The study, Carbon Nanotube Membranes for Water Purification: A Bright Future in Water Desalination, appeared in the journal Desalination and won the Atlas award from the publisher.

Carbon nanotubes are tiny hexagonal tubes, made by rolling sheets of graphene. They require little energy and can be designed to reject or remove not only salt, but also common pollutants.

“Currently, about 400 million people are using desalinated water and it has been projected that by 2025, 14% of the global population will be forced to use sea water,” said co-author Eaqub Ali, from the University of Malaya’s Nanotechnology and Catalysis Research Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Existing desalination plants rely on reverse osmosis and/or vacuum distillation. But those methods are energy intensive and costly.

The hollow pores of the CNTs allow the frictionless passage of water but reject most salts, ions, and pollutants at a fraction of the energy cost. They also have cytotoxic properties naturally killing microbes.

Now work is being carried out to overcome hurdles such as cost for large-scale use of CNT technology.

“Membrane filtration is considered among the most promising and widely used processes for water treatment and desalination,” said Desalination editor-in-chief Nidal Hilal.