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Evaluating and Avoiding Risk Tradeoffs in Water Treatment

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posted on 01.08.2017, 00:00 authored by Daniel Beryl Gingerich

Treating water in order to reduce human and environmental risks requires the use of electricity and chemicals, the generation of which creates emissions of air pollutants such as NOx, SO2, PM2.5, and CO2. Emissions of air pollutants establishes a health and environmental risk tradeoff between air and water pollution. Addressing air-water tradeoffs by adopting a one environment framework requires new methods for quantifying these tradeoffs, new technologies to minimize air-water tradeoffs, and new tools for decision makers to incorporate these tradeoffs into compliance decisions. In my thesis, I develop methods for quantifying damages from air emissions associated with water treatment; assess the feasibility of forward osmosis (FO), a technology which holds the promise to avoid air-water tradeoffs; and create a tool to holistically assess compliance with air and water emission standards for coal-fired power plants (CFPPs). I start my thesis by creating a method to quantify the damages caused by the air emissions that resulting from the treatment of drinking water (Chapter 2), municipal wastewater (Chapter 3), and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater (Chapter 4). These studies use life-cycle models of energy and chemical consumption for individual water treatment unit processes in order to estimate embedded emissions of criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gasses per cubic meter of treated water. Damages from these additional air emissions are assessed and incorporated into benefit-cost analyses. I find that for drinking water rules, the net benefit of currently implemented rules remains positive but the promises of net benefits for some proposed rules are conditional on the compliance technology that is selected. For municipal wastewater, I find that while there are ~$240 million (in 2012 USD) benefits in air emission reduction from installing biogas-fueled electricity generation nationwide, there are several states where biogas-fueled electricity creates more air emissions than it displaces. For FGD wastewater treatment, I find that complying with the effluent limitation guidelines has an expected ratio of benefits to cost of1.7-1.8, with damages concentrated in regions with large chemical manufacturing industries or electricity grids that are heavily reliant on coal. In the next part of the thesis, I assess the techno-economic feasibility of power plant waste heat driven FO to reduce the air emissions associated with FGD wastewater treatment. In Chapter 5, I assess the quantity, quality and the spatial and temporal availability of waste heat from US coal, nuclear, and natural gas power plants. I find that while 18.9 billion GJ of potentially recoverable waste heat is discharged into the environment, only 900 million GJ of that heat is from the flue gas and is at a temperature high enough to drive water purification using forward osmosis (FO). In Chapter 6, I build a model of FO to assess its thermal energy consumption and find that the 900 million GJ of waste heat produced at coal and natural gas power plants is sufficient to meet their boiler feedwater and FGD wastewater treatment needs. In Chapter 7, I incorporate cost into the energy consumption model of FO, and conclude that treatment of FGD and gasification wastewater using waste heat driven FO is economically competitive with mechanical vapor recompression. In Chapter 8, I create an energy-balance model of a CFPP and nine environmental control technologies for compliance with FGD wastewater and carbon capture regulations. I use this model to maximize plant revenue at the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s 550 MW model CFPP without carbon capture. I find that revenue is maximized by using residual heat for water treatment or carbon capture. If both carbon capture and zero liquid discharge water treatment regulatory standards are in place, I conclude that the plant maximizes revenue by allocating residual heat and steam to amine-based carbon capture and electricity to mechanical vapor recompression for FGD wastewater treatment.




Degree Type



Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Meagan Mauter

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