Ole Lammers / Staff reporter

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK have recently created sieves made from graphene which are capable of filtering seawater into drinkable water. Graphene-based membranes could outbid the current polymer-based membranes, used by nearly half of the world’s desalination efforts, by up to three times in terms of efficiency and lifetime.

With water scarcity rising in the 21st century due to climate change, overuse, increasing demand and other factors, the need for efficient desalination technology grows greater every year, because we all need clean drinking water, especially with the rapidly increasing population outlook over the new decade. The United Nations estimates that 14% of the world’s population will experience some water scarcity by 2025.

Water desalination in many places around the world works by forcing salt water across polymer-based membranes under high pressure. This leads the water molecules passing right through, but the salt ions getting caught, this process is called reverse osmosis.

While reverse osmosis is more efficient than competing technologies, its biggest setback is membrane decay and water throughput speed. Graphene-based membranes would provide a comparable salt filtering percentage but introduce a great increase in throughput.

Graphene-based membranes are not without their challenges though. Scalable, industrial production that maintains the graphene’s structural integrity while keeping costs at a level where the efficiency increase is worth it, is perhaps the greatest hurdle.

Although there are challenges yet unsolved with this new technology, the increasing demand for water in the world will offer encouragement for researchers everywhere to continue development on these graphene membranes. Efficiently filtering and accessing our greatest source of water, the oceans, is the best way to provide clean water for our ever-expanding populations needs.

Sources:
Graphene sieve turns seawater into drinking water
United Nations “WATER FOR LIFE” 2005-2015
Desalination Methods for Producing Drinking Water
Identifying and remedying problems in reverse osmosis process