NM Tech Grad Student Studies Water Decontamination Process, Nov. 22, 2005

by Shawna Carter

SOCORRO, N.M., Nov. 22, 2005 —New Mexico Tech graduate student Craig Altare recently presented his research findings concerning the removal of organic contaminants from produced water at the annual convention of the Geological Society of America.

Altare, a member of a research team at the state-supported research university in Socorro, recently helped develop a process to remove organic contaminants from produced water, which is generated as a byproduct in the petroleum industry as part of the oil extraction process.

“One barrel of oil creates 10 barrels of produced water,” Altare says.

Currently, the unusable produced water is pumped back deep into the ground for disposal, an expensive process.

“By treating this water, we may be able to use it for other purposes,” Altare states. “It could be used for crop irrigation, dust control, or a multitude of other purposes. The water may not be of human drinking quality, but it would still be useable.”

Altare and his research team have developed a simple process, which uses naturally occurring and inexpensive materials that can be reused multiple times without losing efficiency or effectiveness.

The New Mexico Tech researchers filter produced water using a surfactant-modified zeolite (SMZ) column, which traps organic compounds between thin layers of molecules.

The resulting treated water has a higher salt content than what humans can normally tolerate, but animals, such as cattle, may be able to drink the water, Altare points out.

Once the SMZ column is saturated with organic compounds, compressed air is pumped through the column to remove these compounds, and the column can be reused repeatedly.

The removed organic compounds must go through further treatment to prevent pollution of the environment. The end results of this treatment process are carbon dioxide and water.

“We have already performed field testing on our filtering system, and it works as well in the field as it does in the laboratory,” Altare says.