Study calls for water-testing center at UMass

AMHERST — Companies working on water treatment and energy-efficiency technologies may soon look to the University of Massachusetts to test their new products.

A new feasibility study from the quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, or MassCEC, calls for the creation of a water-testing demonstration center at UMass and two other sites. The effort is part of an environmental bond bill state lawmakers passed in 2014 to authorize investment in the water technology industry. Gov. Charlie Baker would now have to approve the release of state capital funds for the project.

The report says that in order to get technologies out onto the market, they need to be tested ‘at scale’ in an environment with proper testing protocols that can produce valid performance data.

“A successfully established Demonstration Center network could serve existing Massachusetts-based water technology companies, help attract new companies to the commonwealth, advance new solutions to both local and global water challenges and provide a strong foundation for innovation,” the report reads.

One of the three centers proposed in the report would be located at the wastewater pilot plant at UMass. The study suggests that a $3.9 million investment would allow the UMass center to generate enough revenue to cover operating costs.

The MassCEC is a quasi-public economic development agency meant to boost the state’s clean energy economy. “Water innovation” is included in that portfolio because energy generation consumes large amounts of water.

“Water and energy work together in almost every form of energy production to provide our cities and towns with the resources we need,” MassCEC’s website reads, describing what the organization calls the “water-energy nexus.” “The water-energy nexus is the relationship between how much water is used to generate and transmit energy, and how much energy is needed to pump, collect, convey, treat and store water.”

With that relationship in mind, MassCEC hopes that the proposed water-testing centers will further the development of water technologies, including filtration, delivery systems, treatment and water security monitoring systems.

“UMass is already a leader in this sector. The professors and the graduate students are already doing cutting-edge work,” Rick Sullivan, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, told the Gazette.

UMass is home to one of two national centers for research on small- to medium-sized drinking water systems funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, Sullivan said. He said companies are hoping to take advantage of the university’s unique expertise, and that the water innovation center would play a large role in that.

Operations could begin at the new facility within the next two years, according to the report.

The MassCEC study does not recommend construction or funding, however, and Baker’s office did not answer a question as to whether, or when, the governor would be releasing capital funds for the investment.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

Author: Going Green

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