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Separating salt from seawater and saving 4 billion people

Scientists in the US have developed a more efficient way of desalination that relies on carbon nanotubes that are 50,000 times thinner than the human hair.

science Updated: Aug 28, 2017 19:03 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
desalination,water crisis,freshwater
Scientists in the US have developed a new desalination technology that relies on carbon nanotubes that more than 50,000 times thinner than the human hair.((Istock))

Scientists in the US have developed a new desalination technology that relies on carbon nanotubes that are more than 50,000 times thinner than the human hair.

The pores of the carbon nanotubes can separate salt from the saline sea water. The tubes with diameters of 0.8 nanometers are composed of carbon atoms in a unique arrangement. Their pores allow for greater water permeability than tubes with larger diameters because of their super smooth surface.

“We found that carbon nanotubes with diameters smaller than a nanometre bear a key structural feature that enables enhanced transport,” Ramya Tunuguntla, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the US, who was part of the team, said. “The narrow hydrophobic channel forces water to translocate in a single-file arrangement, a phenomenon similar to that found in the most efficient biological water transporters,” said Tunuguntla.

“Their sub-nanometre size, atomically smooth surfaces and similarity to cellular water transport channels make them exceptionally suited for this purpose, and it is very exciting to make a synthetic water channel that performs better than nature’s own,” Alex Noy principal investigator at LLNL, said.

The ability to desalinate water more efficiently is seen as key to tackling an impending global water crisis as pressure on freshwater resources grows and climate change impacts the availability of water resources.

Acute water scarcity is likely to affect 4 billion people worldwide. India faces a grave threat with groundwater resources depleting rapidly due to overexploitation and freshwater sources plagued by persistent pollution. India has over 7000 kms of coastline and easy access to seawater.

Desalination technologies are an important strategy to tackle India’s water crisis and the country is considering its own Desalination mission.

(With PTI inputs)

First Published: Aug 28, 2017 19:03 IST