Study shows electrodialysis can provide cost-effective treatment of salty water from fracked wells.
The boom in oil and gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as a boon for meeting U.S. energy needs. But one byproduct of the process is millions of gallons of water that’s much saltier than seawater, after leaching salts from rocks deep below the surface.
Now researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia say they have found an economical solution for removing the salt from this water. The new analysis appears this week in the journal Applied Energy, in a paper co-authored by MIT professor John Lienhard, postdoc Ronan McGovern, and four others.
The method they propose for treating the “produced water” that flows from oil and gas wells throughout their operation is one that has been known for decades, but had not been considered a viable candidate for extremely high-salinity water, such as that produced from oil and gas wells. The technology, electrodialysis, “has been around for at least 50 years,” says Lienhard, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Food as well as director of the Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy at MIT and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM).
The research team also included graduate student Adam Weiner, graduate student Lige Sun, and undergraduate Chester Chambers at MIT, and Professor Syed Zubair at KFUPM.
“Electrodialysis is generally thought of as being advantageous for relatively low-salinity water,” Lienhard says — such as the brackish, shallow groundwater found in many locations, generally with salinity around one-tenth that of seawater. But electrodialysis also turns out to be economically viable at the other end of the salinity spectrum, the new analysis shows.