Monday 27 March 2017

The pencil tip might contain key to solving world's clean water problem, says new research

The same graphite in the tip of a pencil is the same material used to make the 'super filters'
The same graphite in the tip of a pencil is the same material used to make the 'super filters'

David Kearns

A new ‘miracle material’ 100,000 times thinner than a human hair and made of the same graphite found in pencils could hold the key to clean water.

Graphene, a layer of graphite one atom thick, was intended to revolutionise the development of electronics but researchers have found a way to turn it into a hyper-efficient water filter.

Two teams from the United States have used the material to create a series of ‘nano-scaled’ membranes that appear to be not only far superior to conventional water filter system, but much cheaper too.

Engineering Professor Baoxia Mi, from university of California, Berkeley, helped develop a water filter comprised of membranes made up of layers of graphene 1,000,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper.

"We made it from graphite, which is a material that we use in pencils for example, so it's cheap and relatively abundant. So we can use that and the process that we use to make from the graphite to the graphene oxide is actually quite scalable," said Ms Mi.

The Californian based team from that that membranes could easily be adapted to filter water from a household taps up to waste water treatment on an industrial scale.

The key lies in how Graphene forms these membranes, creating a structure much like a maze for water molecules.

The water enters the maze and passes through a series of layers separated by spaces specifically designed to remove different types of contaminants.

Ms Mi added: "In order to remove different targeted molecules, the most direct way of thinking about it is to control the spacing that we have between the layers.”

Another advantage to these graphene filters is the rate at which water can pass through them, which Ms Mi says is up to five times the volume of conventional filters thanks to the unique properties of the membranes.

As well as the water filter project, the team have also developed "super sand," a product containing graphene which could help mop up oil spills far more quickly and efficiently than current methods.

The researchers hope their work will ultimately lead to a solution to the ever growing concerns surrounding access to clean affordable water, especially in the developing world.

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