A study published in Nature Nanotechnology could change the face of water purification, and help some 800 million people have better access to clean water. An international team based in Tsinghua University, Tel-Aviv University, and the University of Geneva, used computer models to test the feasibility of a new filtration system.
The system works by vibrating water-carrying nanotubes, which allows the water to move through filters faster. By passing water through the vibrating nanotubes filtration would not only work faster, but would be more energy efficient. In fact, according to the simulation, it would be about three times as efficient as current systems, cleaning 300% of the water without much of an increase in the energy costs.
The simulation was possible because the team managed to get the help of 150,000 people on the IBM World Community Grid. Scientists have been using crowdsourced computing, having numerous people do small parts of the work, for some years now. In this case, each of those people downloaded and processed a small amount of data, which was then uploaded back to the research team. This made the whole project possible, as having four students run the simulation would have taken far too long. In fact, the team estimated that running the model on a single computer would have taken almost 40,000 years, much to long to be of any use to anyone.
The international team is currently talking with a variety of companies about commercial applications of this new research. Building and maintaining water treatment and desalination facilities is expensive, and often contracted out to private companies. The research certainly has a number of applications, as moving all kinds of material is easier when it’s assisted by vibrations at the nano-level, but filtering water is likely the most useful, and most widely needed, use for such technology.