Advancing Water-Energy Systems

The Challenge

Without water, much of our energy production around the world - such as hydroelectric power generation or oil and gas mining - would not be possible. Similarly, without energy, we would not be able to pump, treat, heat and deliver water. Despite their interdependency, energy and water systems have been developed, managed and regulated independently. Drought, population growth, energy use, land use, socioeconomic changes and a shifting climate increase water demand and exacerbate pressure on water and energy infrastructure.

How are we making a difference?

Given the interdependence of the water and energy sectors, the Energy Technologies Area (ETA) is exploring solutions that help build water and energy resilience for a stable and secure future. In partnership with the National Alliance for Water Innovation, our researchers are working towards finding solutions that will lower the cost and energy required for desalination and associated water treatment.

Global water demand is projected to increase by 55% over the next three decades owing to population growth, industrialization and climate change. Desalination technologies can help meet this demand by extracting water from non-traditional water sources such as brines and produced water from oil and gas extraction.

Our researchers in the Energy Sources & Distributed Resources Division are leading research efforts on desalination technologies and wastewater treatment.

Low-Energy Desalination

Thermoresponsive Ionic Liquids and Hydrogels

We are developing new technologies that leverage solar energy and renewable electricity to reduce the energy intensity and carbon footprint of desalination technologies, and that expand their reach to alternative water sources.

Critical Recovery from Water Systems

Our group is developing desalination technologies based on novel materials and process configurations that can treat nontraditional water sources for beneficial reuse.

Wastewater treatment and reuse facilities have enormous potential for efficiency improvements in the industrial, municipal, and other sectors. ETA researchers are bringing science, techno-economic analysis, and carbon footprinting capabilities to develop brine and wastewater management and reuse pathways for the agricultural, oil and gas industries as well as in urban settings. 

Wastewater Utilization and Techno-Economic Analysis

Wastewater treatment is electricity intensive with associated carbon emissions, and ETA researchers are looking for affordable ways to increase energy efficiency and to clean and store emissions from wastewater treatment facilities and dairy farms.

Large volumes of wastewater are generated daily by municipalities, dairy farms, and food industries. ETA researchers use systems analysis to evaluate how new approaches and technologies can improve the performance, economics, and environmental impact of both new and existing wastewater treatment infrastructure. The goal is to enable wastewater to be a local source of energy, potable water, and nutrients.

Water-Energy Nexus

Irrigation and Pumping

The agricultural sector consumes a tremendous amount of water and energy, but this link between water and energy presents a prime opportunity for innovative agricultural solutions. ETA researchers are applying our expertise in demand response research and energy efficiency to irrigation and energy management in the agricultural sector.

Irrigation and Pumping

Demand response and demand flexibility tools, which allow customers and grid utility operators to increase their loads in response to  the  times of day when renewable energy sources are abundant, have enormous potential to optimize energy and water usage in agriculture. 

Many agricultural areas rely heavily on groundwater, but the energy demand for pumping is not well-understood. This prevents adequate planning for both water and energy resources. ETA researchers are looking at how to integrate the agricultural sector into energy demand incentive programs with a specific focus on how these tools can be used for irrigation management. The goal is to help the agricultural sector develop better water-energy strategies, to improve the reliability of electric and water systems, and to help consumers reduce energy use and save electricity costs.

Research Highlights

Geothermal Brines Could Propel California’s Green Economy

Berkeley Lab scientists to help advance lithium extraction, geothermal energy, thanks to California Energy Commission grants
Learn More

Lab to Manage $100M Water Innovation Hub

A research consortium led by Berkeley Lab, along with three other national labs, will head a DOE desalination hub to provide secure and affordable water
Learn More

New Recipes for Taking Salt Out of Seawater

Promising design rules for cost-effective desalination rely on just a few ingredients: ionic liquids plus low-cost geothermal or solar heat, or waste heat from machines
Learn More