The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing $18 million into research focused on the beneficial reuse of wastewater, as well as the extraction of recoverable critical minerals from wastewater or produced water, including rare earth elements essential to clean energy.
The wastewater projects would be associated with oil and natural gas development or coal-based thermal electric power generation facilities, primarily coal combustion residuals waste streams, the DOE stated.
Extracting minerals from wastewater could potentially recover significant quantities of the lithium needed for battery technologies, according to the U.S. Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. Minerals are also expected to be recovered for use in the manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen fuel cells.
Officials with the fossil energy office say that project wastewater disposal is the leading water management practice in the country, with oil and gas sites across the nation expected to produce more than 60 million barrels of wastewater per day by 2030.
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Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, said in the announcement that the government hopes to make the massive amounts of project-related wastewater generated each year a valuable resource, and create a safer approach for the environment in the process.
“Clean water is essential for the health and economic prosperity of our communities, but while demand from the energy sector for this vital resource has grown, aquifers in arid and semi-arid regions of the country have become depleted by drought conditions made worse by a warming climate,” stated Crabtree.
Managing wastewater safely and effectively could mean irrigation for non-edible crops, hydrogen generation, and aquifer recharge and recovery, said the DOE. But it also means avoiding common practices such as injecting produced water underground into saltwater disposal wells, potentially over-pressurizing geological formations and, in some cases, causing minor seismicity.
Waste streams associated with thermal electric power plant sites, such as coal and fly ash ponds and other coal combustion residuals waste streams, can also result in contamination of soil, surface water, and groundwater with heavy metals and other pollutants.
Funded projects can also address the development of infrastructure to efficiently transport and treat wastewater to reduce environmental impacts related to trucking and seismic events.
The DOE expects to make nine awards between $1.5 million and $3.2 million, each with a minimum of a 20% cost-sharing from the awardees.
Fossil energy office officials recently created the Division of Advanced Remediation Technologies’ Water Management program.
This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s April 2023 issue: