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Theme Two

Improved water efficiency of energy resource development, and power production processes and systems

Theme Leader: Dr. John R. Saylor, Mechanical Engineering

Methods for producing electrical power and for extracting energy resources can all be water intensive.  These activities can also result in the degradation and pollution of water.  While considered as a constraint to fossil fuel exploitation, produced water often occurs in water scarce regions where it can be put to beneficial use if properly treated.  This theme focuses on developing methods for reducing the amount of water used in production of electrical power and in the development of energy resources.  Ways for minimizing water quality degradation and pollution are also explored. Thermoelectric power generation serves as a motivating example, accounting for the highest freshwater withdrawals in the USA while exerting a significant thermal pollution potential. 

Theme-related topics include:

  • Water use in conventional fossil fuel resource development and energy resource mining
  • Water use, wastewater reuse (including produced water), and groundwater protection in non-conventional fossil fuel resource (e.g., shale gas) development
  • Cooling water management in the production of electrical power.  This includes such subtopics as:
    • The use of alternative sources of cooling water, including seawater and wastewater effluent, as well as treatment of these potential water resources. 
    • Once-through cooling versus recirculating cooling.   
    • Cooling towers, specifically methods for the reduction of water use in cooling towers such as recapture of evaporated water.
    • Air cooling and hybrid methods for power plant cooling, and their viability and stability. 
  • Salinity gradient energy (e.g., pressure retarded osmosis (PRO and reverse electrodialysis (RED)) from brines
  • Water efficiency in biofuels and biomass production. 
  • Water use in algae photobioreactors, specifically water quality and dewatering/drying processes.
  • Geothermal energy storage. 
  • Co-siting of power plants with flooded mines for cooling.
  • Environmental impacts (including thermal pollution) and public health impacts of energy technology interventions