Our Projects

The EERC's Water Management Center has seven projects that address water–energy issues in the region.

Project 1. Bakken Water Opportunities Assessment

This project identified a potential opportunity to economically treat and reuse water that is used in hydraulic fracturing operations in the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota. The Bakken Water Opportunities Assessment project was undertaken with funding provided by the North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Research Council, the North Dakota Petroleum Council, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Phase I: Bakken Water Opportunities Assessment
The project compiled information on the current water use practices for hydraulic fracturing in the Bakken play, collected and analyzed fracture (frac) flowback water data from five different oil producers operating at various locations in the Bakken Formation, assessed potentially applicable mobile fracture water-recycling technologies, worked with industry to disseminate information about the project, and developed recommendations and plans for a Phase II evaluation.

Phase II: Evaluation of Brackish Groundwater Treatment for Use in Hydraulic Fracturing of the Bakken Play, North Dakota
As part of a continuing effort to evaluate water supply options for oil producers and other industries in the region, the EERC teamed with Hess Corporation to conduct a pilot treatment project using reverse osmosis (RO) to evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of treating brackish groundwater as a water supply source for fracturing. This report discusses the current state of water use practices for Bakken fracturing, summarizes the RO pilot project results, and discusses the feasibility of brackish groundwater treatment for fracturing given the current state of water availability within North Dakota.

Project 2. Recovery of Water from the Drying of North Dakota Lignite

The drying of lignite produces a lower-moisture fuel that can result in a significant improvement in coal-fired power generation efficiency as well as the benefit of reduced emissions.

Great River Energy’s (GRE's) lignite fuel enhancement system (LFES) uses waste heat to drive a bubbling fluidized-bed coal dryer that reduces the moisture of the lignite from 38% to 28%. Processing 20,000 tpd lignite results in the generation of 2800 tpd water (667,000 gpd). Recovery of 30% of that moisture would produce as much as 200,000 gpd of water that may be suitable for use in a utility boiler or as cooling water makeup. Recovery of this water would ultimately reduce the freshwater demand for power generation.

The EERC obtained dryer-operating information from GRE and conducted a preliminary assessment of water recovery potential, including projections of warm, moist air discharges based on available information, estimates of energy required to condense the water vapor, an evaluation of applicable water recovery technologies, and a preliminary economic assessment. Economics of moisture recovery could be very favorable, particularly in applications where hybrid cooling systems can avoid derating generation during peak demand periods.

A commercially available moisture recovery technique was identified for this application. The EERC negotiated a nondisclosure agreement with SPX Cooling Technologies. The EERC worked with SPX and GRE to develop a proposal to demonstrate the moisture recovery potential of SPX's ClearSkyTM technology.

Project 3. Water Issues for Power Generation in the Water Management Center Region

This project identified critical water supply and use issues related to both existing coal-fired power generation facilities as well as planned future facilities in the Water Management Center region. Data and information collected are being incorporated into this site.

The project documented water issues related to power generation in the context of competing users and, where appropriate, investigated potential synergies with the agricultural, industrial, and municipal sectors which share a limited resource. Compiled data and information were used to develop synergistic strategies to optimize the use of available water resources, including freshwater, wastewater, produced water, and marginal-quality groundwater for use as cooling water makeup and to meet the incremental demands associated with flue gas desulfurization and carbon capture.

Project 4. Energy–Water Nexus Documentary

Project 4 developed a half-hour documentary entitled Water: The Lifeblood of Energy which highlights the key issues related to the interdependence of water and energy in the northern Great Plains region. The video was developed in partnership with Prairie Public Broadcasting and was broadcast on Prairie Public Television (North Dakota, eastern Montana, western Minnesota, southern Manitoba), uplinked for national distribution on the public television network, and available on DVD.

The documentary is intended to introduce the general public to the broad issues of water use and future demands, especially with respect to energy production—past, present, and future. The primary focus was the northern Great Plains; however, issues related to the water–energy nexus across the nation were included to provide a background context.

Project 5. Energy-Saving Opportunities in Water Treatment and Distribution

The largest municipal energy use is typically associated with water and wastewater treatment plants. These uses can be expected to increase further as treatment facilities endeavor to satisfy increasingly stringent regulatory requirements. For instance, regulations that limit the levels of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water will require many water treatment plants to incorporate different disinfection practices, including changing disinfectants and, in many cases, adding additional treatment capabilities such as ozonation. Ozone as a primary disinfectant provides many benefits including removal of DBP precursor organics as well as microbial control. Ozonation, however, is a very energy-intensive process.

This project is conducting an energy audit at the East Grand Forks, Minnesota, Water Treatment Plant to investigate energy-saving opportunities for water treatment, including unit operations such as ozonation, and reduce energy costs associated with water distribution.

Project 6. Novel Heat Rejection Technology for Power Plants

The unavailability of adequate water supplies in many regions of the country is forcing power plants to consider dry cooling. Dry cooling of power plants with an air-cooled condenser can simplify a variety of issues for electric utilities, including water sourcing, plant siting, and reduced time for permitting. Because of these issues and the overall constraint of limited water supplies, there is market demand for dry cooling options despite their associated cost and performance penalties. The goal of this activity is to develop a novel heat rejection technology for thermal power plants, one that has the potential to decrease the capital and performance penalties while still minimizing cooling water consumption.

The concept under development at the EERC uses a working fluid to transfer thermal energy from the steam condenser to the ambient atmosphere. This adds an intermediate heat-transfer step compared to an air-cooled condenser, but several advantages are gained because of the properties of the selected working fluid. The advantages include the ability to match the thermal flux of the steam condensation and ambient air heat rejection processes and, therefore, separate and optimize the size of each piece of equipment. Also, the concept can include integrated thermal storage, where part of the cooling load can be shifted to times having more favorable ambient conditions. Other features of this approach are that it maintains dry cooling status and it is a zero-discharge process.

Bench-scale experiments are currently under way to study the feasibility of this process, and so far, the key operating concepts have been demonstrated. Results from this initial project will highlight the applicability of the concept for power plant cooling and identify the needs for ongoing development. It is anticipated that the next stage of development will include a larger-scale demonstration of the complete process, including steam condensation and ambient air heat rejection.

Project 7. Critical Water Issues in Petroleum Refining

Competition is driving oil refiners to process increasingly lower cost crude oils and discounted refinery residues—heavier feedstocks, containing more sulfur and heavy metals—at a time when federal and state governments are considering increasingly more stringent environmental regulations. In addition, an increasing number of large independent refiners do not have their own internal research and development capabilities. Development of cost-effective technologies and practical solutions to address emerging environmental issues has and will continue to challenge the refining industry as well as technology providers.

This project seeks to develop a consortia of several refiners to address common issues related to refinery water issues, including but not limited to selenium removal from wastewater discharges, monitoring and control systems for wastewater treatment plants, nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) control in wastewater discharges, wastewater vapor control, and investigating water reuse opportunities.