It takes a great deal of water to produce energy, and a great deal of energy to produce clean water. These relationships will become more significant as the world’s growing population demands more of each resource.
That energy-water nexus is the focus of World Water Day 2014, and the topic of numerous research projects at MIT.
Professors Ahmed Ghoniem and John Lienhard put the issue in context and talked about some of their own research at the forefront of the field in MIT Spectrum. Lienhard also discussed the water-energy nexus in a videotaped panel discussion at the 2013 MIT Water Summit.
Lienhard, who is director of the Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy (CCWCE) at MIT and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, notes that two teams of CCWCE researchers have reported research results on the energy-water nexus over the last month alone.
One team evaluated the potential for cheaper, smaller, and faster desalination plants that could help meet the demand for fresh water as droughts become more common and populations increase. The researchers found that if a plant uses a more permeable filter to purify water, its energy consumption could be reduced by up to 46 percent. Another team developed a new technique for producing such a filter by making tiny holes of controllable size in sheets of graphene.
In addition, a team led by Ghoniem contributed a chapter to Thermal Power Plant Cooling: Context and Engineering (ASME 2013). The book explores the engineering fundamentals and environmental and economic tradeoffs of cooling power plants with water.
Many other MIT faculty are also conducting research involving water. Several of these were profiled in another issue of MIT Spectrum titled Water: An Urgent Challenge for the 21st Century.