Complex Desalination Problem Finally Solved

The discovery will make it possible to produce clean water at a lower cost. It's particularly good news for low-resource areas.

Desalination membranes remove salt and other chemicals from water, a process critical to the health of society, cleaning billions of gallons of water for agriculture, energy production, and drinking. The idea seems simple - push salty water through and clean water comes out the other side - but it contains complex intricacies that scientists are still trying to understand.


The research team, in partnership with DuPont Water Solutions, solved an important aspect of this mystery, opening the door to reduce costs of clean water production. The researchers determined desalination membranes are inconsistent in density and mass distribution, which can hold back their performance. Uniform density at the nanoscale is the key to increasing how much clean water these membranes can create.


The findings appear in Science and describes that this uniformity increases desalination efficiency by 30 to 40 percent, meaning they can clean more water while using significantly less energy.


“Fresh water management is becoming a crucial challenge throughout the world,” says Enrique Gomez, a professor of chemical engineering at Penn State who co-led the research. “Shortages, droughts - with increasing severe weather patterns, it is expected this problem will become even more significant. It’s critically important to have clean water availability, especially in low-resource areas.”

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