If there was a list of life’s greatest unpleasantries, you would find swallowing seawater above even nail trephination. It makes you gag and leaves a lovely burning feeling in your mouth.
Fret not though, for we humans have been drinking desalinated water for some time. And now researchers at UCLA have discovered a material that will do the job at half the energy cost. Here’s a little snippet from their press release:
Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science today announced they have developed a new reverse osmosis (RO) membrane that promises to reduce the cost of seawater desalination and wastewater reclamation.
Reverse osmosis desalination uses extremely high pressure to force saline or polluted waters through the pores of a semi-permeable membrane. Water molecules under pressure pass through these pores, but salt ions and other impurities cannot, resulting in highly purified water.
The new membrane, developed by civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Eric Hoek and his research team, uses a uniquely cross-linked matrix of polymers and engineered nanoparticles designed to draw in water ions but repel nearly all contaminants. These new membranes are structured at the nanoscale (the width of human hair is approximately 100,000 nanometers) to create molecular tunnels through which water flows more easily than contaminants.
Unlike the current class of commercial RO membranes, which simply filter water through a dense polymer film, Hoek’s membrane contains specially synthesized nanoparticles dispersed throughout the polymer – known as a nanocomposite material.
“The nanoparticles are designed to attract water and are highly porous, soaking up water like a sponge, while repelling dissolved salts and other impurities,” Hoek said. “The water-loving nanoparticles embedded in our membrane also repel organics and bacteria, which tend to clog up conventional membranes over time.”
With these improvements, less energy is needed to pump water through the membranes. Because they repel particles that might ordinarily stick to the surface, the new membranes foul more slowly than conventional ones. The result is a water purification process that is just as effective as current methods but more energy efficient and potentially much less expensive. Initial tests suggest the new membranes have up to twice the productivity – or consume 50 percent less energy – reducing the total expense of desalinated water by as much as 25 percent.
If Kevin Costner had this technology in Waterworld, he might not have had to drink his own pee. Zing!
Read the press release here…