To understand partitioning of produced water (PW) constituents using thermal desalination, PW from the Delaware Basin was desalinated using a crystallization process and modeled using OLI Systems, Inc. (OLI, Parsippany, NJ, USA) chemistry software. The incorporation of a pretreatment step, steam stripping, prior to desalination was predicted to be effective at removing hydrocarbons (across a range of volatilities). As expected, inorganics were almost completely retained in the residual brine which was confirmed by OLI. As evaporation progressed, sparingly soluble compounds such as gypsum and celestite precipitated first and overall solids production at this stage was low (<1% of total solids). Further evaporation resulted in saturation of the residual brine with respect to NaCl, which started to precipitate in bulk up to a practical desalination limit of approximately 68% by mass (approximately 80% by volume). Beyond this point, the residual brine and solids mixture became too viscous to be pumped. Gravimetrically determined total dissolved solids (TDS) for PW, distillate and residual brine was found to be much higher than prediction, potentially due to the presence of neutral species, unstripped gases and organic (likely hydrophilic) constituents. Although the distillate had low TDS, the presence of unknown constituents including organic compounds in the distillate will likely require polishing treatment to mitigate potential toxicity associated with such compounds or transformation products post-release if discharged to the environment. OLI predicted near-complete retention of acetate in the residual brine. In contrast, laboratory tests showed nearly 50% partitioning of acetate into the distillate. Although not modeled, propionate partitioning was even higher at 94%. The inclusion of ammonia as an input species in OLI greatly improved the match between test data and model prediction. Additionally, it was hypothesized that acetic acid/acetate could have formed a volatile adduct with ammonia that increased its volatility and partitioning into the distillate. The findings of this study inform beneficial use by describing the chemical composition of desalination-derived distillate, brine and salt products. This study also identified alternative approaches, both treatment and non-treatment, for managing PW from unconventional operations.
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