Graphene May Solve Fresh Water Shortages

March 18, 2013

One word. Graphene.


A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Because the sheets of pure carbon known as graphene are so thin – just one atom in thickness – it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter with the force required to separate the salt from the water, they said.

The development could spare underdeveloped countries from having to build exotic, expensive pumping stations needed in plants that use a desalination process called reverse osmosis.

“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”

9 Responses to “Graphene May Solve Fresh Water Shortages”

  1. stephengn1 Says:

    It will help in the American west too where they have almost bled the Colorado river dry. Graphene is an amazing material. I can also imagine graphene solar panels with integrated graphene super capacitors on the back.

    Accelerating times – The future looks dark. The future looks bright

  2. Bruce Miller Says:

    Nano particles, nano carbon, graphine, America’s latest panacea for all that ails it? Many claims, few proofs, all the while proven good ideas brought to fruition like University of Alberta, hemp bodies for cars, utility vehicles, still lost in the “protectionist ” laws in U.S.A. against hemp products, but fortunately for Canada not in the new Pan Eurasian Marketplaces.

  3. rayduray Says:

    I bounced this concept around last week with a couple of friends who have technical skillsets applicable to this development. While this sounds very appealing, it also sounds a lot like the vaporware announcements we are used to getting from the software industry.

    Red flag #1: “…said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea.”

    If Lockheed-Martin only has one engineer working on this, or even if he has a small team, what does this say about the development? Recall that when Lockheed has a project like the F-35 that the design team consists of thousands of specialist scientists and engineers as well as fabricators with an extraordinary skill set.

    I’m a bit leery here that this is a lab bench experiment that has a very long road ahead toward commercial applications

    • greenman3610 Says:

      noted. But it seems like this is inherently a small team project at this point.

      • rayduray Says:


        The more I look at this, the more it seems that the Lockheed PR effort was just a wee bit less than ethical.

        It turns out that there’s a large effort underway with this graphene filtration concept both at MIT and at a European University where real money is being spent.

        Here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s excellent graphene article: “In 2013, graphene researchers led by Prof. Jari Kinaret from Sweden’s Chalmers University, secured a €1 billion grant from the European Union.[6]”

        Here’s an intro to the MIT team effort:

    • tonyl22 Says:

      Speaking of lab bench experiments, graphene was discovered by two crackpot Russian scientists (Geim and Novoselov), messing around with carbon and tape. Oh, but wait, I think they won the Nobel prize for that, didn’t they? Yes, they did. The discovery was not made on a lab bench at Lockheed-Martin. That graphene will pass water molecules by filtering out large molecules was one of their initial discoveries. Hasn’t everyone heard of their hilarious experiment of putting graphene on the mouth of a vodka bottle to let the water evaporate out and getting a very, very high proof liquor? I think scepticism about the practical application is well taken. There is a big gap between a discovery of this kind and any practical technology. For example, you don’t want to be changing your semi-permeable membrane every hour. Tearing may be a real problem. But we should not be skeptical about the property itself.

      • andrewfez Says:

        I heard it was just sticky tape like you by at the office supply – like Scotch tape. I don’t know if that’s true or not but whatever it was they had a pretty good return on investment.

  4. Lee Pillow Says:

    Peter, that’s so funny! I was just watching vids about graphene on Youtube, between shooting insults at RealOldGuy2 (big climate denier shill). This is an amazing material!

    This guy has a decent playlist put together here:

  5. […] 2013/03/18: PSinclair: Graphene May Solve Fresh Water Shortages […]

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