Published: Sept. 24, 2019 By

CU Boulder is part of a new, $100 million interdisciplinary partnership to address critical water security issues in the United States over the next five years, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Monday.

The Energy-Water Desalination Hub is the result of years of planning and development by the National Alliance for Water Innovation, of which the university is a founding member. The hub will focus on early-stage research and development for energy-efficient and cost-competitive desalination technologies and for treating nontraditional water sources for various uses. 

Treating water that is not widely usable – such as wastewater from energy production or seawater, for example – and making it beneficial for agriculture, industry or communities is a globally important goal. That’s because freshwater supplies will not be able to keep up with demand in the future, researchers say, creating the need for a circular water economy, where water is treated to fit-for-purpose standards and reused locally, rather than transported long distances. Research at the hub will try to lower the costs around these treatment processes, allowing previously discarded water sources to be put back into circulation. 

The National Alliance for Water Innovation is headquartered at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory as well as 10 founding industry partners and 19 founding university partners, including CU Boulder. The alliance’s goal is to advance a portfolio of novel technologies that will secure a circular water economy in which 90% of nontraditional water sources can be cost-competitive with existing water sources within 10 years.

As a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, this alliance will first develop a roadmap to prioritize the highest impact technology options, then identify and solicit research projects to support those priorities. Because of its broad talent base and interdisciplinary structure, the hub allows partner scientists from industry, academia and the national labs to work together to develop new technologies for water reuse through autonomous, precise, resilient, intensified, modular and electrified water treatment systems.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science brings expertise in a variety of important topics to the alliance, said Professor Karl Linden. He pointed to the newly formed Water-Energy Nexus Interdisciplinary Research Theme in the college as a driver of the kind of work that will be important to the hub’s development and success.

“We bring a strong focus on innovative technology in water reuse, analytical chemistry and microbiology, resource recovery, sustainability evaluations and data management to this project” said Linden, a faculty member in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering who is leading the project for CU Boulder. “We are excited to help shape the research roadmap over the first year and contribute to the DOE’s vision for energy-water innovations, along with the alliance, over the life of the project.”