Current WRP Projects: Project 54

Treatment of Produced Water and Rare Earth Element Resource Cost-Offsets, Wyoming

  • Project Number:  54
  • PIs:  Charles Nye, Research Scientist, School of Energy Resources, UW; Jonathan Brant, Professor, College of Engineering, UW; and Scott Quillinan, Research Scientist, School of Energy, UW.
  • Period: 07/01/2018 – 06/30/2019



Over the last two years a successful collaboration between the University of Wyoming (UW), Idaho National Labs (INL), and United States Geologic Survey (USGS) conducted the first national inventory of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) and critical materials dissolved in produced waters and geothermal fluids at the ng/l level (Nye et al, 2017). This study increased the available produced waters REE data by an order of magnitude (Blondes et al., 2016). This national study will conclude in June of 2018.

Many of the samples used in this nationally recognized study were collected from Wyoming Basins (n=53). The basins sampled were the Wind River Basin, the Powder River Basin, and the Greater Green River Basin. In these Wyoming basins, produced waters had unique enrichment patterns featuring high europium and an unexplained bi-modal behavior of heavy rare earths. This unique behavior in the Wyoming samples merits further investigation at an increased density in previously studied Wyoming basins and also in unexamined Wyoming basins.

We propose to study Wyoming Produced water by applying the experience gained from our national study, and investigate the areas of the state we have not yet sampled. These areas are the Big Horn Basin, the Laramie Basin, and/or the Wyoming portion of the Denver-Julesburg Basin. Sampling is dependent upon industry partners and is normally the greatest challenge for a project like this. However, as evidenced in the national project, the research team has been very successful in forming industrial partnerships to access produced water samples. There is every reason to expect this trend of successful partnerships to continue.

The sampled waters will be collected, prepared, and split at the University of Wyoming. As during the national project, these activities will be performed by both students and researchers to ensure sample quality and simultaneously provide experience to students under a mentorship framework. The split samples will then be sent to the UW Stable Isotope Facility (UW-SIF) for stable isotope analysis, and INL who has the most advanced facilities and trained technicians for performing aqueous REE analysis in produced waters. Standard geochemistry will be performed both in house at the Geochemical Analytical Laboratory, and at an external commercial laboratory using other splits of the sample. This approach maximizes data reliability and use of on-campus facilities.

At the same time as this analytical process, the team will research, screen, and test (at the bench-scale) water treatment technologies. These technologies will initially use synthetic solutions to establish baseline performance and operation conditions but then perform high-fidelity treatment tests using the natural samples collected from field sites. This part of the project will be led by the engineering student, with oversight and mentorship from the team. This model will provide leadership experience to the student, but also ensure successful completion of project objectives.

Deliverables for this project will include: a custom-tailored water treatment recommendation for each sampled basin; data tables of the concentration and present market value of critical materials dissolved in the water; concentration of water quality pollutants before and after treatment; and an action plan describing a possible implementation of water treatment at the sample sites. All deliverables will be presented at conferences and be released for use by Wyoming agencies for public outreach.

The dovetailing of the national study’s end date and this study’s start date will maximize consistency in analytical and sampling procedures, minimize drift due to disuse of instruments, and generally facilitate data comparisons between the studies- increasing the usefulness of both.


Find us on Instagram (Link opens a new window)Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window)Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)Find us on LinkedIn (Link opens a new window)Find us on YouTube (Link opens a new window)