Scientists Have Created A Sieve That Could Make Seawater Drinkable

Brilliance | Dec. 11, 2017

If you're stuck on a desert island, you're going to want to pack this: scientists have created a new type of sieve that can actually turn seawater into clean drinking water. It's all about the membranes, baby.

How to Turn the Ocean Into a Source of Drinking Water

Scientists from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom have invented a graphene-oxide membrane that can actually turn seawater into clean drinking water. The technology is currently limited to the lab, Science Alert explains, but may one day be crucial in quests to expand the world's sources of drinking water.

This isn't the first time scientists have used graphene-oxide to take impurities out of water. In the past, they've drilled tiny holes—we're talking a single nanometer, which is thousands of times smaller than a red blood cell—in graphene, which is a single-layer lattice of carbon atoms. The problem is that water can make those holes expand, which lets common salts like sodium chloride (table salt) through. But the new development, which was announced in April 2017 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, showed that the researchers' graphene-oxide membrane was able to filter out 97 percent of sodium chloride particles. The secret is the use of epoxy resin, a substance used in some glues, on either side of the membrane, which prevented this swelling.

No More Water Shortages?

As The BBC reports, the United Nations has predicted that by 2025, 14 percent of the world's population may not have access to enough clean drinking water. A cheap, reliable filtration system, like the graphene-oxide membrane, could change all of that.

Still, Ram Devanathan, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the U.S., is cautious. He wrote an accompanying piece in Nature Nanotechnology on the study, in which he noted that scientists still have more work to do before graphene-oxide membranes could be produced at large scales. That means making the membranes durable under a variety of conditions.

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