Water Security and Technology

A Confluence of Water Research

As a California-based facility, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) understands the importance of responsible and sustainable water management. LLNL’s water-related research and operational programs span and connect many aspects of leading-edge water research and applications, including remediating legacy contamination at Department of Energy (DOE) facilities, understanding climate impacts on the hydrological cycle, and improving the resiliency of our state and national water infrastructure. Our work builds on the interdisciplinary strength of our workforce, unique laboratory capabilities, and world-class computational expertise. Go to Water Research at LLNL.

Loading a sample for analysis by isotope ratio mass spectrometry.

Fundamental Water Science

Behavior of Water at Surfaces and Interfaces

LLNL scientists are using firstprinciples simulations and in situ measurements to understand the physics of water and solute molecules near the surfaces of catalysts or membranes and in the confined spaces of pores or channels. By understanding transport of water contaminants, we can design better materials for water treatment.

Physics of Clouds and Precipitation

Climate scientists at Livermore study interactions between the land and atmosphere, combining observations from the U.S. DOE’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement facility with state-of-the-art Earth system simulations. We develop models of how those interactions affect cloud formation, precipitation, and atmospheric chemistry, ultimately informing the global terrestrial water cycle.

Paleoclimate Science

A reverse-osmosis plant designed to prepare treated groundwater.

To understand the interplay between precipitation, evaporation, vegetation, and surface and subsurface hydrology, LLNL climate scientists study lake and wetland sediments as geochemical and sedimentological archives. Combining these observations with the use of ultra-rare isotope capabilities at LLNL’s Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, we improve model predictions along with our understanding of natural climate systems and other Earth processes.


Water in the Environment

Isotope Hydrology

Watershed scientists at LLNL study water flows and residence times in natural environments using isotopic and geochemical tracers. This research supports sustainable management of water resources and enhances our understanding of contaminant transport and nutrient and carbon-cycle science.

Isotope hydrology maps the age of groundwater to identify vulnerable areas.

Subsurface Reservoir Management

LLNL reservoir engineers, hydrologists, and geochemists couple state-of-the-art modeling and analysis with field studies to quantify fluid movements in the subsurface and important rock–water interactions that control water composition and transport of contaminants. This research informs the design of geothermal reservoirs, oil and gas wells, subsurface energy storage systems, and geologic repositories for captured carbon dioxide, spent nuclear fuels, and other radioactive byproducts.

Climate Change Detection and Attribution

Through rigorous statistical analysis and model interrogation, LLNL scientists improve our understanding of the nature and causes of climate change. The same techniques that attribute overall changes in atmospheric temperature to human activity are being used to quantify how natural and human-made factors can influence atmospheric moisture, precipitation, and sea level, thereby enhancing our ability to forecast and plan for times of water scarcity.

Groundwater Protection

Livermore has long supported the protection of groundwater resources and management of legacy groundwater pollution issues at our laboratory and across the DOE complex. We have contributed to many national environmental science programs managed by DOE, including the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project. Within California, LLNL geochemists and hydrologists have applied their skills to aquifer storage projects in Orange County and water management challenges in the Salton Sea basin.

Samples collected by LLNL hydrogeologists.


Water Technology and Infrastructure

Flow-Through Electrode Capacitive Deionization (FTE-CDI)

Engineers at LLNL are developing revolutionary desalination technologies that use electricity to remove salt from water. FTE-CDI requires special materials called carbon aerogels that have high capacitance, good electrical conductivity, and are porous enough to let water flow through freely in order to extract salts. For brackish water, which is plentiful in the arid West, FTE-CDI is fundamentally more energy efficient than traditional desalination technologies that use heat or pressure to extract freshwater from saltwater.

Carbon Nanotube Membranes

A new hierarchical porous carbon material for efficient desalination.

Chemists and material scientists are studying molecular and ionic transport in single nanochannels and in nanoporous membranes under a variety of driving forces. Efforts are also underway to fabricate nanocomposite and biomimetic membranes for various applications, including physical and chemical separations, protective and breathable fabrics, and skin-inspired responsive systems. Systems Analysis: Leveraging a rich legacy of energy system visualizations, LLNL analysts have turned their attention to the energy–water nexus. We are using a broad range of economic data to quantify the relationships between irrigation and biofuels, water and wastewater treatment and electricity, produced water and fossil fuels, and fresh water and power plant cooling—generating relevant findings for policymakers and other stakeholders.

Exascale Cooling

LLNL's Sankey diagram shows energy and water use in California. See more energy and water flow charts

With the next generation of supercomputing already being installed on the Livermore campus, our facilities and infrastructure team is investigating ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle the vast quantities of water needed to cool one of the world’s most powerful computers. Emerging Technologies: LLNL is always pursuing the next innovation in sustainable water management. From enhanced surfaces that improve ultraviolet treatment and novel materials that can capture water from air to engineered microbes that can recover heavy metals, researchers at the Laboratory are committed to advancing clean water innovations.