Teeny tiny particles could provide an answer to a massive problem: how to provide enough potable water to sustain the global population of human beings. Researchers at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA have come up with one solution, a membrane made of a specially engineered nanoscale material that can purify water with far greater energy efficiency than current technology.
Not that we really could drink our way out of climate change and rising sea levels, but a more energy efficient way to desalinate seawater could enable the world’s population to use the oceans as a source of potable water on a far greater scale than is currently done.
New Breakthrough in Reverse Osmosis
In conventional reverse osmosis water treatment, water is forced through a membrane under high pressure, which requires a lot of energy. The UCLA team developed a new membrane composed partly of nanoparticles that form sponge-like “nanotunnels” through which water is passed. The nanoparticles attract water but repel contaminants including salt. Far less energy is required to pass water through this type of specialized nanomaterial. Conventional technology also involves higher energy demand and maintenance costs related to the buildup of bacteria and organic materials on the membrane, and the UCLA breakthrough practically eliminates this complication because the nanoparticles repel these substances, too. The research team estimates that a water purification process using the new membrane would require about half as much energy as the conventional process.
A Flood of New Desalination Technologies
UCLA’s interest in desalination is in support of the California economy, and that state’s long coastline provides easy access to limitless seawater. The U.S. Navy is another chief player in the desalination matrix, applied to shipboard operations, land bases, and humanitarian relief efforts. A Canadian company called Saltworks Technologies recently introduced an energy-saving desalination technology, and researchers at Yale are working on their own high efficiency reverse osmosis membrane. Maybe we can drink our way out of this mess after all.
Image: Salt by kevindooley on flickr.com.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Our Latest EVObsession Video
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.