Welcome to the Net-Zero Water Project

This video was provided by the National Science Foundation. Click here to go to the National Science Foundation Page.

Overview of the Project

Did you know that raw sewage is typically more than 99.9% freshwater, and that across South Florida, treated wastewater on average meets 87 of the 93 drinking water requirements without further treatment (Comparative Assessment of Human and Ecological Impacts Final Report, Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, 12 July 2001) When this stable, non-seasonal, freshwater source is disposed to the ocean or to deep saltwater aquifers, impurities are increased by a factor of almost 100. Most of this material is salt, which requires extremely high energy to remove, by either reverse osmosis or distillation, if the water is then withdrawn for water supply. Why not save that energy and reuse the treated water, which has approximately the required volume and quality needed to supply urban demand. In addition, 3-4% of total electricity consumption in the US is used for conveyance of water and wastewater, and this energy can be saved through low-energy, on-site water reuse. In fact, doing so would:

  • Alleviate the need to treat for 11 billion lbs. of pesticides and toxic chemicals that are released to the environment each year in the US;
  • Allow treatment to focus on permanently destroying the pharmaceuticals and cleaning chemicals that go down our drains, removing them from the environment where they cause endocrine disruption in animals and humans throughout the world. In fact, studies indicate that 20% of male black bass in the US are feminized by such chemicals (Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 10, 1499-1518, 2008), and girls in the US now often reach puberty by age 7 (Environmental Health Perspectives, 108, 2000); and
  • Save energy used for conveyance and desalination, and replace water rationing and low-flow fixtures.

How can we achieve this? Here you will find information on a project to rethink the way we handle wastewater and water. We are developing the technology to take buildings off the water grid without raising the cost of high quality water. With modern communications, routine maintenance can be performed remotely and by mobile service personnel annually and in response to system monitors.

This project, funded by the National Science Foundation for 4 years, will demonstrate the approach at a 4-bed unit in the University Village at the University of Miami. The unique low-energy treatment system under development will incorporate a biological treatment, iron-mediated aeration/vacuum ultrafiltration, and peroxone advanced oxidation with rainwater makeup, avoiding the use of high-energy membrane treatment. In two further research thrusts we are (a) studying social motivations for adoption of net-zero water technology, and (b) developing real-time risk detection technology using machine learning and evidence processing techniques.

Please browse our site to learn more about the project, our academic, industrial, and government partners, and future events including radio shows and tours. For more information or to support the effort, send an e-mail to netzerowaterdorm@miami.edu.

Remember, treated wastewater will be coming soon to a tap near you!

James D. Englehardt,Ph.D., P.E.
Principal Investigator


Schematic drawing and Autonomous Net-Zero Water Project logo created by Lora Shea

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number EFRI-1038257. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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