If you’re a geek about foreign policy or environmentalism, you’ve almost certainly read or at least heard about ominous warnings that wars in the future will be fought over water.
Graphene. It can be stronger than steel and thinner than paper. It can generate electricity when struck by light. It can be used in thin, flexible supercapacitors that are up to 20 times more powerful than the ones we use right now and can be made in a DVD burner. It’s already got an impressive track record, but does it have any more tricks up its sleeve? Apparently, yes. According to researchers at MIT, graphene could also increase the efficicency of desalination by two or three orders of magnitude. Seriously, what can’t this stuff do?
Desalination might sound boring, but it’s super important. Around 97% of the planet’s water is saltwater and therefore unpotable, and while you can remove the salt from the water, the current methods of doing so are laborious and expensive. Graphene stands to change all that by essentially serving as the world’s most awesomely efficient filter. If you can increase the efficiency of desalination by two or three orders of magnitude (that is to say, make it 100 to 1,000 times more efficient) desalination suddenly becomes way more attractive as a way to obtain drinking water.
Desalination works exactly as you might expect; you run water through a filter with pores small enough to block the salt and not the water. It’s a process called reverse osmosis. The issue is that the thicker your filter is, the less efficient the process is going to be. If you know anything about graphene, you know where this is going. Graphene sheets are one atom thick.