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NMSU, consortium partners awarded $100 million grant to tackle nation’s water challenges

New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering is part of a team that was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy five-year, $100 million grant to create the Energy-Water Desalination Hub to address water security issues.


Woman looks at a vial
Pei Xu, New Mexico State University Civil Engineering professor, will lead NMSU’s efforts on the National Alliance for Water Innovation team that received a U.S. Department of Energy five-year, $100 million grant to create the Energy-Water Desalination Hub. (NMSU photo by Vladimir Avina)

As a member of the National Alliance for Water Innovation team, Pei Xu, the PESCO Endowed Professor and Ward Family Endowed Interdisciplinary Chair in Civil Engineering, is leading NMSU’s effort in the consortium that includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Energy Technology Laboratory along with 19 founding university partners and 10 founding industry partners. The grant has a five-year renewal possibility.

The hub’s objective is to conduct early-stage research and development for energy-efficient and cost-competitive desalination technologies and for treating nontraditional water sources for various end uses.

“NMSU’s College of Engineering has long enjoyed national recognition for its strength in water and environmental engineering research. With this grant, Pei Xu and her research colleagues have propelled themselves to the pinnacle of research leadership in the areas of water desalination and produced water treatment,” said Lakshmi N. Reddi, dean of the College of Engineering. “I congratulate Dr. Xu and the allied research team across campus for their outstanding achievement.”

“Dr. Xu’s previous work on desalination technologies supported by the NSF-Engineering Research Center for Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure is very highly regarded, placing NMSU among the top in the desalination area. Her ability to leverage ReNUWIt support to secure funding from other agencies to establish pilot-scale facilities at NMSU have been highly acclaimed by NSF and the ReNUWIt leadership. Dr. Xu’s expertise and her research facilities were critical in winning this DOE hub award,” said Nagamany Nirmalakhandan, Civil Engineering Distinguished Achievement Professor, Ed and Harold Foreman Endowed Chair in Civil Engineering, and the campus principal investigator of ReNUWIt.

In the next year, Xu will direct NAWI’s research on inland brackish water desalination by developing a technology roadmap.

“NMSU has a strong research capacity on inland desalination, produced water treatment and reuse, concentrate management, municipal water reuse and agricultural irrigation,” Xu said. “NMSU will play a critical role in developing innovative desalination technologies to reduce energy demand and lower the cost of water treatment processes.

“The NMSU team will develop foundational scientific methods for characterizing and understanding electrified pretreatment processes,” she said. “In collaboration with NAWI researchers, the project team will collaboratively explore low-cost electrified water treatment processes as potential energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly, modular alternatives to traditional chemical treatment methods that have high chemical cost, and issues associated with on-site storage, containment and handling of hazardous chemicals and waste disposal.

“Additionally, Dr. Tanner Schaub, who is the director of the Chemical Analysis and Instrumentation Laboratory at NMSU, will use advanced analytical methods to characterize produced water quality for selection of highly effective treatment technologies and for safe use of produced water,” Xu said.

NAWI researchers will conduct desalination research at two key test facilities in the region: at the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant in El Paso, Texas. The association stems from NMSU’s long-term collaborations with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and El Paso Water on pilot-testing novel pretreatment, selective desalination processes and concentrate management.

“NMSU is looking forward to working with national labs, universities and industrial partners to develop cutting-edge technologies,” Xu said. “It is a great experience to work with NAWI members.”

Xu also mentioned the recent agreement between NMSU and the New Mexico Environment Department to create a produced water research consortium that will help the state guide the nation in advancing scientific and technological solutions related to the treatment and reuse of produced water generated by the oil and gas industry.

“With the Energy-Water Desalination Hub and the Produced Water Research Consortium, NMSU will play a leading role in developing sustainable water supplies from nontraditional water sources,” she said.

To view a map of the NAWI consortium university and national laboratory members, visit https://newscenter.lbl.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/09/NAWI-Consortium-June-2019.png.