Freshwater is an increasingly limited and finite resource that is absolutely crucial if we want to keep humanity going strong in the future. Unfortunately, only 0.003% of the planet’s water is unpolluted and suitable for consumption after minimal or no processing, so we got to find ways to turn unsuitable into drinkable water. Seawater is abundant, and of the most widely used methods to turn it into potable is desalination. This process requires a lot of energy, complex infrastructure, and a series of environment-damaging chemical and engineering processes. That said, desalination is only used where there’s no other option, as “recycling” the water on treatment plants is much cheaper and energy-efficient to do.
A team of researchers from the Princeton University in New Jersey claims to have figured out a way to make desalination a lot cheaper, using a thin slice of wood as a filter. The team claims that the conventional polymer filters that are used in desalination plants right now feature very narrow pores and thus require a lot of energy to power the water pumps that push liquid through them. Their wooden filter is made out of American basswood, chemically processed to strip away extra fibres and make it more accepting to water molecule flow. The one side is heated so that the water gets vaporized when hitting the filter and then travels as vapor to the other side. All salt is left behind, so you get fresh water condensed at the other side of the filter.
The team claims that this method can filter up to 20 kilograms of water per square meter of basswood membrane per hour. The researchers also clarified that if they had the technical means to produce thinner membranes, this performance would get a lot better. For now though, they were only after proving that their method works, and they did it.
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