$6 million appropriation to focus Sandia research on drinking water desalination, removal of arsenic

06/28/04

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Research in the areas of desalination and removal of arsenic in water will step up at the National Nuclear Security Administration's Sandia National Laboratories over the next few years, the result of a $6 million allocation in the FY2004 federal Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.

The allocation will include $3 million for desalination and $3 million for arsenic cleanup. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., secured the funding as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Water issues are some of the most pressing and ominous facing New Mexico and the West, and that is not likely to change anytime soon," says Domenici. "I have worked to provide the resources needed to harness the expertise at Sandia and other agencies to find better, more affordable ways to provide new resources of affordable potable water."

Desalination

Tom Hinkebein, manager of Sandia's Geochemistry Department and author of the Desalination and Water Purification Technology Roadmap released last year, says the desalination program will focus on advanced research projects. Some of these projects will be tested at the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, now in the early stages of construction. In 2002 Congress appropriated funds to Sandia and the Bureau of Reclamation to develop a conceptual design for the facility. The Bureau has been responsible for the engineering design and construction.

Desalination facility groundbreaking Tuesday

News media are invited to a groundbreaking ceremony for the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo on Tuesday, June 29, at 9:30 a.m. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., will give remarks. Also speaking will be Sandia VP for Energy and Information and Infrastructure Surety Les Shephard, Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Mark Limbaugh, and Alamogordo Mayor Don Carroll. The facility is located at 500 Lavelle Rd. in Alamogordo.

Mike Hightower of Sandia and Tom Jennings of the Bureau of Reclamation are co-chairman of the Executive Planning and Review Committee responsible for heading up the project. Hightower says the facility will focus on research and development of technologies addressing the technical, economic, and environmental issues associated with the treatment and utilization of inland brackish groundwater.

Several entities that do desalination research, including Sandia, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Office of Naval Research, and others, will use the facility to study new desalination technologies, concentrate management and reuse technologies, and use of renewable energy in the desalination process.

"Current emphasis has been in developing new technologies for removing salt from brackish water," Hightower says. "But equally important is what to do with the salt once it is removed."

Removing the teaspoon of salt that makes a glass of seawater-like brine undrinkable results in enough salt to fill two semis per day when supplying the drinking water for a city of 100,000.

This is not a problem in coastal communities because salt can be returned to the ocean. Inland, it becomes an issue because locations or methods to dispose the salt may not be available. For this reason, a major part of research at the facility will focus on concentrate management.

Another area of research at the facility will be using renewable energy to power the desalination.

"One of the biggest costs of desalination is energy," Hightower says. "For that reason it is important that alternate ways to power these processes be developed."

The Tularosa Basin in south-central New Mexico was selected as the desalination facility location because it contains a range of brackish water - from almost fresh to twice as salty as sea water, all within a five-mile radius. A set of wells has already been drilled at different brackish levels in the basin.

The desalination facility will consist of six indoor bays where testing can be done side-by-side. Testing will also be conducted outside in three additional test pads.

Hinkebein says the goal of the facility is to ultimately "improve economics of water production to meet expanding regional needs.

"This includes both quality and quantity concerns," he says. "Water desalination will be important, not only to New Mexico, but also to the Southern and Western United States, in general."

Arsenic removal

The $3 million for research of arsenic removal from water stems out of new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. The revised standards, which go into effect in 2006, change the allowable amounts of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb.

"Many areas of the country are going from having no treatment of water to now having to do advanced treatment," Hinkebein says. "Small and large communities alike will have to adapt to the new standards."

Albuquerque is one of the many communities affected by the new ruling. Arsenic concentrations in drinking water in the area are highly variable but average 15 ppb.

The American Waterworks Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF) and WERC - a consortium comprising New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech, and Dine College - will share the arsenic cleanup funding with Sandia. Besides the $3 million for the arsenic project, Sandia will soon be receiving an additional $1.8 million from another $4 million congressional appropriation for arsenic program research.

Development of new arsenic removal technologies is the responsibility of AwwaRF. Sandia's role will be to pilot promising new technologies as they get close to commercialization. WERC will handle transfer of the technologies to companies that will commercialize them and sell them to the water utilities.

The pilot-scale testing program, led by Sandia researcher Malcolm Siegel, will evaluate a variety of innovative approaches to reduce the cost of arsenic treatment for small communities, and will specifically address the needs of Native American communities. One of the best treatment methods is the use of adsorbents, natural or man-made materials that have been designed for the purpose of removing arsenic and other contaminants.

The materials are packed into containers through which untreated water is forced. The arsenic is adsorbed by the material, and the water comes out arsenic free; the material can then disposed of in landfills or regenerated for further use. Systems can be large enough to treat enough drinking water for large communities or can be small enough to sit under a kitchen sink.

Sandia researchers already have developed one type of adsorbent that has been shown to work, the Specific Anion Nanoengineered Sorbents (SANS). Others are also being researched.

"The strict arsenic standards that take effect in 2006 are placing a tremendous burden on rural communities that simply can't afford to meet the standard," Domenici says. "With this appropriation, we are investing in scientific expertise at Sandia to try to develop technologies that will allow the standards to be met in the most cost-effective manner."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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