Desalinating water cheaply – exploring technologies

Here’s the notice for what looks like an interesting talk at the Australian Academy of Science.

Venue:             Australian Academy of Science,  Shine Dome, Gordon Street , Acton, ACT

Date:                 Thursday 26 October 2006, 5.30pm refreshments, 6.00–7.00pm seminar

Speaker:        Dr Jason K Holt, Chemistry and Materials Science Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory , California , USA

Cost           FreeBookings are recommended for those wanting refreshments. RSVP to Susie:; phone 02 6201 9401; or fax 02 6201 9494.

Jason’s research could dramatically alter the economics and energy costs associated with desalination and water purification (Science 19 May 2006). ‘More permeable nanotube membranes could reduce the energy costs of desalination by up to 75 per cent compared to conventional membranes used in reverse osmosis’.


The availability of fresh water is widely believed to be the greatest natural resource issue facing the world this century. Membrane-based desalination (e.g. reverse osmosis) could lead the way towards limitless supplies of fresh water. However large energy costs mean widespread development of large-scale seawater reverse-osmosis facilities has not been realised. In fact, the US has only built one large-scale seawater desalination facility to date – in Tampa , Florida – but it is currently not operational.

Our research group has developed a novel membrane which may constitute one of many ‘nanotech’ approaches to solving water management issues in the 21st century. The membrane is made from aligned carbon nanotubes and provides a combination of small pores (25,000 times thinner than a human hair) and high flow rates (a thousand times greater than conventional theory would predict). A membrane with such novel characteristics may prove extremely useful in nanoscale separation processes like desalination. I will discuss aspects of the fabrication of this membrane, along with characterisation experiments used to verify its integrity and transport properties.

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