Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command

NAVFAC EXWC’s Seawater Desalination Test Facility Aids Armed Forces with Reliable Potable Water Solutions

10/26/20 11:52 AM

The Seawater Desalination Test Facility (SDTF) located at Naval Facilities (NAVFAC) Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (EXWC), has a long history of supporting the Department of Defense (DOD), federal agencies, and private sector companies with unique water purification, testing and evaluation.

The SDTF is ideally located off the coast of Southern California, offering direct access to natural seawater. Operating 24/7, the SDTF provides a real-world testing environment for water purification components such as high-pressure pumps, reverse osmosis membranes, energy recovery devices, and various microfilter and ultrafilter pretreatment technologies. Of the services the SDTF offers, DOD agencies—such as the U.S. Army—have relied heavily on the SDTF’s expertise to support the enhancement of their tactical water purification system—or TWPS.

TWPS is a potable water purification system that filters and purifies brackish water comprised of dissolved metals, nitrates, chlorine, mineral salts, and other water pollutants. Using microfiltration pretreatment, energy recovery devices, and automated processes, TWPS can produce 1,200 gallons per hour of clean, potable water originally derived from seawater, or 1,500 gallons per hour of clean, potable water originally derived from freshwater.

TWPS is arguably one of the Army’s most important pieces of equipment, offering water for drinking, personal hygiene, and meal prepping. According to an Army press release, a fully manned armored brigade combat command can consume between 19,000 to 20,000 gallons of potable water in a 24-hour period.

In the past, the Army has relied on bottled water to meet their water consumption needs. The logistics of transporting bottled water supplies in contested environments proved to be an immense challenge for the DOD’s expeditionary forces. By acquiring TWPS, expeditionary warfighters can treat and produce potable water from a wide variety of water sources without having to rely on bulk water supply.

In the early 1990’s, the DOD wanted to replace the current 600 gallon per hour reverse osmosis water purification units (ROWPU) with a system that offered greater water production capability without increasing the magnitude of the system. The SDTF was then funded by the Army, and began conducting several engineering studies on pretreatment systems, which led to the development and fielding of TWPS.

Over the past 15 years, the SDTF team has provided engineering and lifecycle support to the Army’s Program Management Office. In an effort to further increase potable water capacity, the SDTF team began developing a prototype for a 3,000 gallon per hour TWPS—or 3K TWPS.

3K TWPS is a replacement system for the predecessor 3,000 gallon per hour ROWPU fielded by the Army in the late 1980’s. The Army chose to develop an in-house TWPS design that offered greater water production capacity, with the goal of providing technical data packages to potential contractors. In doing so, the Army asked NAVFAC EXWC’s SDTF subject matter experts to assist with the design and development of 3K TWPS.

Different from TWPS, 3K TWPS is more mechanically robust, uses manual controls, and incorporates the best practices from several military water purification systems. The prototype uses a customized media and cartridge filter design that incorporates an energy recovery system. It operates from a 60-kilowatt tactical generator that has the flexibility to fit inside a large, standardized shipping container. Several of the components used in 3K TWPS are tied to existing national stock numbers to make the system easier to maintain.

Like past TWPS prototypes, 3K TWPS will undergo extensive testing and validation at the SDTF.

“Testing at the SDTF helps identify issues with equipment, and prove technical solutions through long-term testing,” said William Varnava, P.E., NAVFAC EXWC Water Technology Product Lead. “The more hours a piece of equipment undergoes testing in a relevant environment, the higher the overall reliability will be.”

Varnava added that increasing water production capacity would reduce the amount of time it takes to produce the amount of water needed for deployable forces. By offering this greater flexibility, the Army can reduce the need to resupply bulk water and become water self-sufficient.

3K TWPS has yet to be acquired by the Army, and continues to be further developed and tested.

NAVFAC EXWC’s SDTF customer base extends beyond the Army to the Office of Naval Research, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Naval Surface Warfare Center, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

About Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC):
NAVFAC EXWC is a command of more than 1,300 dedicated federal employees, contractors, and military personnel who provide science, research, development, testing, evaluation, specialized engineering, and mobile logistics capabilities to deliver sustainable facility and pragmatic expeditionary solutions to the warfighter.

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