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Researchers Develop Graphene Sieve To Turn Seawater Into Drinking Water


A U.K.-based team of researchers has created something that could help millions of people around the world with no ready access to clean drinking water. The researchers have created a graphene-based sieve capable of eliminating salt from seawater, making it suitable for drinking.

Graphene seawater
ataribravo99 / Pixabay

Graphene used to filter salt out of seawater

Graphene oxide membranes are useful for filtering out large salt and organic molecules and small nanoparticles. However, they could not be used to remove common salts until now. Common salts require even smaller sieves.

Previous work has shown that a graphene oxide membrane grows bigger when immersed in water, enabling smaller salts to flow through the pores with water molecules. Now, a research team at the University of Manchester has demonstrated that placing epoxy resin-made walls on either side of the graphene oxide membrane stopped the expansion, reports the BBC. An epoxy resin is a substance that is used in glues and coatings.

According to the BBC, the graphene-based sieve will now be tested against existing desalination membranes. The extraordinary properties of graphene oxide, like electrical conductivity and its great strength, make it one of the most promising materials for future applications, notes the BBC.

Graphene, the thinnest material in the world, is a form of carbon, and it is comprised of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is 200 times stronger than steel, notes Sky News. Originally, this material was isolated by researchers Kostya Novoselov and Andre Geim in 2004 at the University of Manchester. Later, the two researchers won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work.

This could help solve the water crisis

The research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. In the study, the research team, led by Dr. Rahul Nair, showed how they met some of the challenges by using a chemical derivative called graphene oxide.

However, producing large quantities of graphene by using existing methods is not only tough but also very costly. Currently, methods like chemical vapor deposition (CVD) are used to produce single-layer graphene-oxide, notes the BBC. But according to Dr. Nair, it can be produced in a lab by simple oxidation.

Dr. Nair told the BBC, “As an ink or solution, we can compose it on a substrate or porous material. Then we can use it as a membrane.”

Graphene oxide has a potential advantage over single-layered graphene in terms of cost and scalability, Nair said. This is an important step forward, and it will open new possibilities to improve the efficiency of desalination technology, he said. The discovery has the potential to revolutionize water filtration around the world and solve many water-related issues, especially in places that cannot afford large-scale desalination plants.

According to WaterAid, an international development charity, about one in ten people in the world don’t have access to clean water, and nearly 315,000 children under the age of five die every year from diseases that are caused by unclean water. The United Nations expects about 14% of the world’s population to encounter water scarcity by 2025.


7 Comments on "Researchers Develop Graphene Sieve To Turn Seawater Into Drinking Water"

  1. Cloggie on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 9:52 am 

    The content of the article doesn’t exactly match the promising headline. And what do you do with the salt that is heaping on the membrane, once it works? Wipe it off like with a screen wiper? Doesn’t the membrane gets topped up?

    But indeed, a method of producing cheap drinking water from sea water would be an immense breakthrough.

  2. green_achers on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 10:13 am 

    I’m not sure this makes sense. In conventional reverse osmosis, “larger” salts are removed from water and replaced by sodium salt before filtration. Sodium in solution becomes hydrated and is actually easier to filter out than ions such as Calcium and Magnesium, the typical hard water salts. But ignoring all of that, if this means they have just basically found an alternative way to make a very fine filter, it is still going to take energy to push water through it at a rate which makes the whole thing feasible.

  3. Coffeeguyzz on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 10:29 am 

    Graphene is slowly becoming implemented in more and more applications.

    One of the strangest and, potentially, more promising, is to be able to use it as feedstock in 3D printing.

    Graphene may ultimately live up to the hype as being a “miracle” material.

  4. Apneaman on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 11:41 am 

    Hair clog, just as I am about to write you off as hopeless there you go asking a few pertinent questions. There may be hope for you yet young man.

    Techno-Optimism Vs. The Laws of Physics

    Techno Fix | Why Technology Won’t Save Us

    “Techno-Fix shows that negative unintended consequences of technology are inherently predictable and unavoidable, techno-optimism is completely unjustified, and modern technology, in the presence of continued economic growth, does not promote sustainability, but hastens collapse. The authors demonstrate that most technological solutions to social and technology-created problems are ineffective. They explore the reasons for the uncritical acceptance of new technologies, show who really controls the direction of technological change, and then advocate extensive reform.”

    How is it that technophilics, like Coffeeguyzz, always seem to filter out the more inconvenient details?

    “However, producing large quantities of graphene by using existing methods is not only tough but also very costly.”

    Ah yes… blinds all.

  5. Apneaman on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 12:02 pm 

    Climate change impacting ‘most’ species on Earth, even down to their genome

    Three recent studies point to just how broad, bizarre, and potentially devastating climate change is to life on Earth. And we’ve only seen one degree Celsius of warming so far.

    “But the fact that so many species are undergoing genetic changes doesn’t mean they are successfully adapting to our warmer world.

    “In many instances genetic diversity is being lost due to climate change, not just in nature but also in resources that human’s depend on such as crops and timber,” Scheffers said. “It is important to not confuse species responses and adaptation as an indicator that everything will be okay.”

    “There has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts,…”

    “There has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts,”

    That’s what I been trying to tell y’all for years.

  6. Apneaman on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 12:11 pm 

    Miami`s fight against rising seas

    “Just down the coast from Donald Trump’s weekend retreat, the residents and businesses of south Florida are experiencing regular episodes of water in the streets. In the battle against rising seas, the region – which has more to lose than almost anywhere else in the world – is becoming ground zero.”

    It’ll happen even faster than most predictions/models suggest.

  7. Cloggie on Wed, 5th Apr 2017 12:28 pm 

    The BBC has great trouble discerning between “flooding” and sea level rise.

    One reason is that water levels here are rising especially quickly. The most frequently-used range of estimates puts the likely range between 15-25cm (6-10in) above 1992 levels by 2030, and 79-155cm (31-61in) by 2100.

    The most interesting piece of data, namely the rise between 1992 and now, is mysteriously missing.

    Oh wait, 8 cm since 1992 (25 years ago), according to NASA:

    That would mean, if linear extrapolation is allowed (nobody knows), another 25 cm for the remainder of the century can be expected. As already everybody expects will happen.

    There have been sea level variations of up to 100 meter in the very distant past, that obviously had nothing to do with human influences, but who cares. Just as long as we have an excuse to shoot Republicans and oil workers (but not Apneaman).

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