How It Works

Wonder material turns sea water into drinking water

Even in the modern world, regular access to drinking water can be a problem in some areas of the globe. Statistics show that in 2017, one in ten people currently don’t have access to safe water. New research has found that the super material graphene could be the answer to providing more fresh water.

The carbon allotrope is famed for its strength and electrical connectivity. Study from the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester has found that its membranes are capable of acting like a sieve to filter out salt from salt water, creating a constant source of fresh water. Graphene has already been proved to have the ability to filter out nanoparticles but now research has revealed that it can separate common salts as well. The way this amazing breakthrough works is like this. When graphene-oxide membranes are immersed in water they swell up slightly. Small salts are able to flow through the material along with the water but larger molecules are prevented from doing so. Previously, this stopped the common salts, which are found in sea water, to be filtered out, but not now. A method ahs been devised that can manage and control the membrane’s pore sizes so it doesn’t swell and is able to sieve out common salts to create drinkable fresh water. This breakthrough means graphene has the potential to combat water shortages. It will be especially useful in areas that do not have the funds or the space to construct desalination plants. This really could be a game changer.

For more amazing technology and science stories, check out the latest issue of How It Works. Issue 98 is on sale 20 April and includes a feature on wonder materials like graphene. Check out a sneak peek below. Pick up your copy of issue 97 from from all good retailers or from our website now. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, subscribe today!

Graphene seawater to drinking water