Fresh water scarcity is becoming a huge problem for numerous communities around the world. With population and temperatures increasing continuously, more and more fresh water sources dry out or become exhausted, posing a huge threat on people’s health.
Having this major problem at hand, scientists and engineers have been trying to tap into the extensive seawater pool, exploring different means for converting saltwater into fresh water. Quite a number of technologies are already around, including WaterFX’s solar desalination system and MIT’s desalination technology, among others. Unfortunately, as the technology heavily relies on the process of reverse osmosis, it is quite pricey, and it is currently in use mainly in countries of the Middle East and Egypt.
A team of scientists from University of Alexandria now claims to have found a cheap, clean and very efficient way to make desalination of seawater accessible and affordable practice everywhere.
The new technology does not need electricity to function. It also uses a different method, called pervaporation, which is a two-step process of filtering and vaporizing. The filtering is done using a polymeric membrane, while the vaporizing, and consequently condensation lead to production of fresh water.
Although pervaporation as such is not new, it was associated with quite an expensive and complicated membrane production. This is probably the reason why it has not been put into full use. But the team of scientists, led by researcher Mona Naim, developed a new type of membrane, which is salt-attracting and is embedded with cellulose acetate, aka fiber from wood pulp.
This new membrane is not only very cheap to make, but it is also highly efficient. According to the researchers, it can handle highly concentrated seawater, and remove contaminants. What is more, it is not only useful in terms of fresh water production, it can also be used for capturing environmental pollutants and salt crystals.
Now that the theory is out, the team is planning to focus on the practical side of things, and hopefully show that the new method is ready to be commercialized.
The study appears in last month’s edition of the journal Water Science & Technology.
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