The University of Pittsburgh has always been regarded as a world class research institution, and now they are taking that reputation into the world of natural gas. Researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering were recently awarded a $1.76 million grant from the Department of Energy to conduct testing on a new method for treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater. University of Pitt is teaming up with EQT, a Pittsburgh-based natural gas company, and Aquatech International LLC, a wastewater treatment company, to develop their new method.
Large amounts of fresh water and various chemicals are required to fracture rock formations, such as the Marcellus and Utica shales. When the wastewater returns to the surface it contains radioactive materials. Typically, this wastewater needs to be transported to a separate location for treatment and disposal. According to Joe Napsha from the Tribune-Review, Pitt researchers are testing membrane distillation technology which leverages on-site waste heat to help create mobile treatment systems to convert frack wastewater into high quality water. By eliminating the need to transport the wastewater far distances they can help reduce the amount of capital investment needed by fracking companies. The team also believes that their new method will allow for the water to be reused for more than just additional fracking. Pitt researchers propose that their methane distillation process can be used to create high quality water for use in agriculture and other industries.
Natural gas drilling in the greater Pittsburgh area is a massive industry and a major influence on the local economies. New methods being developed will help streamline the process and create a cleaner, more efficient solution. Thus, allowing companies to increase their investments into the region. This mobile treatment process from Pitt researchers could potentially be the reason why.