NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Muchu Zhou is a PhD student at New Mexico State University in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering. In June, she received an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled, Design of Optimized Produced Water Treatment Units for Agricultural Irrigation. The purpose of the study is to design and optimize a water treatment unit capable of treating produced water so that it meets the requirements for agricultural irrigation.

In 2018, New Mexico ranked third in crude oil production in the United States, and advanced hydraulic fracturing technology is causing the oil output in New Mexico to grow. This hydraulic fracturing also generates a large amount of water known as “produced water.” Around 900 million barrels of produced water was generated in New Mexico in 2017. Conventionally, produced water is considered wastewater, but advanced wastewater treatment and state regulatory framework has made the reuse of produced water possible.

Currently, treated produced water does not meet the quality required for reuse in agricultural irrigation. Therefore, the goal of Muchu Zhou’s research is to design and optimize a produced water treatment unit for agricultural irrigation that considers high efficiency, low energy consumption, and low cost as three key factors.

As Muchu Zhou explains, “We have considered four units for designing produced water treatment: (1) pretreatment, (2) organic matter removal, (3) reduction of salinity, and (4) heavy metal ions removal. For each unit, two or three methods will be tested for optimization. Microfiltration, sedimentation, adsorption, ion-exchange, electrodialysis, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis have been taken into account.”

An optimized treatment train is expected to meet the reuse requirements for agricultural irrigation and have low cost and low energy consumption. The total dissolved solids, organic compounds, and inorganic ions will be efficiently removed to the standard level of the irrigation water, and the salinity of the produced water can also be reduced if needed.

The value of this research is effectively reusing treated produced water with the quality required for agricultural irrigation. This project addresses resource efficiency, sustainability, and water reuse at a time when water scarcity is such a big issue in New Mexico.

Muchu Zhou expects to complete her studies and graduate from NMSU with a PhD in chemical engineering. She is working under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Reza Foudazi, Associate Professor of Chemical and Material Engineering at NMSU. Muchu Zhou received her Bachelor’s Degree from East China University of Science and Technology located in her home country of China, and also received a BS and MS degree in chemical engineering from NMSU.