A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.
The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater…
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, they said.
The development could spare underdeveloped countries from having to build exotic, expensive pumping stations needed in plants that use a desalination process called reverse osmosis.
“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less…”
About 780 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water, the United Nations reported last year.
“One of the areas that we’re very concerned about in terms of global security is the access to clean and affordable drinking water,” said Tom Notaro, Lockheed business manager for advanced materials. “As more and more countries become more developed … access to that water for their daily lives is becoming more and more critical.”
RTFA for details. The best news is that Lockheed engineers expect to be into the prototyping stage by the end of this year. After that, partners with experience and distribution channels will be likely to come on board. Good engineering looks like it’s going to reduce cost and increase availability for a very important process.
Not exactly unimportant is that the prototyping program will include developing filters which can be retrofitted to existing plants.