Rice to play critical role in $100M DOE desalination hub

Rice University engineers are set to play a key role in a $100 million federal effort to develop innovative desalination technologies that can tap nontraditional water sources and ensure the nation has an adequate supply of clean water.

Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez

Rice is a partner in the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), a consortium that won a five-year, $100 million Department of Energy award to establish an Energy-Water Desalination Hub that addresses U.S. water security issues. NAWI, which includes four national laboratories, 19 universities and 10 industry partners and more than 200 affiliates, is led by and headquartered at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

NAWI will focus on early-stage research and development for energy-efficient and cost-competitive desalination technologies and for treating nontraditional water sources for various uses. The alliance’s goal is to advance technologies that will secure a circular water economy in which 90% of nontraditional water sources — such as seawater, brackish water and produced water from industry and agriculture — can be cost-competitive with existing water sources within 10 years.

Noted Rice environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez will lead NAWI research into resilient transport and storage, one of six initial areas of research the alliance will tackle. Alvarez is Rice’s George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Rice-based Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment Center (NEWT). NEWT is a Nanosystems Engineering Research Center established by the National Science Foundation that has made significant strides in the development of decentralized, fit-for-purpose technologies for drinking water and industrial wastewater treatment, including off-grid solar desalination technology.

“NAWI is taking aim at a broad spectrum of innovative technologies that our industry partners need to provide clean, safe and affordable water from nontraditional sources that have traditionally been thought of as ‘untreatable,'” Alvarez said. “This is complementary with the work that’s already underway at NEWT, both at Rice and at NEWT partner institutions.”

In fact, two other NAWI research challenge area leaders have NEWT connections. Yale University’s Menachem “Meny” Elimelech, a NEWT co-principal investigator, is leading NAWI’s efforts on intensified brine management, and Georgia Tech’s John Crittenden, a NEWT scientific advisory board member, is leading NAWI’s work on electrified treatment systems.

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