Is this the answer to the world’s water problems? - 09/24/13
Having access to clean, affordable water is something most of us take for granted, but it’s a massive global issue and one that continues to be a hot topic. A possible solution to the problem, or at least an improvement to current water desalination methods, is being investigated by a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
They approached the issue from the angle that over 97% of the Earth’s water comes from the ocean, so surely there must be a better way of producing more affordable clean water for those who need it the most. Current water desalination methods use filtration membranes that reject salt ions such as sodium and chloride, but at the cost of sluggish water output and a very high energy footprint. Thus, the team at MIT are looking at new membranes through which to pass water, one of which is graphene, a substance only one atom thick, making it excellent for water permeability.
Graphene can let water pass through at more than 100X the permeability of existing membranes whilst still rejecting salt. This is done by introducing small pores one billionth of a metre wide into the structure of the graphene, which is small enough to catch the salt particles in the water. Despite being only one atom thick, graphene is one of the strongest known substances, allowing it to withstand water pressure.
This is potentially a very exciting prospect for the future of water desalination, but it does of course require much more testing before it can be considered a truly realistic idea. The issue of cost is also one that needs to be addressed. Will this reduce the cost of clean water so that it’s accessible the world over or will it remain out of reach to those without deep pockets? It’s undoubtedly marketable, but is it affordable?
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