US bill seeks major desalination research expansion

US Senate hearings began on 10 March 2009 into a bill on the relationship between energy and water which could have wide implications for desalination research, both in the US and internationally.

The hearings relate to a new bill introduced by the leaders of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Jeff Bingaman and Lisa Murkowski, titled Energy & Water Integration 2009. This seeks to order the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, to arrange with the National Academy of Sciences for an in-depth analysis of the impact of energy development and production on the water resources of the United States.

Up front, the bill says that the study should include a lifecycle assessment of the quantity of water withdrawn and consumed in the production of transportation fuels or electricity; then to evaluate the ratio that the quantity of water withdrawn/consumed bears to the total distance traveled as a result of the consumption of fuel or electricity.

However, more importantly for desalination, the bill seeks to authorize funds to enable the Secretary of the Interior to operate and manage the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Otero County, New Mexico, as a state-of-the-art desalination research center. The center would develop new water and energy technologies with widespread applicability; and create new supplies of usable water for municipal, agricultural, industrial or environmental purposes.

As a priority, says the bill, renewable energy technologies should be developed for integration with desalination technologies:

  • to reduce the capital and operational costs of desalination;
  • to minimize the environmental impacts of desalination; and
  • to increase public acceptance of desalination as a viable water supply process.
  • In addition, the bill wants:

  • research regarding various desalination processes, including improvements in reverse and forward osmosis technologies;
  • development of innovative methods and technologies to reduce the volume and cost of desalination concentrated wastes in an environmentally sound manner;
  • an outreach program to create partnerships with US states, academic institutions, private entities and other appropriate organizations to conduct research, development and demonstration activities;
  • an outreach program to educate the public on desalination and renewable energy technologies and the benefits of using water in an efficient manner.
  • Finally, the bill seeks to authorize the EPA to collect information on energy consumption in various sectors of the economy that are associated with the acquisition, treatment, or delivery of water. This would include water used for agricultural, municipal, industrial and domestic purposes

    If the bill is passed the Secretary of Energy would have 90 days to develop an ”Energy-Water Research and Development Roadmap to define the future research, development, demonstration and commercialization efforts that are required to address emerging water-related challenges to future, cost-effective, reliable and sustainable energy generation and production”.


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