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Carbon Fiber Helps Desalination

Nov 08, 2020

Carbon fiber can help solve some of today's pressing problems. They can also make an important contribution to seawater desalination, thereby eliminating the impending shortage of drinking water. Carbon fiber plays an important role in new projects.


Not far from Denia, the port city of Costa Blanca, Spain, engineers are currently building the first drinking water treatment plant based on microbial assisted desalination technology, which is the "Low Energy Drinking Water Microbiological Desalination" project (MIDES) a part of. As part of the Horizon 2020 plan, the plan is supported by the European Union. The goal of the project is to prove that bacteria and carbon fibers can use less energy to help treat seawater than traditional desalination plants.

As an energy conductor, carbon fiber is part of an innovative process for drinking water treatment.

So far, a method called reverse osmosis is generally used to desalinate seawater. The tremendous pressure forces the salt water through the membrane between the two tanks. The membrane prevents the passage of salty components in the water, which means that the water collected in the tank on the other side is pure. Disadvantages: Stress requires energy. Currently, about three kilowatt-hours of electricity are needed to desalinate one thousand liters of seawater.

But a new type of desalination battery using carbon fiber can take the first step in this process. Technically, the new process uses the principle of electrodialysis. Two electrodes with different polarizations extract most of the sodium and chloride ions from seawater. These ions migrate through the two membranes into two separate chambers and cannot return to the original chamber. Most of the salt-free water is retained in the intermediate chamber and then desalinated by reverse osmosis, which requires much less energy.

However, these electrodes also require an external power source. At least that was the case in the past. Now, bacteria are producing the energy needed in new desalination ponds. It sounds like science fiction actually works. When bacteria feed on wastewater, they generate electricity. But bacteria don't like electrodes made of metal. This is why we use carbon electrodes in the new desalination tank. Very fine carbon fibers provide a support structure for bacteria, and the electricity they generate is conducted through carbon fibers.

Carbon fiber desalination is cheaper and more energy efficient than conventional reverse osmosis


This innovation has completely changed the desalination technology: the energy produced by wastewater can make it possible to produce drinking water from seawater at very low cost. This is a fascinating solution that can alleviate the imminent conflicts about drinking water worldwide. Moreover, poorer countries can be helped in the process. However, in this process, many aspects of this method still need further research. For example, it is not clear which bacteria are most suitable for which type of wastewater.

Carbon fiber has great potential-even beyond drinking water treatment

Even though it takes years for the first industrial plants with carbon fiber desalination batteries to be put into operation, they still prove to us something more fundamental: the great potential of fiber. The potential of carbon fiber is far from exhausted. Basic research has brought amazing opportunities time and time again.