eNews July 2020

NMSU and NM WRRI Researchers Develop Framework for a Hybrid Modeling Analysis of Produced Water Impacts in New Mexico

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual research focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP), a state-funded project with investigators from NMSU, UNM, NMT, and NM WRRI. This month we are featuring research being performed by New Mexico State University Research Associate Professor Saeed Langarudi, NM WRRI Research Scientist Robert Sabie, and NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald to develop a conceptual framework for a hybrid, multi-method dynamic simulation analysis of the impact of produced water on the water budgets and overall viability of local communities in New Mexico.

As a potential alternative water source, produced water presents unique opportunities and challenges that need to be understood. More specifically, it is important to understand how produced water relates to regional water budgets and the future viability of New Mexico’s local communities. Nevertheless, produced water is a multifaceted phenomenon with complex hydrologic, social, economic, and environmental implications. To better understand such implications, the research project entitled, Development of a multi-method dynamic spatial simulation model: exploring opportunities for produced water reuse seeks to develop sophisticated analytical and computational tools that take such complexities into account.

Computational and systems sciences such as system dynamics, as well as agent-based and geospatial modeling, have advantages and disadvantages that make them suitable for specific problems. Yet, combining these methods in order to harness the full potential of each method, thus addressing each method’s shortcomings, is an area to explore. System dynamics helps to identify key feedback loops that drive the dynamics of a system. However, it does not take the heterogeneity of a system into account. For example, the geographical distribution of oil wells, and how each produced water volume and quality at each well change over time, would not be effectively addressed in a system dynamics study. On the other hand, agent-based and geospatial modeling methods address the heterogeneity of a problem but obscure the feedback links between components of a system.

The problem of produced water and its impact on viability of local communities is complex at different levels of analysis while there are significant interactions between these levels. The distribution (geospatial modeling) of oil and water wells changes over time depending on the decisions (agent-based modeling) of the oil producers, while decisions of the oil producers depend on the components of the system (e.g. water, wealth, treatment technology, etc.). Changes in the accumulation of produced water, and ultimately the movement of produced water, depend on the geographical distribution of the wells (system dynamics). Here, we have a very complex feedback system not only at the system level but also within and between different levels of analysis. One example of what the model could examine is the availability of treated produced water for reuse in the oil and gas industry – where is the water, where does the water need to go, what is the volume of available, and what is the water quality?

A goal of this project is to ultimately produce a white paper and peer-reviewed journal article which reports the state of the art in multi-method modeling approaches in hydrosocial studies as well as the conceptual framework based on the literature, interviews with subject matter experts, focus groups, and group model building sessions. This framework will set the stage for future work in which the research team will build a functional multi-method model.

eNews July 2020

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Food-Waste-to-Biofuel Byproduct for Wastewater Treatment

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

As the world’s population grows larger, the need for clean water, food, and energy is rising. Food production requires energy, and accounts for a large portion of global freshwater consumption. Due to the amount of energy and freshwater involved in food production, food waste is particularly important to resource management. Currently, the common practice of landfilling wet food waste leads to methane, carbon dioxide, and liquid waste that contaminates soil, groundwater, and rivers. Fortunately, food waste is a readily available biowaste resource. The use of food waste for biofuel production and resource recovery would not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but it would also help solve water scarcity issues and environmental challenges.

In addition to the advantages of using food waste as a feedstock for biofuel production, char (a byproduct derived from the food-waste-to-biofuel conversion), can be used to adsorb heavy metals in waste water treatment. Commercial adsorbents are often not cost effective. Using food waste char instead of commercial adsorbents could improve local water quality, and manage local food waste while generating an alternative source of energy.

In 2019, Hengameh Bayat, was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to study food waste conversion to biofuel, and evaluate the feasibility of using treated char as an adsorbent material for wastewater treatment. The project is titled, Wastewater Treatment Using Food Waste Char Obtained from Hydrothermal Liquefaction as a Low-Cost Adsorbent Material. Bayat, a PhD student at New Mexico State University’s Chemical and Materials Engineering department, worked on this project under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Catherine E. Brewer.

The food waste for the project’s experiment was collected from NMSU’s dining hall, Taos Restaurant. After mixing the food waste with deionized water, the mixture was blended into a slurry. For each experiment a stainless steel Parr batch reactor was then loaded with the food waste slurry and heated. Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) uses hot (250-375°C) compressed water to convert waste materials into energy-dense bio-crude oil, non-condensable gases, an aqueous phase, and HTL-char. The HTL-char was separated from the mixture to be used for experiments.

Preliminary results showed that food waste HTL-char has significantly higher lead adsorption capacity compared to commercial activated carbon, and food waste-derived HTL-char may be an effective adsorbent for the remediation of metal contaminated water.

As Bayat explains, “this research provides information about downstream energy recovery of food waste, and the capability HTL-char has for wastewater treatment. Remediation of heavy metals like lead and copper from water is not only important for animal and human health, but using HTL-char from biowaste would also be economical and environmentally friendly.”

Bayat presented this project at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting.

Bayat received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Arak University, and a master’s degree from the Material and Energy Research Center at the University of Tehran in her home country of Iran. During her time at the University of Tehran she worked on converting microalgae to value-added products like bio-crude oil as a fuel and biochar as an adsorbent for wastewater treatment. Bayat is working toward her PhD in Chemical Engineering, and would like to pursue a career in academia. She is interested in converting waste materials to value-added products to use in water conservation and remediation.

eNews July 2020

New Mexico Tech Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Antibiotic Resistant Pathogens in Surface Water

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Antibiotic resistance is an increasing concern around the world. The New Mexico Department of Health has determined four cases of antibiotic resistant infections with no known health-care source; the only commonality between all the patients are their counties of residence, which are connected by the Pecos River. Human activity can lead to the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) throughout natural reservoirs and surface waters. Surface waters, like the Pecos River, have become a topic of human health research due to the fact that these aquatic environments can expose resident bacteria to antibiotic resistant bacteria that could potentially transfer these determinants through horizontal gene transfer. The Pecos River is a potential source that harbors Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), an emerging group of antibiotic resistant pathogens. CREs are commonly observed in clinical settings but can be found in the environment. As of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun tracking CREs. New Mexico has had a rapid increase in carbapenem-resistant infections, including pathogens carrying the VIM gene.

In June, Kasandra Velarde was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Exploring surface water as the reservoir of CRE infecting patients in SE New Mexico. Under the direction of Dr. Linda DeVeaux, the study aims to provide insight in the dissemination of carbapenem-resistance genes in the Pecos River, specifically the VIM gene, which could potentially provide a correlation between clinical and environmental reservoirs.

Water samples from the Pecos River will be taken from different sites within three counties throughout the course of summer 2020. The environmental water samples will be filtered and total DNA will be extracted. DNA will be screened for the presence of the VIM gene. If VIM positive, sequence analysis and purification will be performed and samples will go through whole genome sequencing. The analysis of mobile genetic elements and comparing the relatedness to each other and to clinical isolates from the New Mexico Department of Health will be conducted.

According to Velarde, “New Mexico has very limited data on the presence of environmental CREs that harbor antibiotic resistance genes. Four patients from neighboring counties were infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria with no identifiable point of contact. We hope to provide more information on how CRE travels between communities could contribute to the dissemination of these genes. This study can provide a link between ARGs in a clinical setting and an environmental setting, which can be used to understand how to control or predict potential outbreaks of CRE infections.”

Velarde, who has grown up in New Mexico, is a student at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. She plans on graduating with a degree in Biology and moving into a graduate program in Biology focused in microbiology. After obtaining a master’s degree, Velarde’s goal is to become a researcher in the private sector or in a government position, and possibly obtaining a PhD in her field.

eNews July 2020

Meet the Researcher, Antonio Lara, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month we are meeting Antonio Lara, who is currently an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Antonio avidly researches how to use clay pellets to effectively reduce uranium and heavy metal concentration levels in contaminated water sources. According to Lara, his Chemistry 100 class is used to help students gain a passion for the sciences, have more confidence in their learning, and build upon fundamentals to help them succeed. He regularly challenges himself to develop new and exciting strategies to make chemistry more appealing to his students, and show them that anyone can excel when they put their mind to it.

Lara received his BS (1972) and MS (1977) from NMSU in Math Education, and Organic Chemistry, respectively. He returned to NMSU to complete his PhD in Analytical Chemistry in 1990. Once his education was completed, he had the opportunity to become a Postdoctoral Researcher at Michigan State University in 1991 working under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Pinnavaia, who was an experienced chemist who specialized in clay materials.

Currently, Lara receives funding every year from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) to help research the process of converting non-potable water to potable water using clay pellets. Lara’s research on clays provides a cost effective and sustainable method for removing uranium and heavy metals from drinking water due to their cation exchange capabilities. The sorption capacity of the clay pellets is large enough to not only sorb non-bonded uranium, but also sorb uranium directly from contaminated water. As a result, clay pellets as well as powders are effectively able to reduce uranium concentrations from 15 times the Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level to non-detectable limits. While his research is still ongoing, water is currently being trucked out to the Navajo Nation to help aid in the crisis intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lara hopes to be able to contribute more to the cause as soon as possible through his research and findings. Antonio’s latest publication is entitled, Natural clays with an inherent uranium component that nevertheless sequester uranium from contaminated water. This article is one of two that illustrate the current status of his clay pellet research, and two other publications are currently in progress.

Antonio currently mentors students at all grade levels and strives to teach them the value of their research. Several of his students have been funded by the Student Water Research Grant Award program offered by NM WRRI. Moticha Franklin is his latest student to be funded in 2019 for research entitled, Surface Area of a Local Clay Material to Elucidate Uranium Abatement for Potable New Mexico Water Management. More information regarding her research can be found here. Three of Lara’s students, Moticha Franklin, Joshua Herrera, and Jeremy Jones,  successfully presented posters showcasing their research at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Lara has several important future goals for reducing pollution and advancing science literacy.  Pollution is a major problem in the borderland region, and Antonio believes a large portion of it is due to soot production, and the amount of car travel at the border. To assist with issues related to soot, Lara developed an early build of a clay kiln in Juarez, Mexico, that did not pollute the air by creating black smoke. By performing further research and publishing his methods, he hopes to provide effective alternatives to combat air pollution and enhance the lives of many people who suffer from poor air quality. He would also like to set up a workshop to better inform the public about their personal responsibilities to the environment, what they can do to clean it up, and teach them that water is a precious resource that must be protected regardless of cost.