Cost modeling of membrane desalination processes using Reclamation’s WaTER model

Project ID: 1877
Principal Investigator: Leah Flint
Research Topic: Desalination and Water Treatment
Funded Fiscal Years: 2018, 2019 and 2020
Keywords: None

Research Question

1) Is the operational benefit of adding EC as an additional pretreatment step to a MF/NF process worth the capital investment, or is it more cost effective to manage the increased fouling of the MF/NF process without additional pretreatment? 2) Does an EC/MF/NF process present a costs savings compared to the current EDR process in place to treat Foss Reservoir water? 3) What other processes to supplement membrane treatment are commercially available and viable? Do these processes present an overall cost savings to the process through reduction of O&M costs of the membrane treatment process?

Need and Benefit

The needs, benefits, and urgency for conducting this project are two-fold: providing a better understanding of the cost of advanced water treatment and helping Foss Reservoir solve water supply challenges.

One of the overarching goals of advanced water treatment (AWT) research in Reclamation is to reduce the cost of AWT technologies. Reclamation uses research funding to invest in the development of new technologies, materials, and technology operation strategies to accomplish this goal. However, quantifying the impact of these technology improvements on the cost of implementing advanced water treatment is not often something that can be accomplished within a technology development project. Developing and implementing better tools for capturing the cost of advanced water treatment (and desalination) was identified by Yuliana Porras-Mendoza, the AWT Research Coordinator as a priority topic for FY18 research projects.

The WaTER cost model previously developed by Reclamation's Water Treatment Group has been reviewed by experts in the field, such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and has been shown to be accurate in estimating the cost of full scale desalination plants (Huehmer 2011). However, the last major update to the model was conducted in 2008. Therefore, there is a need to update the model with present values and current technologies to improve the applicability of the model to evolving unit processes and make this information accessible to the general public.

There is also a public need for an improved WaTER model. Each year the Water Treatment Group receives approximately 40 public requests for access to the WaTER cost model from consultants from small firms, academic institutions, and the general public. This interest from the public shows the desire and need for an open source, non-proprietary preliminary-level cost model for evaluation of water treatment technologies.

The product of this research project, an updated WaTER cost model, would allow Reclamation's R&D office to quantify the outcomes of research and development efforts. A cost model would also provide a standardized approach to computing costs in a time efficient and cost effective manner. Evaluation of costs at the research level would be used to support continued development efforts or to focus future research on the components of a process that would have the most impact on cost reduction. Furthermore, the WaTER cost model could be used early in a project to reduce future project costs by identifying the most cost-effective treatment process early in the design cycle, or by identifying if a specific process improvement has an incremental effect on O&M costs of a process.

This project will also benefit the DWPR program and Foss Reservoir. The previously funded DWPR project focused on comparing EC/MF/NF to MF/NF as alternative treatment methods for Foss. While the technical research showed performance benefits to using EC, cost modeling is necessary to show whether these performance improvements outweigh the costs associated with adding this additional unit operation. This proposed project may also point to process optimizations with high potential to reduce O&M costs, and thus identify operational parameters to focus on during a pilot study.

Each year the DWPR program funds from 3-8 projects (or more depending on funding levels) and the S&T program funds 2-6 projects per year in the area of Advanced Water Treatment; the majority of these projects have a desired outcome of cost or energy (which is a major cost component) reduction. Therefore, the cost model could be used to evaluate the results of each of these projects and help quantify the benefits of investments in this type of research by identifying potential cost savings from implementation of research results. These cost modeling results could be used to identify major cost drivers that could serve to inform future research decisions.

The need to identify

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Last Updated: 6/22/20