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Water Recycling Kicks off at New Mexico Laboratory


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Each year, the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory’s wastewater treatment plant produces more than a hundred million gallons of treated wastewater effluent. This summer, in an effort to reduce its environmental impact, the laboratory christened a system that will allow it to treat and recycle its wastewater for use in its own cooling towers.  This recycling system will allow the facility to reduce its wastewater discharge into the nearby Sandia Canyon, while also decreasing the facility’s potable water consumption by up to 32%.

The Sanitary Effluent Reclamation Facility (SERF-E) project was originally designed to help the laboratory meet Environmental Protection Agency limits on polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). It uses a four-step process in order to treat the water (as shown below):

  1. precipitation and flocculation (where pollutants are chemically treated so they can be removed from the wastewater)
  2. solids concentration
  3. solids removal and dewatering
  4. reverse osmosis.

In addition to cleaning up the wastewater, the facility will also allow for the reuse of approximately 120 million gallons of sanitary effluent per year. The recycled water will be circulated through the laboratory’s cooling towers to help cool the super-computers housed in the laboratory’s Strategic Computer Complex. The system is designed to be flexible, allowing the facility to continue to discharge some treated wastewater into the nearby Sandia Canyon Wetland in order to protect that area’s environment.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Office of Public Affairs

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. AlisaIsbel 2:23 am 09/8/2012

    I like our water recycling information.Your pictorial presentation is nice and easily understand by viewers.Thank you.

    Link to this
  2. 2. choose 1:45 am 09/14/2012

    The City of Phoenix in Arizona at the 23 ave.and durango Waste water Treatment plant has been doing this recycling the waste water for over 10 years they put it back into the cannel fot the farmers to use it. And other small treatment plants around the city and around the county reuse the water for thier golf courses.
    As every body knows Phoenix and about half of Arizona
    is in a desert but it dosn’t look that way because the
    pioneers that came here had a vision how to preserve our
    most valiable resourse

    Link to this
  3. 3. danielcaleb 5:12 am 12/19/2013

    Continuous

    Link to this
  4. 4. Nauman 1:10 pm 12/24/2013

    Indeed it is a good job done because after all, the water pumped through sewer pump stations directly to the surroundings was only polluting the water resources. Now, it will be cleaned enough to be harmless to the wild-life of the area or even reused in other usual jobs.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Nauman 1:13 pm 12/24/2013

    Indeed it is a good job done because after all, the water pumped through sewer pump stations directly to the surroundings was only polluting the water resources. Now, it will be cleaned enough to be harmless to the wild-life of the area or even reused in other usual jobs.

    Link to this

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