Water is an indispensable resource in manufacturing operations, used in product fabrication and processes including washing, dilution, cooling, and transportation. However, treating water for and from industrial processes is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Obtaining cost-effective water sources for manufacturing while reducing industrial carbon emissions is critical to ensuring the sector’s long-term resilience and our clean energy future.

What Are the sources of Greenhouse Gas Emission in Water Resource Management? 

Water-related greenhouse gas emissions come from two sources. First, water and wastewater systems consume energy to source, treat, and distribute water, with greenhouse gas emissions associated with the generation of that energy.

Second, greenhouse gas emissions are released directly as a byproduct during wastewater treatment. Wastewater systems are potent sources of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide due to biochemical processes within the plant, in the upstream sewer network, and from solid by-products.

Tapping into non-traditional water sources such as treated wastewater, desalinated seawater, brackish groundwater, or water released as a by-product during oil and gas extraction requires more energy than accessing traditional fresh groundwater and surface water resources. Learn more about desalination.

Why Is Water and Wastewater RD&D important? 

Many disadvantaged communities rely on drinking water sources that are expensive or difficult to access or treat. As such, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of treating non-traditional water sources is particularly important for these communities. More broadly, affordable, high-quality treated water from non-traditional sources helps to mitigate the strain on existing water supplies and opens supply alternatives.  

In addition, wastewater streams can be a valuable resource for local communities. Valuable resources can be refined from the by-products generated by water and wastewater treatment. These waste streams can provide revenue to wastewater and desalination facilities, offsetting waste disposal costs, and promoting sustainable solutions for energy, water, nutrients, and other chemicals. Learn more about water resource recovery.

IEDO Research in Water and Wastewater 

The U.S. Department of Energy's Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office (IEDO) utilizes a five-pronged approach in research, demonstration, and development (RD&D) related to the water-energy nexus:

  • Funding RD&D into the decarbonization of water reuse and desalination technologies through the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI) hub.
    • NAWI unites academia, industry, and national labs to research and pilot ways to open nontraditional water sources for human use.
  • Funding RD&D for wastewater decarbonization and energy recovery, and building partnerships with water and wastewater utilities.
  • Funding technology transfers to small business to improve energy and water use in controlled environmental agriculture.
  • Strategic analysis of water use in industry and a holistic assessment of emissions from wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Technical assistance to help companies identify and implement energy- and water-saving projects and access technical training and resources for reaching energy and water targets, including: