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October 17th, 2010
Reverse osmosis uses extremely high pressure to force water through a semipermeable membrane and separate out salts. One technique, developed by NanoH2O Inc., of El Segundo, Calif., adds a thin layer of nanoparticles to a polymer-based membrane. The nanomaterials attract water and reject salts and other particles that can clog other membranes, reducing the energy needed to push water through the membrane.
Another nanotechnology, carbon nanotubes, can be used to make membranes that separate salt and other contaminants. Though the membranes are still in a very early stage of development, developers say they could cut the cost of reverse-osmosis desalination by 25%. Meanwhile, a pair of Danish companies, Aquaporin A/S and AquaZ A/S, are working to develop commercial membranes using aquaporins—proteins that move water in living cells and along the way efficiently separate H2O from other molecules.
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