Graphene-based sieve could provide drinking water to millions

Graphene-based sieve capable of removing salt from seawater has been created by a team of UK researchers.

Graphene structure model. © Ian Jacobs at Flickr

By 2025 the UN expects that 14% of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity. The new graphene-based sieve could potentially provide hope to millions of people without ready access to clean drinking water.

First isolated by a Manchester-based team in 2004, graphene is just one atom thick, 200 times stronger than steel and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity – making it one of the most promising materials for future applications.

According to a report by the BBCthe scientists at the University of Manchester have now discovered that graphene oxide membranes can be used for efficient filtration of common salts. Unlike graphene, graphene oxide can be produced by simple oxidation in labs.

Graphene oxide membranes have previously proved that it can sieve organic molecules and nanoparticles but was unable to filter common salts as it became swollen when immersed in water.

Dr Rahul Nair and his team have now demonstrated that placing epoxy resin walls on either side of the membrane solves the problem.

“Water molecules can go through individually, but sodium chloride cannot. It always needs the help of the water molecules. The size of the shell of water around the salt is larger than the channel size, so it cannot go through,” said Dr Nair.

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