As the world’s population continues to expand, many have begun to worry about dwindling resources. Food and fuel are lacking in many parts of the world, but experts say it’s limited access to water that could cause chaos in the near future. Now, a new effort from Lockheed Martin hopes that graphene will be key to changing that.
While the planet’s total freshwater resources are adequate, they’re quite unevenly distributed. However, 44 percent of the world’s population lives within a reasonable distance of the ocean. Lockheed’s new scheme will use a graphene filter to transform that vast deposit of briny liquid into drinkable water. Cheaply and quickly.
Turning the ocean into drinkable water has been attempted for centuries. Unfortunately, most desalination methods are extremely inefficient and costly. The countries that could most benefit from desalination plants rarely have the billions it takes to build them. Which is why Lockheed’s claim that a graphene filtration system could reduce costs while speeding up the time it takes to go from brine to beverage.
Graphene is extremely thin and extremely strong. These qualities made it possible for Lockheed to perforate a sheet of graphene with holes only a single nanometer wide (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter). The holes allow water molecules to pass through, but block the salt.
“Because the sheets of pure carbon known as graphene are so thin — just one atom in thickness — it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter with the force required to separate the salt from the water, officials at Lockheed told NBC News.
The newly patented filter is called Perforene and it might just be a simple and affordable game-changer for the desalination industry. In addition to desalination, the Perforene membrane can be tailored to other applications, including capturing minerals, through the selection of the size of hole placed in the material to filter or capture a specific size particle of interest. Lockheed Martin has also been developing processes that will allow the material to be produced at scale.