Water is essential to maintaining all life on earth, yet two billion people worldwide don’t have access to a clean or safe water. However, availability of fresh water may change as seen in an article published on the 9th of February, 2018 in Sciences Advances. This article, titled “Ultrafast selective transport of alkali metal ions in metal organic frameworks with subnanometer pores” details the findings of researchers at both Monash University and the University of Texas at Austin that offers a breakthrough solution to the water crisis. They discovered that metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), a material with the largest internal surface area of any known substance, can be used to capture and remove salt and metal ions from water.
Metal-organic frameworks are sponge-like crystals that can capture, store, are release chemical compounds. MOFs have a narrow distribution of pore size, making them useful in various separation technologies as well as for the storage of gases like hydrogen and carbon dioxide. MOFs have been used in gas purification and separation, as a catalyst (something that increases the rate of a chemical reaction), or as sensors.
The researchers discovered that MOFs can mimic the filtering function or ‘ion selectivity’ of organic cell membrane. They are able to remove salt from seawater and separate metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner. The researchers estimate that MOFs can improve desalination capacity in water treatment processes by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption. This means there is a more cost-effective, fast way to treat water and make it readily available for those who need it most.
Not only this, but MOFs are able to extract metals that are harmful to humans and otherwise difficult to remove from drinking water. For example, since lithium-ion batteries have become the most popular battery for mobile electronic devices like phones and tablets, they are in such high demand that unconventional methods may have to be developed to continue lithium production, such as extraction from water with metal-organic frameworks.
There are both economic and physical reasons a region could be effected by water scarcity, but the results are the same; humans without the basic necessities of life. It can be caused by lack of investment in technology and infrastructure to collect water from various sources, economic competition for water quantity and quality, or simply the irreversible depletion of drinkable groundwater. The increasing world population, expansion of irrigated agriculture, improving living standards, and changing consumption patterns will only make it more difficult to obtain clean and safe drinking water for all, so these findings published by researchers at Monash University and University of Texas at Austin bring big news to the table in terms of providing the essentials for life to humans worldwide.
Huacheng Zhang, Jue Hou, Yaoxin Hu, Peiyao Wang, Ranwen Ou, Lei Jiang, Jefferson Zhe Liu, Benny D. Freeman, Anita J. Hill and Huanting Wang. Ultrafast selective transport of alkali metal ions in metal organic frameworks with subnanometer pores. Sciences Advances, 2018; DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq0066