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NMSU, GE working on agreement for water research collaboration

New Mexico State University and General Electric Co. are preparing a memorandum of understanding for the creation of a water technology research collaboration to find solutions to problems related to the quality, availability and affordability of water supplies.

hassemi, director of NMSU's Institute for Energy and the Environment, said a major focus of the joint initiative would be new technologies for treating saline and brackish water, which represents a large source of untapped groundwater in New Mexico and in many other parts of the world.

"Every ounce of water we have now is spoken for," Ghassemi said. "We have to be able to take water that is not usable now and make it usable, and we have to find affordable ways to do it."

The NMSU-GE initiative would tackle some of the toughest technical challenges of desalination, such as developing oxidation-resistant reverse-osmosis membranes that are not prone to fouling in brackish water, reducing the liquid discharge from desalination operations and developing more effective technologies for disposing of the discharge.

Researchers also would pursue new ways of providing integrated power and water systems for small communities, using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power to run water treatment facilities, Ghassemi said.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, has included $3 million for the NMSU-GE collaboration in the Fiscal Year 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which has yet to be considered by the Senate. At Domenici's request, an additional $1 million for the water initiative is included in the FY2007 Defense Appropriations Bill in Navy research and development funds. The Senate and House versions of the defense spending bill have yet to be reconciled.

"Experts in this country and around the world agree that water availability will be a looming challenge in the 21st century, and that is certainly the case in New Mexico," Domenici said in a prepared statement. "The NMSU-GE collaboration will give us another opportunity to find the breakthrough that could mean greater water availability and management in arid areas like New Mexico and the Southwest."

The collaboration would build upon the expertise of two NMSU institutes, the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) and the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI). The partnership would involve research and development at NMSU and at GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. It is anticipated that the collaboration also would include student internships with GE and exchanges of NMSU faculty researchers and GE scientists.

NMSU and GE officials are working on a memorandum of understanding to officially launch the partnership, Ghassemi said.

"GE looks forward to working hand-in-hand with New Mexico State University's students, researchers and faculty on this pioneering partnership," said Jeff Garwood, president and CEO of GE Water and Process Technologies. "Through innovation, research and hard work, the partnership will examine how to best tackle water quality and water scarcity issues that affect many communities and businesses in New Mexico and throughout the globe."

Ghassemi said the NMSU-GE collaboration is part of an even larger initiative that includes a proposal for NMSU management of the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility being constructed at Alamogordo. New Mexico's Tularosa Basin has extensive underground stores of brackish and saline water.

"This facility will be a test bed for evaluating and validating desalination technologies," Ghassemi said.

The Tularosa Basin facility, a project of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Sandia National Laboratories and Laguna Construction Co., is the nation's only inland desalination research facility, he said.

NMSU President Michael Martin said the university's partnership with GE "has the potential to be a unique and powerful arrangement which holds great promise for solving real problems, creating real jobs and protecting the environment."

"We greatly appreciate the confidence placed in us by Sen. Domenici," Martin said. "When this initiative comes to fruition, he and his staff will have been central to making the exciting relationship and initiative happen. We're committed to making this a success of the first order."

Sept. 13, 2006
Karl Hill