Zero Liquid Discharge and Water Reuse in Recirculating Cooling Towers at Power Facilities: Review and Case Study Analysis

Sophia Plata, Connie Devenport, Ariel Miara, Kurban Sitterley, Anna Evans, Michael Talmadge, Kurt Van Allsburg, Parthiv Kurup, Jordan Cox, Samuel Kerber, Andrew Howell, Richard Breckenridge, Cheyenna Manygoats, Jennifer Stokes-Draut, Jordan Macknick, Amy Childress

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus Citations


Zero liquid discharge (ZLD) systems installed at power facilities with the primary purpose of meeting water discharge regulations have the added benefit of providing high quality effluent that can be reused in the facility. This paper provides a review of water use in power sector recirculating cooling towers and a baseline assessment of on-site water reuse at natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power facilities. Two NGCC facilities with reverse-osmosis (RO) or brine-concentrator processes followed by evaporation ponds were selected as case studies; data from these facilities were used to quantify the water, energy, and cost implications of implementing conventional and emerging ZLD technologies. At one case study facility, model results show that implementation of ZLD would reduce water withdrawals by 18%, which is less than savings associated with implementation of dry cooling but comparable to current efforts to reduce water withdrawals by increasing cycles of concentration. Implementation of ZLD using high-recovery RO resulted in a doubling of the levelized cost of water (LCOW). LCOW increased more when a brine concentrator was used. For both case studies, the ZLD system using high-recovery RO required less than 0.1% of a facilitiy's annual electricity generation and the ZLD system using a brine concentrator process required less than 0.8%. Additionally, increasing the evaporation pond area to minimize required ZLD system recovery rates and reduce system electricity costs does not reduce the LCOW. Instead, the LCOW increases because less water is recovered and more water is lost to evaporation. However, if water availability decreases or water competition/cost increases, facilities may be incentivized to maximize water recovery from ZLD systems.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)508-525
Number of pages18
JournalACS ES and T Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-81730


  • brine concentrator
  • closed-circuit reverse osmosis
  • levelized cost of water
  • thermoelectric recirculating cooling towers
  • zero liquid discharge


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