Scalable, Low-Power Water Treatment System

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OPEN 2012
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Project Term:
06/01/2013 - 12/31/2014

Critical Need:

Hydraulic fracking, the process commonly used for oil and natural gas extraction, uses significant amounts of water. The water that returns after being used in the process, called produced water, is contaminated and needs extensive treatment before it can be reused. Currently, there are only 2 options for treating this water: (1) transporting the water off-site to existing water treatment facilities that then become overburdened or (2) using very energy intensive, evaporation based water treatment processes on-site. There is a need to develop a robust, inexpensive, low energy on-site water treatment technology.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a water treatment system to treat contaminated water from hydraulic fracking and seawater. There is a critical need for small to medium-sized, low-powered, low-cost water treatment technologies, particularly for regions lacking centralized water and energy infrastructure. Conventional water treatment methods, such as reverse osmosis, are not effective for most produced water clean up based on the high salt levels resulting from fracking. MIT’s water treatment system will remove high-levels of typical water contaminants such as salt, metals, and microorganisms. The water treatment system is based on low-powered generation enabling efficient on-demand, on-site potable water production. The process allows for a 50% water recovery rate and is cost-competitive with conventional water treatment technology. MIT’s water treatment device would require less power than competing technologies and has important applications for mining, oil and gas production, and water treatment for remote locations.

Potential Impact:

If successful, MIT’s water treatment system enables on-demand water production based on user requirements, therefore significantly increasing water generation efficiency and delivery in rural areas and the mining and gas industry.


Improving water treatments processes can help secure clean water for drinking, agricultural, and industrial applications and help the U.S. position regain its technological leadership in the area of water treatment.


Improving water treatment processes and wastewater reuse could yield an estimated 290 trillion watts in energy savings over 10 years, corresponding to 177 million tons of carbon dioxide.


Inexpensive and reliable access to potable water could help drive U.S. economic growth in both agricultural and industrial purposes.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Bryan Willson
Project Contact:
Dr. Jongyoon Han
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