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There is now a new plan in development to create a freshwater recovery system to extract clean irrigation water from hydraulic fracturing wastewater.

The reclaimed water could help dry western states that need water for crops and livestock, said researchers at Michigan State University (MSU).

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MSU will collaborate with Oregon State University and the University of Nevada Reno in the $2.9 million grant funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

Finding a way to reuse fracking wastewater is important because of the sheer amount produced. A case in point is oil companies in Texas and New Mexico generate enough wastewater to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools daily.

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MSU’s goal is to use low-grade solar or industrial waste heat to develop a new process of extracting clean water from the fracking wastewater. Researchers hope to create a system that is modular, portable, scalable and easily deployable in the field.

Andre Benard, associate professor of mechanical engineering, will serve as MSU’s lead investigator. He’ll work with MSU Foundation Professor James Klausner, chair and professor of mechanical engineering.

“MSU’s focus will be designing the novel multiphase heat exchangers needed for the process,” Benard said. “We’re working on a system that will efficiently separate, condense and reclaim purified water from wastewater, using a heat-activated swirling nozzle and in-line demister, which helps remove droplets from the vapor stream.”

MSU’s solution will provide an alternative to current practices. Generally, the salty wastewater is disposed of by pumping it deep underground via injection wells, a somewhat controversial process.

“There is a strong focus on delivering a low-cost wastewater treatment solution by leveraging the novel treatment system fabricated with low-cost materials,” Klausner added. “Ending the practice of wastewater reinjection will have a positive environmental impact.”

In a different project, but related to this project, there is now a new process in development that can remove nearly all traces of oil in produced water, said researchers at Purdue University. The process uses activated charcoal foam and subjects it to solar light to produce heat and purify the water. The foam absorbs the oil contaminants from the water.

“This is a simple, clean and inexpensive treatment process,” said Ashreet Mishra, a graduate research assistant at the Purdue University Northwest Water Institute. “I have seen in my home country of India how people suffer for the want of pure water, and we as researchers need to do as much as we can to help.”

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