The objective of this research study was to evaluate the feasibility of using a minimum liquid discharge (MLD) desalination approach as an alternate management option for unconventional produced waters (PWs) with a focus on minimizing the generation of solid waste. The feasibility of MLD was evaluated using OLI, a water chemistry software, to model thermal desalination of unconventional PWs from the Delaware Basin in New Mexico (NM). Desalination was theoretically terminated at an evaporation point before halite (NaCl) saturation in the residual brine. Results of this study showed that selectively targeting a subset of higher flow rate and lower TDS wells/centralized tank batteries (CTBs) could yield up to 76% recovery of distillate while generating minimal solid waste. Using a selective MLD approach did reduce the quantity of distillate recovered when compared with ZLD, and left a reduced volume of residual brine which has to be managed as a liquid waste. However, selective MLD also greatly reduced the amount of solid waste. The use of a ZLD approach yielded incrementally greater quantities of distillate but at the cost of large quantities of difficult-to-manage highly soluble waste. Simulation results showed that waste generated before NaCl precipitation was primarily composed of insoluble compounds such as calcite, barite and celestite, which can be disposed in conventional landfills. This study also found a simple empirical linear relationship between TDS and distillate recovery, thus allowing a non-expert to rapidly estimate potential distillate recovery for a given starting PW quality.
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