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UTEP gets $2 million for water desalination project

Thomas A. Davis, director of the new Center for Inland Desalination Systems
Thomas A. Davis, director of the new Center
for Inland Desalination Systems, spoke Thursday as Texas
Gov. Rick Perry looked on. (Mark Lambie / El Paso Times
Water desalination research is poised to take a giant step forward in El Paso now that the state, the University of Texas System and other partners have chosen to fund a desalination research center at the University of Texas at El Paso, Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday.

Perry announced a $2 million investment from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to create through UTEP the Center for Inland Desalination Systems, designed to explore more-efficient methods of treating water and ways to recycle mineral byproducts extracted from brackish water.

"In a city that only gets a little more than eight inches of rain a year, when we start thinking about the production of water, it becomes very important," Perry said.

Perry said he grew up on a West Texas cotton farm, where he felt as though he and his family spent much of their time praying for rain.

"We can't leave an issue as important as water and the availability of water just to prayer and chance when you think about where Texas is headed," Perry said. "We're going to see a substantial rationing of water if we do not see some options that allow us to create more of that important resource".

By one estimate, the Texas population is expected to double by 2060 and create a 27 percent increase in water demand, Perry said.

The $2 million investment from the Emerging Technology Fund will be matched with $2 million from the UT System and UTEP. The university is expected to raise another $2 million in sponsored research from industry partners to bring the total funding to $6 million.

UTEP also will partner with El Paso Water Utilities and the U.S. Army, which with the city of El Paso developed the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant in East El Paso. That $87 million plant can produce 27.5 million gallons of drinkable water a day.

UTEP has hired Tom Davis, a desalination expert from South Carolina, as director of the center. Davis, who plans to begin at the university in January, said his research priority would be to reduce the amount of water wasted in a concentrate formed when minerals and salty deposits are extracted during the desalination process.

At the Hutchison plant, for example, 15 percent of water is lost in the concentrate. Davis said a plant in Alamogordo loses as much as 50 percent of water.

Davis also will seek productive uses for the salty concentrate left behind in the desalination process. Minerals and other deposits could have value in commercial enterprises that Perry said could help develop jobs and wealth.

"I'm excited to be a part of this visionary endeavor, and I pledge my best efforts to make this program a success," Davis said.

The $6 million desalination research project dovetails neatly into UTEP's efforts to become a top-tier research university. UTEP President Diana Natalicio said Thursday that the research center would provide students with cutting edge opportunities.

UTEP last year secured nearly $77 million in new grant awards from federal and state agencies, foundations and corporations, and it ranks fourth among Texas public universities in federal research funding.

Darren Meritz may be reached at

– Darren Meritz

El Paso Times. Citing Internet Resources. [Online] Available, October 24, 2008.