The Rice University Water and Energy Research Center builds upon several existing collaborative activities here at Rice to address the challenges of the Water-Energy Nexus using a systems perspective and innovative nanotechnology, biotechnology, and advanced materials. This will be achieved by integrated water and wastewater management through the life cycle of energy production, and by modernization of urban water infrastructure to increase treatment capability and efficiency while decreasing energy requirements.

No other resource is as universally necessary for life as is water, and its safety and availability is a grand challenge inextricably linked to global health, energy production, and economic development. Secure, sustainable supply of energy and water is critical to the economic development of the United States. These two resources are inextricably and reciprocally linked.

  1. The production of energy requires large amounts of fresh water and produces enormous volumes of contaminated water. In the U.S., 10 barrels of produced water are generated on average for every barrel of oil produced 1.3 to 5 million gallons of fresh water is used for each hydraulic fracturing in shale gas production

  2. Water and wastewater treatment and distribution heavily relies on the availability of low-cost energy.

  3. Approximately 80% of municipal water processing and distribution costs are for electricity, which counts for more than 20% of the total energy use by municipalities

  4. A growing number of regions in the US do not have sufficient fresh water resources to meet the demand for energy production, municipal, agricultural, industrial, and ecosystem use.

The reciprocal constraint that water and energy impose on each other is a well-recognized global challenge usually referred to as the Water-Energy Nexus. Although the challenge is global, the solutions are largely local as it is not feasible to transport large quantity of water over long distances.