Desalination: Now with Half the Energy


Turning salt water into fresh water is not the end solution to all water shortages or contamination. But as with all technologies, we can strive to make them more efficient for when they are needed. Eric Hoek and his team from UCLA have shown yet again that the control of materials at the nanoscale can lead to very big advances in technology. The nanocomposite material has unique advantages over current reverse osmosis (RO) technology.

"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."

The most exciting bit is that the breakthrough is already being applied by the start-up NanoH2O. Usually, a scientific breakthrough will go through years of further R&D; before it is pushed to a market. In this case it looks like technology is a reality right now. NanoH2O predicts that their 'thin film nanocomposite' (TNF) will reduce the cost of water derived from RO. From their website:

"With a target of doubling the current productivity of RO systems, NanoH2O projects that its technology can halve the size an existing RO process plant while maintaining the previous production capacity. The result is approximately a 25% savings in the cost of produced water, making TFN a truly disruptive technology."

The reduction in energy needed to pump water through the TFN membrane plus the longer life of the TFN membrane results in a more robust and efficient technology. For other clever uses of water in arid areas check out our previous post on the seawater greenhouse. ::UCLA News ::NanoH2O