RO Brine Treatment R&D – NSF SBIR Phase I and Bureau of Reclamation Pitch to Pilot Project

Fountain Valley, CA and Alamogordo, NM


The Research & Development (R&D) team developed a new photobiological process for the treatment of reverse osmosis (RO) concentrate to recover more usable water and reduce the volume of waste brine for disposal. This development resulted in the acceptance of two federal grant awards from the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) through the Pitch to Pilot program and the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program. PACE conducted several series of bench- and pilot-scale experiments on this unique patented photobiological process that utilizes diatoms to rapidly remove inorganic scalants and nutrients and enhance freshwater recovery from RO concentrate. The NSF SBIR Phase I study focused on process optimization, organic matter characterization, and secondary RO feasibility. The USBR study investigated the scale-up issue by designing, constructing, and operating a 1,500-gallon photobioreactor at the USBR’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF) in Alamogordo, NM. These research efforts proved the effectiveness of the technology to scale-up the process and apply it at a commercial scale with real-life applications.


Key Features:

  • Recovers more usable water – 95%+
  • Reduces RO concentrate/brine discharge – ~ 5%
  • Reduces excess nutrients, scalants, and microconstituents (e.g., pharmaceuticals and personal care products) – Up to 99%
  • Lowers cost – Nutrients available in RO concentrate, uses natural sunlight
  • Minimal mechanical equipment and operator friendly
  • Reduces environmental impacts of water reuse and brackish water desalination
  • Reduces nutrient loading, captures CO2
  • Generates beneficial algal biomass for energy production, animal feed, and fish feed

United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) & National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program

Advanced Water Quality / Piloting