What if you can turn seawater into drinking water? American engineers are one step closer to developing an energy-efficient and cheaper method to make seawater drinkable.

American engineers have developed a new material that could transform seawater into safe, drinking water by filtering large quantities of seawater through extremely small holes called "nanopores," which block salt and other impurities.

The sheet material is made of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) about a nanometer thick. The nanopore sheet came out as the most efficient material out of all the thin-film sheaths the research team tried, being able to sift up to 70 percent more water than the rest. The material is porous and filters salt and dirt but allows water to filter through.

There is much water on the planet but very little is safe for drinking. During drought, having an access to large amounts of safe, drinking water carry much advantage. Developing a low-cost way to filter seawater is a major step in solving the water crisis.

"Finding materials for efficient desalination has been a big issue, and I think this work lays the foundation for next-generation materials. These materials are efficient in terms of energy usage and fouling, which are issues that have plagued desalination technology for a long time," said lead author Narayana Aluru who teaches mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois.

According to the World Health Organization, access to sufficient, safe drinking water is vital in the prevention of 16 out of 17 neglected tropical diseases also known as NTDs. These include soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms), trachoma and schistosomiasis. There is an estimated 1.5 billion people in 149 countries suffering from NTDs which could lead to disfigurement, blindness, permanent disability and even death.

While reverse osmosis is also capable of filtering seawater and making it drinkable, the process is intensive as much as it is expensive. The researchers aim to develop a new process which is more efficient and less faulty as reverse osmosis, wherein membrane collapse due to congestion. Developing a process that requires less pressure in order to get more water is the next step.

The researchers published their study in the Nature Communications journal on Oct. 14.

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