Unbeknownst to the engineers at the time, the treatment process to destroy the fuel residues created trace amounts of NDMA in the water, Brewer said. “In the 1980s, NASA became aware of the NDMA and other organic pollutants in the water underneath WSTF,” Brewer said. “Since then, they have been pumping up the water, treating it and re-injecting it underground.”
Brewer said the treatment process will likely need to be continued over the next century with thousands of gallons per day, requiring much electricity and costing a great deal. “The purpose of this project is to see if we can make activated carbons out of pecan shells that can adsorb the NDMA out of the water as effectively but for a lower cost,” Brewer said.
Brewer said the project started two years ago and is currently in the analytical method development stage—measuring NDMA concentrations in water at the part per trillion level. “After that, the remaining time of the three-year project will be spent designing the adsorption water treatment system using the pecan shell activated carbons,” Brewer said.
The NSF grant is for Brewer to research a water desalination system that uses heat from burning bio-waste, such as pecan shells, pecan orchard prunings, cotton gin trash and yard waste. The system design is intended to reduce the effects of scaling, a common problem when desalinating water, especially in this region, Brewer said.
In addition to these two projects, Brewer has also been the principal investigator for five other projects, funded by the Sun Grant Program South Central Region, the NMSU-Bureau of Reclamation Cooperative Agreement, the Western Excelsior Corporation, NASA and the USDA. These five projects have received more than $574,000 in funding.
“On every project, I have worked with researchers from multiple colleges, multiple institutions, and industry,” Brewer said. “As a land-grant institution, NMSU is well-suited for this kind of research as it is easy to pull together the needed expertise from basic science, applied agricultural science, engineering and extension. I am very grateful for the wonderful collaborators I have found here.”