UTEP Gets Funding for Desalination Research

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has received $2 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to establish a desalination and water management research program that could lead to commercial ventures and help solve water scarcity issues in arid regions across the globe.

UTEP's Center for Inland Desalination Systems will use existing research produced at the university and El Paso's desalination plant to establish the university as a leader in the field.

The goal of the Emerging Technology Fund is to push the development and commercialization of new technologies. This grant will be matched with $2 million from UTEP and The University of Texas System. UTEP also will raise another $2 million in sponsored research from industry partners, to bring the total funding to $6 million.

"Saltwater desalination is a viable remedy for the water shortages we face in inland areas of our state and can help create a sustainable water supply for cities such as El Paso," Gov. Rick Perry said. "The state's investment through the TETF will help position UTEP as a leading center of research and commercialization for this innovative technology and attract top experts in the field to Texas."

The center will be led by Tom Davis, a nationally recognized expert in desalination technology. Davis, who comes to UTEP from the University of South Carolina, has 13 U.S. patents and more than 40 years of research experience. He is the founder of ZDD, Inc., which signed a commercialization agreement with Dow Chemical Company for its Zero Discharge Desalination technology in 2006.

The center will partner with the city's desalination plant -- a joint project of the El Paso Water Utilities and the U.S. Army -- to develop and implement technologies to create alternative water sources. The El Paso desalination plant, which is among the largest of its kind in the world, uses reverse osmosis to treat brackish groundwater from the Hueco Bolson aquifer. It produces 27.5 million gallons of water per day.

Additionally, several desalination-related areas have been identified as having potential commercial applications. Some examples include mining the brine concentrate produced during the osmosis process, developing small-scale portable desalination equipment to be used in remote locations, and developing processes that can reduce energy and water use during desalination.

The center will build on a strong foundation of related research already being done by faculty members in geological sciences, chemistry, and civil engineering. It will be housed in the university's planned 85,000-square-foot engineering and science building, which should open in 2010.

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