Meet the Researcher, Pei Xu, Professor and Research Director, New Mexico State University
By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
Pei Xu is a professor for the Department of Civil Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU), and the research director of the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium. She has been with NMSU since 2013, and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses related to wastewater treatment, environmental engineering/technologies, and food-energy-water sustainability. At the onset of employment with NMSU, Xu has worked closely with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), and she has served as an advisor to several of NM WRRI’s Student Water Research Grant recipients. She regularly works with NM WRRI researchers on various water projects, such as the New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP). Led by NM WRRI, the NMUPWSP is funded through state appropriations for a statewide water assessment with the objective of stimulating discussion concerning the legal and regulatory aspects of produced water reuse and the impacts of the newly enacted Produced Water Act. Collaboration between multiple universities across the state brings together water research experts to provide an independent understanding of the broad implications of produced water management decisions. In this collaborative effort with NM WRRI, Xu is researching ways to improve water sustainability and resilience in New Mexico via alternative water supplies (e.g., brackish water and produced water).
Xu has many areas of expertise, including 1) produced water quality, treatment, and reuse; 2) membrane processing and fouling; 3) advanced oxidation and disinfection; 4) food-energy-water-environment systems; 5) potable/non-potable water reuse; 6) desalination; 7) biological and bioelectrochemical processes; 8) removal of emerging contaminants; 9) decision support tools; 10) resources recovery from wastewater, and 11) photocatalysis. Xu’s research addresses critical water challenges in arid and semi-arid regions using non-traditional water supplies such as brackish water, produced water, desalination concentrate, and industrial and municipal wastewater.
Xu leads multiple million dollars’ worth of research efforts (federal, state, and industry funding), including the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium and the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI). The Produced Water Act was signed into law during the 2019 New Mexico Legislative Session, and tasked the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) with regulating the disposition of produced water, including discharge, handling, transport, storage, recycling, or treatment. In September 2019, NMED entered into an agreement with NMSU to establish the NMSU-led NMPWRC to help fill in the scientific and technical gaps related to produced water reuse. Xu proudly mentions that the NMPWRC has developed an extensive network of over 75 public-private partnerships with many agencies, professionals, community groups, policymakers, and international entities. Currently, the NMPWRC is working on various technical issues associated with produced water treatment/reuse and expanding its public education and outreach program.
NMSU is a founding member of NAWI alongside Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Xu is the lead cartographer of NAWI on brackish water desalination and a project lead on membrane scaling control using electromagnetic fields. She works alongside researchers from national labs, academia, and industry to develop roadmaps, and identify knowledge gaps and opportunities for developing alternative water supplies. This extensive research will span over five years to create an affordable, energy-efficient, resilient water supply through decentralized, small-scale, fit-for-purpose desalination.
Xu earned her BS, MS, and PhD in Environmental Engineering from Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, China; Lanzhou Jiaotong University, China; and the National Institute of Water, Forest and Agricultural Engineering in Paris, France, respectively. She opted to become a researcher because she is interested in fundamental sciences and applied engineering technologies. “Being a researcher allows me to work in both areas and develop innovative and creative concepts for engineering applications,” Xu states. She envisions her future work centering around building infrastructure for arid/semiarid regions to address water scarcity challenges, fostering sustainable and healthy communities, and supporting economic development through her research efforts.