The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has found out a greener way to desalinize sea water. It uses carbon nanotubes which have pores that are 100,000 times smaller than a human hair, and were able to determine the rejection mechanism within the pores.
The following is from LLNL’s press release:
“Hydrophobic, narrow diameter carbon nanotubes can provide a simplified model of membrane channels by reproducing these critical features in a simpler and more robust platform,” said Olgica Bakajin, who led the LLNL team whose study appeared in the June 6 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In the initial discovery, reported in the May 19, 2006 issue of the journal Science, the LLNL team found that water molecules in a carbon nanotube move fast and do not stick to the nanotube’s super smooth surface, much like water moves through biological channels. The water molecules travel in chains – because they interact with each other strongly via hydrogen bonds.
“You can visualize it as mini-freight trains of chain-bonded water molecules flying at high speed through a narrow nanotube tunnel,” said Hyung Gyu Park, an LLNL postdoctoral researcher and a team member.
One of the most promising applications for carbon nanotube membranes is sea water desalination. These membranes will some day be able to replace conventional membranes and greatly reduce energy use for desalination.
In the recent study, the researchers wanted to find out if the membranes with 1.6 nanometer (nm) pores reject ions that make up common salts. In fact, the pores did reject the ions and the team was able to understand the rejection mechanism.
If water desalination is achieved at lower energy water supplies from all around the world could be significantly grow. That would mean more food for the poor countries and cheaper water all in all for the rest of the world.