May Wu

Talk: Dissecting the Water-Energy Nexus: Water Resource Use and Water Quality Impact in the Production of Biofuel and Baseline Fuels 


Abstract: The demand for water resources has increased as a result of increasing energy demand and, more recently, the rapid growth in renewable energy, biofuel, and emerging energy markets, in addition to population growth and rapid urban sprawl in the United States. The impact becomes even more complex under extreme weather scenarios and future projected climate change. To meet this challenge, it is essential for energy sector to develop needed feedstock resources, technologies, and systems in a sustainable manner to maximize the economic, social, and environmental benefits while mitigating any potential undesirable effects. Water sustainability encompasses the availability of water resources and the impact of water use on water quality. The footprint of water use affects the entire process of energy production and varies substantially from regional to region. This talk will give an overview of our research and assessment on water use in the production of baseline fuel, electricity, and biofuels. In our assessment, a spatially explicit water footprint framework is tailored to the feedstock production system and thereby link region-specific feedstock characteristic information to the fuel production pathway. Water footprint of biofuels produced from conventional, cellulosic, and advanced sources via various conversion technologies (biochemical, thermochemical) at the county level for the United States will be presented. The impacts of changes in land use for future feedstock production, as well as the impact of various management practices, and climate change, have been simulated at the watershed and sub basin scales. We have further explored the use of alternative water resources for the production of biofuel, as well as the associated hurdles. To overcome future challenges associated with meeting the demand for renewable energy, stakeholders should consider water resources when addressing feedstock development and biorefinery siting, in additional to taking into account economic parameters and infrastructure. Furthermore, water conservation (through recycle and reuse) must be a priority at every stage of the fuel/energy-production life cycle.


Bio: Dr. Wu is the Principal Investigator for water sustainability analysis in biofuel production at Argonne National Laboratory. Her research focuses on water use, water quality and water availability as related to the development of conventional fuel, electricity, emerging fuels and life cycle analysis (LCA).

Wu currently leads an effort to develop tools to better understand the water footprint of biofuels produced from starch, cellulosic, oil seeds, and algae. Another major research interest for Dr. Wu is LCA. Since 2004, she has participated in several major U.S. efforts to estimate energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions of a number of fuels.

In addition, Wu served as an expert advisor to the Water Working Group of the Council on Sustainable Biomass Production and supported the National Biomass R&D Board’s Sustainability Interagency Working Group. She has extensive experience in the areas of water treatment, wastewater treatment, online monitoring of anaerobic biological processes, microbial-induced corrosion, fermentation and membrane separation.

Prior to current position, Dr. Wu was a senior research microbiologist at Nalco Chemical. May completed her postdoctoral work at Argonne National Laboratory. She holds several U.S. patents, and has authored or co-authored 40 publications. She received her B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Tong-Ji University, Shangai, China, her M.S. in Environmental Engineering from North Carolina University, and has a dual Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Toxicology from Michigan State University. In 1997 she received the R&D 100 Award, and she was twice awarded the Nalco Global Research Award, in 1998 and 2000. She is a member of the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Water Resources Association.


Argonne National Laboratory: