Print 74 comment(s) - last by 16nm.. on Jul 24 at 11:12 PM

New membrane will help to ensure many parts of the world have easy access to drinking water.

One of the biggest, but least appreciated problems facing many regions of the world is lack of clean drinking water, a common problem in impoverished nations.  Ironically, many of these nations rest beside large bodies of salt water. Ttypically, processing salt water into fresh water is expensive and requires large dedicated plants.

DailyTech previously chronicled how wind-power driven desalinization plants which used membranes were being developed.  Now another major breakthrough in the field has been devised, this time concerning the membranes.

Researchers from several international universities have developed a chlorine-tolerant membrane which turns salt water into clean drinking water.  Typically, salt water is treated with chlorine to remove bacteria and microorganisms that would grow and form a biofilm on the membrane, blocking it.  However, chlorine destroys past membranes which were build using amide-polymers (nitrogen based).  This meant that that the water had to be dechlorinated before being sent to the membrane, a relatively expensive and complex process.

The new membrane is formed from sulfonated copolymers.  It took researchers Professor Benny Freeman with the The University of Texas at Austin, James E. McGrath of Virginia Tech University, and Ho Bum Park of the University of Ulsan in South Korea three years to develop the membrane for which they have filed a patent.  The new membrane is resistant to chlorine allowing the elimination of dechlorination.

Says Professor Freeman, "If we make the desalination process more efficient with better membranes, it will be less expensive to desalinate a gallon of water, which will expand the availability of clean water around the world.  It promises to eliminate de-chlorination steps that are required currently to protect membranes from attack by chlorine in water.  We believe that even a small increase in efficiency should result in large cost savings."

Researchers also believe the design will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in developing nations by decreasing the electrical needs of the generation process. 

Professor Freeman explains:

Energy and water are inherently connected.  You need water to generate power (cooling water for electric power generation stations) and generation of pure water requires energy to separate the salt from the water. That energy is often generated from the burning of fossil fuels, which leads inevitably to the generation of carbon dioxide. Therefore, if one can make desalination more energy-efficient by developing better membranes, such as those that we are working on, one could reduce the carbon footprint required to produce pure water.

It was a combination of luck and hard work that brought the researchers upon the novel suflonated class of membranes.  This class of materials enjoys a high tolerance to aqueous chlorine, making it surprisingly a far better fit than membrane materials currently in use.

Professor Freeman, who holds the Kenneth A. Kobe Professorship in Chemical Engineering and the Paul D. & Betty Robertson Meek & American Petrofina Foundation Centennial Professorship in Chemical Engineering, states, "Basically, Dr. McGrath radically changed the chemical composition of the membranes, relative to what is used commercially, and the new membranes do not have chemical linkages in them that are sensitive to attack by chlorine."

The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation-Partnerships for Innovation Program. 

The findings will be reported in a paper in this month's edition of the German Chemical Society's journal, Angewandte Chemie, with Mehmet Sankir and Zhong-Bio Zhang, both of Virginia Tech, as additional coauthors.

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RE: Swank.
By 16nm on 7/23/2008 3:38:04 PM , Rating: 1
Considering the state of affairs in places like Phoenix and Las Vegas just for starters, it might be time to be thinking about putting up some de-salination plants in key areas on the US coastlines too.

I guess conservation would be a stupid idea. It sure would be hard to imagine fewer golf courses and water fountains in desert regions like these.

RE: Swank.
By FITCamaro on 7/23/2008 4:23:34 PM , Rating: 2
It's always about giving up things to some people.

RE: Swank.
By andrinoaa on 7/23/2008 7:11:47 PM , Rating: 1
as I posted elseware. Surely a good sized meal is better for you than supersizing? What are you giving up by using a little sense and not burning eveything JUST BECAUSE you can? Its all part of living in a society. give a little , take a little. If its all take, no one ends up with anything. Didn't your papy teach you anything?

RE: Swank.
By masher2 (blog) on 7/23/2008 7:20:16 PM , Rating: 2
In the particular case quoted by the OP, you're giving up golf courses and water fountains.

Why give up anything at all -- if we don't have to?

RE: Swank.
By 16nm on 7/23/2008 10:12:20 PM , Rating: 1
Not giving up ALL golf courses and fountains but giving up some. I'm practical, not radical.

RE: Swank.
By masher2 (blog) on 7/24/2008 9:06:33 AM , Rating: 2
When its your own particular course on the chopping block, you might feel differently.

In any case, you didn't answer the question. Why give up anything, if you don't need to?

RE: Swank.
By 16nm on 7/24/2008 11:12:01 PM , Rating: 2
The OP was using the present tense as was I. If water is limited in these regions then conservation is wise. When water becomes plentiful then conservation will not be needed, right? It is a simple matter of adjusting to the situation at hand. It is like with gasoline. It is expensive and supposedly in short supply so we use less of it. We are conserving. I don't know why I had to spell it all out for you.

Why give up anything, if you don't need to?

There is a need to. If you've ever been to Lake Mead then you'd know this. Hopefully, this won't be the case when this new technology is available. We will just have to wait and see. Until then, conserve! The sooner you conserve then the less you have to.

RE: Swank.
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 7/23/2008 6:17:27 PM , Rating: 2
I was going to say the desert is not exactly the best place to put a home.
It kind of reminds me of some third world country in Africa (first thing that comes to mind not picking on the countries of Africa) where 1,000's are starving. I keep thinking pick up your stuff and move to where the food is and stop waiting for it to come to you....I know not nice but there is some truth in the want food be near food, you want fresh water be near fresh water.

Though I must say it is a good thing to develop water plants like this....

RE: Swank.
By andrinoaa on 7/24/2008 7:08:43 AM , Rating: 2
Thats how the Israel/Palestine war came about. Some one assumed that the people who lived there didn't mind some one coming over and TAKING OVER!!
Have you seen the refugee camps in the news? Its because the local population doesn't want foreigners taking over.
Not as easy to implement as it seems.

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