Desalination progress could lead to cheaper water purification

ST Stein, Texas – Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Penn State have solved a complex problem that has puzzled scientists for decades.

The desalination membrane removes salt and other chemicals from the water, which is a serious process for the health of society, purifying billions of gallons of water for agriculture, energy production and drinking. The idea seems simple – push through fresh water and clean water comes out the other side – but there are complexities that scientists are still trying to figure out.

Click here to watch a video explaining this research.

The research team, in partnership with DuPont Water Solutions, solved an important aspect of this mystery, opening the door to reduce the cost of producing pure water. Researchers have determined that desalination is incompatible in membrane density and mass distribution, which may hold their influence behind. The same density on the nanoscale is the key to increasing how much pure water this membrane can produce.

“Contrast osmosis membranes are widely used for water purification, but we do not know much about them,” said Manish Kumar, an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at UT Austin. Research. “We can’t really say how the water circulates through them, so all the improvements over the last 40 years have necessarily been made in the dark.”

These findings were published today Science.

The paper documents an increase in the efficiency of the membranes tested by 30% -40%, meaning they can purify more water when using significantly less energy. This can increase access to clean water and lower water bills for individual homes and larger users.

In contrast m smosis membranes work by applying pressure to one side of the salted solution. The minerals that pass through the water stay there. However, despite being more efficient than the membrane dissection process, it still takes a large amount of leave, the researchers said, and improving the efficiency of the membrane reduces the load.

“Freshwater management is becoming a critical challenge worldwide,” said Enrique Gomez, a professor of chemical engineering at Penn State who co-led the research. Shortage, Drought – With increasing patterns of weather, it is expected that this problem will become even more significant. It is especially important to have access to clean water in low-resource areas. ”

The density of the purification membrane, even on an atomic scale, greatly affects how much pure water can be produced. (Enrique Gomez / Penn State)

The National Science Foundation and DuPont, which makes numerous desalination products, provided funding for the research. The seeds were planted when DuPont researchers discovered that the germinal membrane was indeed proving to be more impermeable. This was surprising because conventional knowledge was that thickness reduces how much water can flow through the membrane.

Kumar joined the team at Dow Water Solutions, now part of DuPont, in 2015, and they were eager to solve the mystery. The research team, which also includes researchers from Iowa State University, developed a 3D reconstruction of the nanoscale membrane structure using the state-of-the-art electron microscope of Penn State Materials Laboratory. In order to predict how efficiently water can be purified based on the constitution, they modeled the way water is taken through this membrane. Greg Foss of the Texas Advanced Computing Center helped visualize these simulations, and most of the calculations were done on Stampede 2, TACCC’s supercomputer.