April 3 (UPI) -- Scientists have finally developed a graphene-oxide membrane capable of pulling salt molecules from seawater. The breakthrough could bring much-needed access to potable water for much of the developing world.
Researchers have previously used graphene-oxide membranes to separate oil and water, but until now, scientists have struggled to make membranes with holes small enough to capture salts.
The pores of graphene-oxide membranes typically swell in water. Scientists at the University of Manchester developed a graphene-oxide sieve with pores that don't swell. The size of the pores can be precisely controlled to target certain particles sizes.
In tests, scientists found the sieve was capable of removing most common salts and making seawater safe to drink.
As drought and extreme weather threaten water supplies and water infrastructure, supply problems are becoming more prominent. Some countries are turning to desalination projects to quench the thirst of their citizens.
Researchers believe their findings -- detailed in the journal Nature Nanotechnology -- could pave the way for new desalination technologies.
"Realization of scalable membranes with uniform pore size down to atomic scale is a significant step forward and will open new possibilities for improving the efficiency of desalination technology," Rahul Nair, a professor at The University of Manchester, said in a news release. "This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime. We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes."