Giving Compass’ Take:
· Scientists at Princeton University are studying the potential for “nanowood” to revolution the desalination process and provide access to clean and safe drinking water from the ocean.
· How can donors support further research into this subject? How would this improve efforts to provide safe drinking water around the world?
If you live on the coast in an area prone to drought—say, Los Angeles or parts of India—there’s a good chance that as climate change progresses, your community may begin to rely more on desalination technology that can make ocean water drinkable. (One L.A.-area water agency is now considering a controversial plan to spend hundreds of millions on a new desalination plant; Chennai, India is currently building its third desalination plant as it faces severe water shortages.) But desal technology typically uses a lot of energy. New research has found an unlikely source to help change that: trees.
“We are trying to develop a new type of membrane material that is nature-based,” says Z. Jason Ren, an engineering professor at Princeton University and one of the coauthors of a new paper in Science Advancesabout that material, which is made from wood. It’s designed for use in a process called membrane distillation, which heats up saltwater and uses pressure to force the water vapor through a membrane, leaving the salt behind and creating pure water. The membranes are usually made from a type of plastic. Using “nanowood” membranes instead can both improve the energy efficiency of the process and avoid the environmental problems of plastic.
Wood is naturally good at transporting water through its capillaries. By treating the wood to remove lignin, the part of the plant that makes it rigid and “woody,” and hemicellulose, which links cells together, the researchers were left with a thin material called nanowood that still has tiny natural channels. They treated the material with silane, a coating that repels water, so that vapor could pass through but water, salt, and other impurities would stay on one side of the membrane. Because wood naturally provides insulation, the material also minimizes heat from leaking in the process, saving energy.
Read the full article about desalinization by Adele Peters at Fast Company.
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