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Western Australian researcher develops cheaper desalination process

Taking inspiration from studying channels in biological membranes, The University of Western Australia’s Associate Professor Ben Corry is developing a new kind of material that could be used to make the desalination of seawater much cheaper – and his work has made him a finalist in the 2011 Annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

"Although much of the Earth is covered in water, most of it is either too salty for human consumption or locked up in ice and snow," Corry said.

"Currently, one in eight people on the globe lack access to clean reliable water and demands on water supplies are likely to increase due to population growth, intensifying agriculture and industry, and climatic shifts. As a consequence, many communities are turning to the desalination of salty or brackish water to meet their needs.

"However, this process requires large amounts of energy and is a costly means of obtaining clean water."

Corry has shown that membranes containing specifically designed continuous channels allow desalination to occur with much less energy. His technique works because the new semi-permeable membranes he creates have less water-resistance while still blocking the passage of charged salts.

His desalination research grew out of his initial work in biology and his focus on ion channels in nerve cells.

Corry was the 2008 Young Scientist of the Year in the Premier’s Science Awards.

The Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of scientific research and innovation, science leadership, school science and science journalism and communication. Prize money of more than $240,000 will be awarded to the winners announced at the largest national celebration of Australian science, a gala dinner on 6 September in Sydney’s Hordern Pavillion.

Image courtesy: The University of Western Australia

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