New Graphene Device Can Turn Polluted Seawater Into Clean Drinking Water In One Go

A sample of the GraphAir membrane. CSIRO

A newly invented variant of graphene has successfully been used to make the heavily polluted water in Sydney Harbor drinkable. Dubbed GraphAir, its inventors explain in an accompanying press release how their “perfect" water purification membrane is able to filter out essentially all the dangerous contaminants and salt in one single go.

Publishing their work in the journal Nature Communications, the team – led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) – note that their tiny, proof-of-concept "supercharged" purification device can process around half a liter (0.11 gallons) of water per day.

That’s not much in practical terms, but if the membrane is as successful at clearing up water as this work suggests, it’s just a question of scale at this point. Besides, its applicability to parts of the world that are still scrambling for easily accessible, clean drinking water is immediately obvious.

“Almost a third of the world's population, some 2.1 billion people, don't have clean and safe drinking water,” lead author, CSIRO scientist Dr Dong Han Seo, said in a statement.

He’s not wrong. Water contamination is a ubiquitous problem, one that crops up in the wealthiest of nations – lest we forget the lead-spiked water running through Flint, Michigan – as well throughout much of the developing world. In fact, a recent study noted that pollution leads to 9 million premature deaths every single year, and although air pollution is primarily responsible, water pollution comes in a close second.

Water filtration technology, therefore, is a top priority, so it’s no surprise that engineers have turned to graphene.

Conductive, atomically thin, ultra-strong, and extremely light, graphene is multifunctional; as a result, it’s been used in various endeavors, from futuristic prosthetics with graphene-powered artificial skin to enhanced, durable tennis rackets you can buy today.

Water filtration devices have also been trialed, and although several have hinted at success, one key issue with them is that graphene is still very expensive to manufacture. Few processes are available to cut down the costs in this regard, but last year, as also elucidated in a Nature Communications study, they struck gold.

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