DOE awards $27.5M for 16 water infrastructure decarbonization projects

DOE awards $27.5M for 16 water infrastructure decarbonization projects

March 24, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy on March 22 announced awards totaling $27.5 million for 16 water infrastructure projects, five of which include individual national laboratories as partners.

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. “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.

“Given the great potential for energy savings in water and wastewater treatment systems, which are among the country’s largest industrial electricity users, I applaud the Department of Energy’s efforts to promote technologies to achieve energy efficiency at water and wastewater treatment plants,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Chairwoman of the U.S. House Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “This can result in energy and cost savings for both local governments and consumers while also addressing the climate crisis.”

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.

Each of the five projects involving national lab partners will receive $2 million in DOE funding:

* The National Energy Technology Laboratory will partner with The Research Foundation for State University of New York on developing a tunable two-dimensional porous material/polymer composite hollow fiber membranes for advances water resource recovery.

* Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will partner with Kansas State University on a fermentation platform for total resource recovery from diverse wastewaters.

* Argonne National Laboratory will partner with the University of Chicago on artificial intelligence-assisted hybrid renewable energy, nutrient, and water recovery from municipal wastewater.

* Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will partner with Worcester Polytechnic Institute on harvesting energy from wastewater by converting sewage sludge to natural gas.

* Oak Ridge National Laboratory will partner with The Water Research Foundation on integration of data-driven process control for maximization of energy and resource efficiency in advanced water resource recovery facilities.

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

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office oversees these investments supporting the Administration’s goal to address the climate emergency. They will help ensure that the United States builds a 100% clean-energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.

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See the complete list of selected projects and partners: