Researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Inland Desalination Systems (CIDS) have developed and demonstrated technology that is nearly capable of producing zero liquid waste in the desalination process.
Current inland desalination systems recover up to 80 percent of the water extracted from underground, disposing of the remaining 20 percent of water heavily concentrated with salt. Disposal of the salty concentrate is a big problem for inland communities. While seawater desalination plants, and some brackish desalination plants, return their concentrated waste to the ocean, inland areas must finds ways to dispose of the waste by building expensive underground deep well injection systems or evaporation ponds.
However – supported by a three-year grant of $1.5 million from the Bureau of Reclamation that began in 2010 – researchers at UTEP have been developing and commercializing the Zero Discharge Desalination (ZDD) technology, which is now capable of at least 98 percent desalination efficiency.
“The way I think of it is, ‘We spent all this energy and money to bring this water up from underground, why throw it away?’” said Malynda Cappelle, principal investigator of the ZDD Demonstration project and associate director of CIDS.
The UTEP team includes the inventor of ZDD, Tom Davis, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering and director of CIDS, as well as doctoral student Alemayehu Yetayew.
Yetayew is conducting research and developing methods to achieve zero liquid waste and recover useful byproducts with the remaining two percent.
During this next year, the team plans to build a larger-scale version of the system at Alamogordo’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF).
With the help of Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies, the ultimate goal is to commercialize the ZDD system to inland areas in great need of water without disposal options.