River Water Treatment in Chennai: Producing Drinking Water by Reverse Osmosis and Biocrude Oil by Hydrothermal Liquefaction; Desalination’s Impact on the Water Crisis in the context of Climate Change

Hawkins, Chris, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Rogers, Hannah, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia

This portfolio contains two reports regarding water scarcity in the world. The first report details the technical design of a water treatment plant located in Chennai, India. Chennai has faced severe water scarcity due to abnormal rain patterns and the pollution of local water sources. The pollution in the rivers of Chennai has become so toxic that all three rivers have been declared dead. As a result of the polluted surface water and diminished groundwater supply, Chennai relies on rain during the monsoon season to supply the city with clean water. Recently, these rain patterns have become increasingly unreliable, leading to extensive water scarcity. The water treatment design seeks to provide the population of Chennai, India with a reliable source of clean drinking water to fight water scarcity in the growing city. The design intends to reduce pollution of the Cooum River, the water source for the plant, by using the sewage and other pollutants in the river for a hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) process. HTL is a robust process that allows high carbon density fluids, such as sewage, to be converted into a biocrude oil. HTL will not only reduce waste from the water treatment plant but also provide an energy source to help power reverse osmosis.
The second report is an STS research paper considering the environmental effects of desalination with regards to climate change. The majority of desalination plants in the world use reverse osmosis processes to purify saltwater. The process itself requires extensive amounts of energy, typically 3 to 10 kWh/m3 of water produced, to separate the salt ions from the water. Because of the large energy requirement, the carbon footprint of desalination is quite large, averaging 3.6 kg of carbon dioxide produced per cubic meter of water. The research paper addresses the relationship the Sorek desalination plant has on Tel Aviv and Israel through the lens of Richard White’s Organic Machine. Through this analysis, it is determined whether desalination’s production of clean water is worth its heavy carbon footprint.
The two reports address the complexities of water scarcity and the benefits and drawbacks to industrial water purification. The water treatment plant designed in the technical report confirms the high energy requirements claimed in the STS research paper. The technical report attempts to address this issue with the use of HTL to produce biocrude oil, while the STS research paper explores renewable energy sources as alternatives to power desalination. The STS research paper is an extension of the technical design report as it explains the environmental implications of a water purification plant as well as the potential economic and social benefits of providing clean drinking water.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Water Treatment, Reverse Osmosis, Hydrothermal Liquefaction, Desalination

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering

Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson

STS Advisor: Hannah Rogers

Technical Team Members: Jacob Gendron, Katarina Liddell, Abhi Mangu, Natalie Thomas

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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