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Desalination and industrial wastewater treatment among the focuses for partnership

| By Scott Jenkins

The National Alliance for Water Innovation (, a partnership of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; Oak Ridge, Tenn.;, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab; Berkeley, Calif.;, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL; Golden, Colo.;, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL; Pittsburgh, Pa.;, as well as university and private-sector partners, has been awarded a five-year, $100 million Energy-Water Desalination Hub by DOE to address water security issues in the United States. Reliable access to clean water is a pressing global challenge, and the new hub will focus on early-stage research and development for energy-efficient, low-cost solutions for desalination and the treatment of nontraditional sources such as industrial wastewater.

NAWI will advance a portfolio of novel technologies for a circular water economy. The goal is the recycling of 90% of nontraditional water sources such as seawater, inland brackish water, municipal and industrial waste streams, and produced water from oil and gas production in a manner that is cost- and energy-competitive with existing water sources.

“The Department of Energy is pleased to focus the resources of four national laboratories along with university and industry partners to enable technology breakthroughs to improve water security for the nation,” said Assistant Secretary for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons. “The Energy-Water Desalination Hub will leverage cutting-edge research to advance the creation of transformational technologies that promote energy-efficient, cost-effective water purification with the goal of meeting the national and global need for secure, clean water.”

“Ensuring the availability of clean water is one of the most important challenges of our time,” said ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia. “We look forward to leveraging ORNL’s strengths in materials, separations, high-performance computing, manufacturing, sensors and controls to develop breakthroughs for affordable, efficient water sources.”

“By bringing together experts from the national labs, industry and academia, we will ensure our work captures the best ideas, targets real-world scenarios, and results in transformational impact,” said Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director for Energy and Environmental Sciences at ORNL. “NAWI represents an elite team of researchers from across the United States. Among the alliance’s 10 founding industry and 19 university partners are four winners of the prestigious Clarke Prize, awarded each year by the National Water Research Institute to the nation’s thought leaders in water science and technology.”

NAWI’s vision for creating a stable and resilient water supply for industry, agriculture, and communities involves a circular economy in which water is treated to fit-for-purpose standards and reused locally, rather than transporting freshwater long distances. NAWI will not only conduct research but also develop a roadmap to prioritize the highest impact technology options, and then identify and solicit projects to support those priorities. The research alliance was formed in 2017 to support DOE’s goal of establishing the desalination hub. It consists of two parts: the core research consortium (which includes the three national labs along with the founding academic and industry partners) and the larger NAWI Alliance (which includes more than 100 U.S. organizations and whose membership is open). For information on joining NAWI, click here.

“The Electric Power Institute (EPRI) is thrilled that DOE is leading the way in establishing an Energy-Water Desalination Hub, and we are honored to be a part of NAWI and this effort,” said Jeffery Preece, program director at EPRI, which leads NAWI’s industrial advisory council. “We look forward to initiating the roadmapping process with the alliance so that critical research across multiple areas can begin. This unique collaborative is well positioned to help ensure technology development keeps pace with the needs of various industries and end-users.”


NAWI also includes a unique program called NextGen to engage early-career scientists and engineers at leading universities and national laboratories to pursue the most promising areas of water treatment and to give those young scientists the mentorship, resources, and training to accelerate their research and encourage market adoption of their innovations.


The hub will be supported by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. DOE’s announcement is available here. More information on NAWI can be found here.


UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit