New Mexico Water eNews


June 2021

UNM Student Water Research Award master's recipient, Natalie Gayoso, disassembling a desiccant dehumidifier.

UNM Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Cost
of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies

by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Water scarcity is a challenge in New Mexico and around the world. As groundwater and surface water availability decline, the need to explore alternative freshwater sources is clear. One idea for an alternative freshwater reservoir is the water in the atmosphere. This water has a very low salt content and has universal availability. The atmosphere contains six times more water than the world’s rivers. These factors make the water in the atmosphere a potential alternative freshwater source. However, to perform Atmospheric Water Capture (AWC) effectively, we need to better understand how different climate regions affect the amount of water being produced and the effectiveness of different water harvesting technologies.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute has awarded The University of New Mexico (UNM) master’s student Natalie Gayoso a Student Water Research Grant to study the cost of purchasing and operating technology that performs large-scale AWC to accommodate commercial applications. The project entitled, Techno-Economic Analysis to Determine Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies, will identify important cost and benefit drivers of AWC technologies.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Anjali Mulchandani, Gayoso will be conducting a Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA). The TEA will include three main steps: 1) performance modeling through a thermodynamic analysis of AWC energy requirements under various climate models, 2) cost modeling through identification of key capital and operating expenditures for AWC units and power supply, and 3) financial evaluation through a sensitivity analysis to determine the components that are critical drivers of cost at various scales of the technology.

According to Gayoso, the results of the TEA will show the volume of water collected at three model climate conditions – arid, temperate, and coastal –  based on the size and power requirements of two different water harvesting approaches (i.e., comparing drying air using a desiccant to condensation to dew point using a compressor). As Gayoso explains, “by developing a techno-economic analysis, we can evaluate the economic viability of AWC technology, allow direct benchmarking against competition like bottled water, and identify major cost drivers. This research will highlight the most cost-effective technology and energy-efficient mode to produce a high volume of clean drinking water from the atmosphere.” Gayoso expects that using existing renewable energy sites will be the most cost-efficient due to the negligible capital expenditure needed to bring the site to operable status. She expects a temperate climatic condition with 60 percent relative humidity to be the most cost-efficient area due to certain units costing more as the capacity of water increases. Gayoso plans on presenting her work at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October.

Gayoso, whose family moved to Albuquerque when she was six, received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Environmental Engineering and plans on graduating in 2022 with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Water Resources. After graduation, Gayoso plans on working somewhere where she can make a positive impact on water management and the environment.

NM WRRI Technical Completion Report No. 392 is now available online.

Focused Aquifer Technical Completion Report
Now Available Online

by Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

Sarah Reuter, New Mexico Tech (NMT) Hydrology Master of Science graduate, Daniel Cadol, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at NMT, Fred Phillips, Emeritus Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at NMT, and Talon Newton, Hydrologist at NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources Aquifer, completed their study titled, Evaluating Focused Aquifer Recharge in the Jornada Experimental Range, NM Using Chloride Profile Analysis. The researchers received a grant for the research project through NM WRRI’s Faculty Water Research Grant Program. Funds were made available through the Institute’s federal base grant (Section 104B of the Water Resources Research Act).

NM WRRI Technical Completion Report #392 is posted here on the Institute’s website in its entirety.

NMSU associate professor, Catherine Brewer, standing in front of a pilot-scale Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL) food waste reactor, which will be used to process food waste materials upon completion.

Meet the Researcher

Catherine Brewer, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University
by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month’s featured researcher is Catherine (Catie) Brewer, an associate professor for the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Catie teaches three classes at NMSU, including an introduction to chemical engineering calculations, brewing science and engineering, and heat and mass transfer. She is the director of NMSBrew (Brewery Engineering). Catie has affiliate faculty status with the Water Science and Management (WSM) graduate program, and works closely with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). Two master’s students she previously supervised completed the WSM graduate program, and two of her doctoral students have been sponsored by NM WRRI research grants. These awards were given to study the use of biomass energy in water desalination and the use of biomass-derived chars for the removal of metals from contaminated water. Brewer states that one of the most important aspects of her position is “training students to better communicate across disciplines, develop efficient research skills like improvisation and resourcefulness for when things do not go as planned in the lab/field, and the importance of teamwork.”

Catie is currently supervising four doctoral, five master’s, and approximately twelve undergraduate students. One of her students, Hengameh Bayat, was recently awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Wastewater treatment and water recycling through use of byproducts from hydrothermal liquefaction of food waste. Brewer states that this research will evaluate the best uses for co-products created from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of food waste, the aqueous phase, and the char. Nutrients and carbon from the food waste end up in these co-products, which have the potential to improve the economic feasibility of food waste HTL if value-added applications can be implemented. Further information on this topic can be found in their recent publication entitled, Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Food Waste: Effect of Process Parameters on Product Yields and Chemistry.

Brewer’s research interest focuses on biomass utilization, which is the process of using plant materials for energy, environmental remediation, and sustainable agriculture. Her group works with alternative crops (hemp, hops, guayule, halophytes, algae, etc.) to develop new processes and products, and with agriculture/forestry residues to better manage waste.

Catie earned her BS degree in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located in western Pennsylvania (2007). She received her PhD in Chemical Engineering and Biorenewable Resources and Technology with a minor in Soil Science from Iowa State University, located in Ames, Iowa (2012). Her dissertation was entitled, Biochar Characterization and Engineering.

Throughout her research career, Brewer has contributed to over forty peer-reviewed publications and three book chapters. She currently has seven manuscripts under review or in preparation for publication. Catie is a member of several professional affiliations, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the American Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers (ASABE), and the Pink Boots Society. She has received several funded grants, with her most recent one being from The Department of Energy Sandia National Laboratory Lab Directed Research and Development program (2020) for her proposal entitled, Techno-economic Analysis of Extracting Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Fly Ash Using Supercritical CO2-H20-Chelator Systems. Other awards include winning the Best-in-Show Beer and the grand prize at the AIChE Young Professionals 3rd Annual Brewing Competition in 2019. She has been an invited speaker at several national and international seminars, conferences, and workshops, and her group has presented their research at over eighty academic engagements.

When asked about future endeavors, Brewer anticipates many upcoming research opportunities on a multi-university/departmental scale. She hopes to become more involved with educational grants and activities related to alternative crops and/or products, and agricultural engineering. Catie also plans to expand and develop NMSBrew to become a better resource for NMSU students and the New Mexico brewing industry.

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