(BIVN) – The Department of Energy announced on Wednesday that it will award $1,928,238 in federal funding to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai‘i Authority (NELHA) to test the viability of solar-thermal desalination on a commercial scale. It is one of 14 projects around the country getting federal support under the Solar Energy Technologies Office’s Solar Desalination program
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says the project will be located at NELHA’s 870-acre Hawai‘i Ocean Science and Technology Park in Kailua-Kona.
“This project combines two very important issues: addressing water shortages and mitigating climate change,” Senator Schatz said. “With this funding, we have the chance to develop desalination methods that are sustainable and even profitable. I’m hopeful that this project will lead to more innovation in this space.”
According to the Senator:
Desalination treats seawater, brackish water, and contaminated water for use in municipal and industrial water supplies. Today’s desalination operations need to be connected to a power grid, limiting where they can be used. Solar-thermal power, which concentrates sunlight and converts it into heat, has the potential to expand access to desalination by enabling smaller, more portable systems that don’t have to be grid-connected.
“This is another example of the exceptional value that our support and investment into the critical infrastructure of this technology park in West Hawaii has generated,” said Gov. David Y. Ige. “We will continue to pursue federal funding to allow NELHA to maintain its competitive advantage and give the community an asset found in very few places in the world.”
“This project will be the world’s largest forward osmosis (FO) solar thermal desalination plant for a high visibility ‘on sun’ demonstration of seawater desalination for agricultural applications,” said Gregory P. Barbour, executive director for NELHA. “The project will include commissioning an existing 2MW solar thermal array, coupling it to next-generation 130,000 gallons per day FO system and delivering water to a commercial customer, Cyanotech, at the HOST Park who will use it for commercial aquaculture production of microalgae for nutraceuticals” he added.
According to the State Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism:
This project will advance the techno-economic viability of solar-powered FO by reducing the levelized cost of water 40 percent less than that of current state-of-the-art technology.
The NELHA team will demonstrate a system that incorporates a concentrating solar thermal collector array delivering heat to a FO system. This system will utilize a new generation of membranes whose energy efficiency and durability will be demonstrated in this project.
“This project is very important to NELHA for a number of reasons,” explained Barbour. “First, these funds will help get new technology for desalination to market at a much lower cost. Second, we have been looking for a suitable use for the old Keahole Solar Power (Sopogy) site for some time, and this project will use all of the existing infrastructure on the site. Finally, NELHA will be producing a significant amount of water for agricultural use and free up existing potable water for expansion of new projects at HOST Park.”
The state says Dr. Alexander Leonard of NELHA was “instrumental in developing the proposal” and leads the NELHA team, which also includes Trevi Systems Inc., Cyanotech and Hawaii First Water LLC.
Mr. John Webley, President of Trevi Systems Inc. said in a media release: “We are excited to receive this funding and work with NELHA and other team members to validate the commercial viability of our technology. We have been involved in the greener side of desalination for over 10 years and the next wave of water treatment using our technology will disrupt the water and energy nexus, helping farmers deliver more affordable food to your table as well as lower cost drinking water.”