The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) and the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) announced more than $18 million in available funding for research and development projects that focus on the characterization, treatment, and management of produced water—or wastewater associated with oil and natural gas development and production—as well as management of legacy wastewater associated with coal-based thermal electric power generation facilities, primarily coal combustion residuals waste streams. Such projects will help lower the cost of developing and demonstrating technologies to manage wastewater safely and effectively for beneficial end-uses—such as irrigation of non-edible crops, hydrogen generation, and aquifer recharge and recovery—while supporting DOE’s goals to provide environmental and economic benefits to our communities that have been affected by stressed water resources and legacy pollution. These same energy production waste streams also contain recoverable critical minerals, including rare earth elements, that are essential to manufacturing clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen fuel cells that will help achieve the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“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,” said Brad Crabtree, Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. “By treating and reusing the large volumes of wastewater produced through fossil fuel production and use, these projects will help to make wastewater safe for the environment and a valuable resource for the American public, especially for water-stressed communities.”
Potential projects selected through this funding opportunity announcement (FOA) will focus particularly on wastewater associated with unconventional oil and gas production
Water is critical to almost every phase of fossil energy operations—from resource extraction, transport, and processing to power generation. However, these activities generate large quantities of wastewater. Treatment of this wastewater for reuse can be costly due to the complexity of removing a wide variety of chemical compounds, particulate matter, and organic waste material. Much of the produced water generated from oil and gas production is injected underground into saltwater disposal wells; this activity has been known to over-pressurize geological formations and, in some cases, cause minor seismicity. Further, waste streams associated with thermal electric power plant sites, such as coal and fly ash ponds and other coal combustion residuals waste streams, can result in contamination of soil, surface water, and groundwater with heavy metals and other pollutants.
Potential projects selected through this funding opportunity announcement (FOA) will focus particularly on wastewater associated with unconventional oil and gas production. Partnerships among industry and universities are encouraged to advance technologies and lower costs to reduce wastewater volume, achieve beneficial reuse of industrial wastewater in water-scarce areas, and recover critical resources such as rare earth elements. Projects will also address the development of infrastructure to efficiently transport and treat this wastewater to reduce environmental impacts related to trucking and seismic events.