Producing clean water at a lower cost could be on the horizon after researchers have solved a complex desalination mystery that had baffled scientists for decades. Researchers have figured out exactly how reverse osmosis membranes work to remove salt and other chemicals from water, a breakthrough that they say could help make the process more efficient and quicker.
What is Happening?
- The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Science.
- A team of researchers from the University of Texas and Pennsylvania State University, in partnership with DuPont Water Solutions, discovered that desalination membranes are inconsistent in mass distribution and density, which can impair the performance of reverse osmosis. By making the membranes more uniform in density, the researchers were able to increase efficiency with desalination by 30-40%, cleaning more water with less energy and lowering the costs.
- Desalination membranes remove salt and other chemicals from water, an essential process that cleans billions of gallons of water for agriculture, energy production and drinking.
- Reverse osmosis membranes work by applying pressure to the salty feed solution on one side. The minerals stay there while water passes through. This takes a large amount of energy, and the researchers say that improving the efficiency of the membranes could reduce that burden.
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Manish Kumar, a chemical engineer at the University of Texas and co-author of the new research, says, “Reverse osmosis membranes are widely used for cleaning water, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about them. We couldn’t really say how water moves through them, so all the improvements over the past 40 years have essentially been done in the dark.”
- Desalination will likely become a critical process, especially in low-resource areas, as climate change, population growth and pollution are threatening access to safe drinking water.