A nanofiber membrane could help address the drinking water crisis

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Korean scientists claim that it is new desalination the technique makes seawater suitable for drinking in minutes. The researchers used a membrane distillation procedure that resulted in 99.9 percent salt rejection over one month. If commercialized, they say the solution could help alleviate the drinking water crisis exacerbated by climate change. More than 3 billion people around the world are affected by water shortages, and the amount of fresh water available to each person has been falling by a fifth over two decades, according to the UN.

A new study describes in detail how to purify seawater using a nanofiber membrane as a salt filter. Although scientists have used membrane distillation in the past, they have constantly encountered a huge obstacle that has slowed down the process. If the membrane gets too wet or flooded, it can no longer repel salt. Needless to say, this was a time-consuming process that forced scientists to either wait for the membrane to dry or devise additional solutions, such as using pressurized air to release trapped water from its pores.

To overcome this challenge, the Korean team turned to nanotechnology known as electrospinning to create its three-dimensional membrane. In scientific terms, they used poly vinylidene fluoride-co-hexafluoropropylene as the core and silicon dioxide, mixed with a low concentration of polymer as a coating, to obtain a composite membrane with a superhydrophobic surface. Basically, this created a filter that had higher surface roughness and lower thermal conductivity, allowing it to desalinate water for up to 30 days. The full report is published in Journal of Membrane Sciences.

“Coaxial electrospun nanofiber membrane has a strong potential for processing seawater solutions without wetting problems and may be suitable for the application of real-scale membrane distillation,” Dr. Construction technology, he said. He added that the membrane may be suitable for “the application of distillation of membrane and actual proportions.”

Currently, the main method of seawater purification is approximately reverse osmosis 20,000 desalination plants around the world. But these facilities require large amounts of electricity to operate and also create concentration brine as a waste product that is usually thrown back into the sea. It’s no wonder, then, that scientists are exploring new solutions that aren’t so counterproductive.

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