Award Name: National Alliance for Water Innovation Pilot Program 
Award Amount: $9 million 


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI) announced the selection of 12 projects that will improve the energy efficiency of desalination and water reuse technologies across the country. The selected projects will drive decarbonization of the water and wastewater sectors through innovative technologies to treat, use, and recycle water to bolster a circular economy and provide the United States with climate-resilient, cost-effective water supplies.


COST SHARE AMOUNT: $7,700,000 
TOTAL FUNDING: $16,900,000 

Project funding will be allocated through the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI) and is subject to negotiation. 

Project Partners: Auburn University (Lead), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, William Marsh Rice University, Electric Power Research Institute, The Water Tower

Description: Reverse Osmosis Concentrate (ROC), which is the waste brine produced from reverse osmosis (RO), often contains contaminants such as pesticides, boron, heavy metals, and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds—which are human-made chemicals used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. This project will develop a novel Flow-through Intensified ELectroDialysis (FIELD) treatment system that integrates three electro-chemical treatment processes: electroosmosis, electrophoresis, and electrodialysis. The proposed FIELD system will degrade persistent organics (like agrochemicals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals); capture diluted heavy metals, extract non-hazardous soluble salts for potential environmental discharge; and produce freshwater for reuse.

Project Partners: University of California (lead), Los Angeles, Argonne National Laboratory, California State University, San Bernardino, Orange County Water District, Chevron Energy Technology Company, DuPont Inge GmbH

Description: Water desalination is a complicated, energy intensive process. Innovative technologies like machine-learning (ML) can help make the process more sustainable and energy-efficient and advance the way we treat and reuse water. Machine-Learning (ML) has revolutionized a wide range of process industries by optimizing complex, multi-step chemical processes. This project team will develop a robust and scalable integrated pretreatment process that can adapt to seasonal variations in feedwater quality, treatment capacity, and operating conditions (e.g., flow rates, temperature, and pH). This project will use advanced ML methods to develop and optimize a pretreatment process for a reverse osmosis system that uses mixed coagulants (chemicals used to removed suspended solids) and an advanced filtration system.

Project Partners: National Energy Technology Laboratory (Lead), SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Yale University, Stanford University, Oli Systems, Inc.

Description: The cost of concentrate (waste brine) disposal and salt management hinders widespread adoption of brackish water desalination. Developing technologies to capture and purify economically valuable elements from concentrate could significantly improve the cost-effectiveness of brackish water desalination. This project team will identify pathways for brine valorization (upcycling of salts) and will develop and utilize state-of-the-art analysis tools to evaluate the economic costs and benefits of up-cycling brackish reverse osmosis waste brines. The team will also identify specific regions and product categories where upcycled products can economically benefit communities.

Project Partners: University of California (lead), Irvine, Hazen and Sawyer, Chino Desalter Authority

Description: To combat the climate crisis, the United States is rapidly increasing the share of renewable power on the electric grid. This helps drive decarbonization but also introduces challenges in operating electrically-intensive industrial processes 24 hours a day. Desalination plants can draw large amounts of electricity from the grid and have the potential to become flexible or intermittent power users to increase grid stability and reliability. This project will evaluate the processes and issues that limit production flexibility of current desalination systems and develop a framework to estimate the value that desalination plants could generate as flexible power users. 

Project Partners: Stanford University (lead), SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, National Energy Technology Laboratory, City of Santa Barbara, California

Description: In some parts of the U.S., operators of desalination facilities can participate in demand-response energy supply contracts where they pay lower electric rates but are also required to lower energy use during periods of high grid demand. This research team will partner with the City of Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant to use NAWI’s Water treatment Technoeconomic Assessment Platform (WaterTAP) to identify plant upgrades and operational schedules that will maximize low cost, low-carbon operations.

Project Partners: Electric Power Research Institute (lead), Colorado State University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, The Salt River Project

Description: This project team will examine strategies to manage and coordinate water system operations with the electric grid to ensure desalination treatment processes are compatible with electrification efforts. The team will develop an integrated modeling framework of treatment processes and systems to evaluate the range of production flexibility in current treatment plants. The model will identify where improvements in process and production flexibility will have the greatest impact.

Project Partners: Washington University in St. Louis (lead), Colorado State University, Clarkson University, Argonne National Laboratory, OLI Systems, Inc.

Description: Anti-scalants are chemicals used in desalination systems to delay or prevent the precipitation of minerals on inner surfaces of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes and pipes during desalination. However, the presence of leftover anti-scalants in the reverse osmosis concentrate (ROC)the brine waste generated by ROmight impede crystallization processes, which are used to completely eliminate liquid brine waste by isolating the solid, easily disposable components of salt water. This project will examine how anti-scalants impact crystallization; develop predictive chemical models of ROC treatment systems; and design a new electrochemical process that degrades residual anti-scalants in ROC to accelerate the crystallization process to produce solid waste.

Project Partners: University of Michigan (lead), Yale University, Veolia Water Technology and Solutions

Description: Maximizing water recovery, and thus minimizing the volume of waste brines, is key for the widespread application of brackish water reverse osmosis (BWRO) desalination. Currently, water recoveries in BWRO are limited due to soluble salts that can potentially plug RO membranes (a process called scaling). Thus, selective removal of scale-forming salts prior to BWRO is critical to increasing water recovery and minimizing waste brine volume. This project team will develop a novel ion-exchange membrane technology that will select ions to facilitate scale-forming salt removal. The aim is to significantly increase water recovery of BWRO. 

Project Partners: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (lead), The University of Texas at Austin, GivePower, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Description: Reverse osmosis concentrate (ROC) is the waste brine created from RO treatment. ROC from inland brackish water desalination and wastewater recycling is challenging to treat or dispose because of the very large volumes of concentrate liquid that are typically produced. Current ROC treatment technologies focus on energy-intensive thermal technologies, large footprint evaporation strategies (e.g., evaporation ponds), or disposal in deep wells where the value of water is lost. This project will develop next generation bipolar membrane electrodialysis (BMED) systems, which have the potential to completely desalinate brine while converting the solutes into valuable acids and bases.

Project Partners: NALA Membranes, Inc. (lead), Trussell Technologies, Inc., Orange County Water District

Description: Membrane-based wastewater treatment for potable reuse presents unique challenges due to: 1) high concentrations of dissolved organic substances, and 2) the accumulation of unwanted biological material on surfaces, called membrane biofouling. This project will develop a universal pretreatment protocol for wastewater that reduces the cost and complexity of reverse osmosis (RO) system operations for water reuse. The project team will use novel membranes and pretreatment methods to keep biofouling under control and sustain high recovery from membrane processes. 

Project Partners: University of Colorado Boulder (Lead), University of Southern California

Description: Pretreatment for reverse osmosis (RO) is often used to reduce the presence of large organic molecules and microorganisms, which can be responsible for the unwanted buildup of solids on process surfaces known as bio-fouling. Ultraviolet (UV) light is a common water disinfection tool that impedes the spread of biofilm-forming microorganisms through the generation of radical compounds.  The new KrCl UV lamp has the potential to improve radical compound production, therefore improving the effectiveness of pretreatment. This project will determine whether a UV/advanced oxidation process can mitigate organic- and bio-fouling while destroying viruses and other organic contaminants.

Project Partners: University of Connecticut (lead), ZwitterCo, Inc., Tufts University

Description: NAWI researchers have pioneered the use of electrospray-based 3D printing to manufacture enhanced membranes for desalination and water treatment. These modules will be tested with real waters to assess their ability to serve as a single step pre-treatment for downstream reverse osmosis. This project will use a novel manufacturing technology called electrospray printing to create a porous membrane. The resulting membranes will improve filtration efficiency while still allowing water to pass through the membrane. The electrospray 3D printing process used to create the membranes will improve manufacturing efficiency and allow customizable properties.