Nanoporous Grapheme Could Make Desalination Affordable

Any doomsday prophet worth her salt will tell you about the coming water wars. But with the help of nanotechnology, desalination could become far less energy-intensive, i.e. cheaper.

What's the Latest Development?

Researchers at MIT believe they have found a way to desalinate seawater using much less energy, and therefore at a lower financial cost, than current methods require. By using a one-atom-thick grapheme membrane with nanometer-sized pores, sodium ions can be removed from seawater during the reverse osmosis process, currently the most common method used to make salty water potable. "Because the graphene is a thousand times thinner than the traditional membrane materials it requires far less force—and therefore energy—to push the water molecules through it."

What's the Big Idea?

Any doomsday prophet worth her salt will tell you about the coming water wars. But this largely assumes static technology, or least desalination technology patented and tightly controlled by malevolent corporations. "In 2007, the estimates were that worldwide desalination reached 30 billion liters a day.  But the cost of that desalination was at the exorbitant levels of $0.50 to $0.85 per cubic meter." The only countries currently able to rely on desalination are ones with excess oil supplies, such as Saudi Arabia, which can use the fuel to power the energy intensive process. With nanotechnology, we might avoid the water wars after all. 

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