Implications of Transitioning from de Facto to Engineered Water Reuse for Power Plant Cooling

Zachary A. Barker, Ashlynn S. Stillwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thermoelectric power plants demand large quantities of cooling water, and can use alternative sources like treated wastewater (reclaimed water); however, such alternatives generate many uncertainties. De facto water reuse, or the incidental presence of wastewater effluent in a water source, is common at power plants, representing baseline conditions. In many cases, power plants would retrofit open-loop systems to cooling towers to use reclaimed water. To evaluate the feasibility of reclaimed water use, we compared hydrologic and economic conditions at power plants under three scenarios: quantified de facto reuse, de facto reuse with cooling tower retrofits, and modeled engineered reuse conditions. We created a genetic algorithm to estimate costs and model optimal conditions. To assess power plant performance, we evaluated reliability metrics for thermal variances and generation capacity loss as a function of water temperature. Applying our analysis to the greater Chicago area, we observed high de facto reuse for some power plants and substantial costs for retrofitting to use reclaimed water. Conversely, the gains in reliability and performance through engineered reuse with cooling towers outweighed the energy investment in reclaimed water pumping. Our analysis yields quantitative results of reclaimed water feasibility and can inform sustainable management of water and energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5379-5388
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 17 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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