The new membranes, developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), could reduce the cost of desalination by 75 percent, compared to reverse osmosis methods used today, the researchers say. The membranes, which sort molecules by size and with electrostatic forces, could also separate various gases, perhaps leading to economical ways to capture carbon dioxide emitted from power plants, to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.The UAE should jump right on this.
The carbon nanotubes used by the researchers are sheets of carbon atoms rolled so tightly that only seven water molecules can fit across their diameter. Their small size makes them good candidates for separating molecules. And, despite their diminutive dimensions, these nanopores allow water to flow at the same rate as pores considerably larger, reducing the amount of pressure needed to force water through, and potentially saving energy and costs compared to reverse osmosis using conventional membranes.
Indeed, the LLNL team measures water flow rates up to 10,000 times faster than would be predicted by classical equations, which suggest that flow rates through a pore will slow to a crawl as the diameter drops. "It's something that is quite counter-intuitive," says LLNL chemical engineer Jason Holt, whose findings appeared in the 19 May issue of Science. "As you shrink the pore size, there is a huge enhancement in flow rate."