A cheap, simple, and cleaner desalination innovation

Posted by Sean Carmichael on Dec 8, 2015 8:44:04 AM

The major problem with desalination is that the process involves a great deal of energy and a large infrastructure using reverse osmosis. Desalination also deposits concentrated salt water and other pollutants back into the ocean, with all the adverse environmental impact that implies.

According to Gizmag, some researchers at the University of Arizona have developed an innovative method of desalination that is cheaper, simpler, and likely cleaner than the standard method. The new process is called pervaporation. The first step passes the water through a membrane to filter out most of the larger solids. The second step evaporates the water and then collects it as it condenses.

The real breakthrough involves how the membrane is made. The University of Arizona researchers embeds salt-attracting material with cellulose acetate powder made from cheap wood pulp. This material is far less expensive than the sorts of membranes in use currently.

The process is said to not only produce clean drinking water from even the most polluted sea water, but it is also cheap and scalable for any situation. The evaporation step can even use fire as a heating element.

One of the most pressing problems the world faces is the lack of clean drinking water, especially in the developing world. Even in a place like California, drought-prone as it tends to be, access to drinking water can be a problem. As the Earth’s population continues to grow, the problem is only going to get worse.

Thirsty populations are increasingly turning to the oceans for access to water. The cheaper that desalination can be made, the more access to water humans will have.

Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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