The membranes are made of a mixture of chitosan, a material commonly found in shrimp shells, and a new synthetic chemical known as “graphene oxide”. Graphene oxide is a highly researched chemical worldwide.
According to the Army Corps, one problem encountered by scientists working with graphene oxide is not being able to synthesize the material on a scale that can be put to use.
“One of the major breakthroughs that we’ve had here is that with our casting process, we’re not limited by size,” explains Luke Gurtowski, a research chemical engineer working on the membranes.
Dr. Christopher Griggs is the research scientist in charge of overseeing development of the new membranes.
Dr. Griggs told us, “Anybody who’s experienced water shortages or has been concerned about their water quality, or any type of contaminants in the water, this type of technology certainly works to address that.”
Another challenged faced by conventional water filtering methods is maintaining high energy efficiency.
“It requires a lot of energy for the net driving pressure to force the water through the membrane,” Dr. Griggs explains. “…we’re going to have to look to new materials to try to get those efficiency gains, and so graphene oxide is a very promising candidate for that.”
The Engineer Research and Development Center currently has two patents associated with the new filters and hopes to apply them for both civil and military purposes in the near future.