Test site, which is among several research sites Winberg is touring.

“This project is one of many NETL-led technologies underway within the Office of Fossil Energy to address competing water needs and challenges,” Winberg said. “Water is a limited resource, yet there’s an inextricable link between water and energy. We need treatment technologies that economically derive clean water from alternative sources and facilitate water reuse to increase efficiency and reduce water consumption.”

NETL has internally reviewed the technology, which employs mechanical vapor recompression to remove salts from brine.  In this technology, purification occurs similar to distillation by using a compressor to increase the pressure and temperature of the produced water vapor, thereby providing heat that can be recycled to boost efficiency. NETL researchers received the pilot skid from the U.S. Army at no cost in late August 2018. The unit was no longer being used at a base near Detroit.

Upon receipt by NETL, the equipment required repairs, parts replacements and software fixes to make it fully functional. NETL technicians, safety personnel and site-support contractors worked together to make the necessary upgrades, demonstrating it at the Lab’s Pittsburgh site upon completion.

“This is a great new capability for NETL that was made possible in cooperation with one of our collaborative partners at minimal cost,” said Nick Siefert, Ph.D., a research mechanical engineer at NETL and principal investigator for the project.

The brine concentrator arrived at the UND test site Aug. 5, where its capability to concentrate brine and generate fresh water is being tested Aug. 12-23. The unit’s operational performance will set the baseline against which more advanced treatment technologies will later be compared, including advanced membrane processes being developed at NETL.

The project supports NETL’s Water Management Research and Development program, which aims to increase water efficiency and reuse, find ways to treat alternative sources of water and provide critical energy-water analysis. The Lab leads an important national effort focused on removing barriers to sustainable, efficient water and energy use; developing innovative technology solutions; and enhancing the understanding of the intimate relationship between energy and water resources. Click here to learn more.