Scientists have developed a graphene-oxide membrane capable of separating salt molecules from seawater — a breakthrough which could produce fresh drinking water for much of the developing world. Graphene-oxide membranes have previously been used to separate oil and water, but until now, scientists have struggled to make sheets with holes small enough to capture salts. Graphene-oxide membranes swell when they are immersed in water, allowing salt particles to flow through the pores. Reporting their results in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists from the University of Manchester, led by Dr Rahul Nair, built walls of epoxy resin on either side of the membrane, stopping it from swelling, and creating holes tiny enough to filter out salts from the seawater.
The Manchester team believe their findings could pave the way for new desalination technologies.