MTBE Removal From Drinking Water

EPA Contract Number: 68D01014
Title: MTBE Removal From Drinking Water
Investigators: Bowser, John
Current Investigators: Bower, John
Small Business: Compact Membrane Systems Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: April 1, 2001 through September 1, 2001
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water and Watersheds , SBIR - Water and Wastewater , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


The 1990 Federal Clean Air Act mandated the incorporation of oxygenates into gasoline in ozone and carbon monoxide nonattainment areas. Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is the oxygenate of choice due to economic and supply considerations. Despite federal and state programs to improve handling of gasoline and other fuels in pipelines, underground and above-ground storage tanks, and other transport modes, gasoline spills and leaks still are relatively commonplace. In addition, uncombusted gasoline is spilled from boats and recreational equipment directly to surface waters, which may serve as water supply reservoirs. The result is that MTBE is the second most frequently detected volatile organic compound in shallow groundwater (Squillace, et al., 1996), based on the National Water Quality Assessment Program.

There is concern that MTBE can have deleterious health effects and may cause ecological damage. Studies indicate that if water supplies are not treated, a significant percentage of the population may be exposed to levels that can cause health effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently has proposed the removal of MTBE from fuels to help reduce the existing MTBE/water problem. However, new innovative treatment methods or techniques are required to improve the performance of existing drinking water treatment plants for removal of MTBE and other oxygenates. There is a need for innovative treatments in small, medium, and large water treatment plants. In most cases, these plants already exist, and a preferred solution is a retrofit into existing facilities.

Compact Membrane Systems, Inc. (CMS), proposes a novel technique to directly convert MTBE and other oxygenates into less harmful materials. The CMS technique is ideal for small-scale operations either as a stand-alone disinfection technique or as one that is easily integrated into existing facilities. The CMS procedure requires that no new chemicals be added to the treatment system, and residence time for chemicals generated during the process is short.

CMS first will build all key components of this MTBE disinfection system. Then, CMS will evaluate the capability of each key component, both by itself and in combination, to destroy MTBE. Using the above results, preliminary economic analyses will be conducted to identify water purification sectors that can best benefit from the system.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, water treatment, drinking water, groundwater, surface water, MTBE, engineering, chemistry, EPA., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Toxics, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, air toxics, exploratory research environmental biology, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Chemistry, Contaminant Candidate List, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Effects - Human Health, Drinking Water, Engineering, Chemistry, & Physics, Environmental Engineering, gasoline, alternative disinfection methods, Safe Drinking Water, ecological exposure, human health effects, exposure and effects, stratospheric ozone, MTBE, exposure, treatment plants, surface water, chemical contaminants, treatment, water quality, water treatment, contaminant removal, drinking water contaminants, other - risk management

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    MTBE Removal From Drinking Water  | Final Report