Article last updated on: Jan 25, 2019

What is water treatment?

Water treatment is the collective name for a group of mainly industrial processes that make water more suitable for its application, which may be drinking, medical use, industrial use and more. A water treatment process is designed to remove or reduce existing water contaminants to the point where water reaches a level that is fit for use. Specific processes are tailored according to intended use - for example, treatment of greywater (from bath, dishwasher etc.) will require different measures than black water (from toilets) treatment.

Water treatment photo

Main types of water treatments

All water treatments involve the removal of solids (usually by filtration and sedimentation), bacteria, algae and inorganic compounds. Used water can be converted into environmentally acceptable water, or even drinking water through various treatments.

Water treatments roughly divide into industrial and domestic/municipal. Industrial water treatments include boiler water treatment (removal or chemical modification of substances that are damaging to boilers), cooling water treatment (minimization of damage to industrial cooling towers) and wastewater treatment (both from industrial use and sewage). Wastewater treatment is the process that removes most of the contaminants from wastewater or sewage, producing a liquid that can be disposed to the natural environment and a sludge (semi-solid waste).

Wastewater treatments usually consist of three levels: a primary (mechanical) level, in which about 50-60% of the solids are removed from raw sewage by screening and sedimentation, a secondary (biological) treatment level in which dissolved organic matter that escaped primary treatment is removed by microbes that consume it as food and convert it into carbon dioxide, water and energy. The tertiary treatment removes any impurities that are left, producing an effluent of almost drinking-water quality. Disinfection, typically with chlorine, can sometimes be an additional step before discharge of the effluent. It is not always done due to the high price of chlorine, as well as concern over health effects of chlorine residuals.

Seawater desalination are processes that extract salt from saline water, to produce fresh water suitable for drinking or irrigation. While this technology is in use and also holds much promise for growing in the future, it is still expensive, with reverse osmosis technology consuming a vast amount of energy (the desalination core process is based on reverse osmosis membrane technology).



What is graphene?

Graphene is a two dimensional mesh of carbon atoms arranged in the form of a honeycomb lattice. It has earned the title “miracle material” thanks to a startlingly large collection of incredible attributes - this thin, one atom thick substance (it is so thin in fact, that you’ll need to stack around three million layers of it to make a 1mm thick sheet!) is the lightest, strongest, thinnest, best heat-and-electricity conducting material ever discovered, and the list does not end there. Graphene is the subject of relentless research and is thought to be able to revolutionize whole industries, as researchers work on many different kinds of graphene-based materials, each one with unique qualities and designation.

Graphene and water treatment

Water is an invaluable resource and the intelligent use and maintenance of water supplies is one of the most important and crucial challenges that stand before mankind. New technologies are constantly being sought to lower the cost and footprint of processes that make use of water resources, as potable water (as well as water for agriculture and industry) are always in desperate demand. Much research is focused on graphene for different water treatment uses, and nanotechnology also has great potential for elimination of bacteria and other contaminants.

GO water permeability image

Among graphene’s host of remarkable traits, its hydrophobia is probably one of the traits most useful for water treatment. Graphene naturally repels water, but when narrow pores are made in it, rapid water permeation is allowed. This sparked ideas regarding the use of graphene for water filtration and desalination, especially once the technology for making these micro-pores has been achieved. Graphene sheets (perforated with miniature holes) are studied as a method of water filtration, because they are able to let water molecules pass but block the passage of contaminants and substances. Graphene’s small weight and size can contribute to making a lightweight, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly generation of water filters and desalinators.

It has been discovered that thin membranes made from graphene oxide are impermeable to all gases and vapors, besides water, and further research revealed that an accurate mesh can be made to allow ultrafast separation of atomic species that are very similar in size - enabling super-efficient filtering. This opens the door to the possibility of using seawater as a drinking water resource, in a fast and relatively simple way.

Further reading

The latest graphene water treatment news:

NIST team finds that graphene can stretch to be a tunable ion filter

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have conducted simulations suggesting that graphene can be modified with special pores to act as a tunable filter or strainer for ions in a liquid.

NIST team finds that graphene can stretch to be a tunable ion filter image

The concept could have applications like nanoscale mechanical sensors, drug delivery, water purification and sieves or pumps for ion mixtures similar to biological ion channels, which are critical to the function of living cells.

Graphene Leaders Canada launches graphene-enhanced water treatment technology

Graphene Leaders Canada logo (2017)Graphene Leaders Canada has launched its GLC+ Water Technologies Platform, which according to the Company "offers a solution to water pollution and remediation and is based on years of expertise in graphene solutions work with a keen focus in water filtration".

The material has been developed as a loose granular adsorbent that can be integrated into existing filtration systems and can be tailored to remove numerous types of contaminants in water. The GLC+ material offers a highly versatile and cost-effective bolt-on solution with the material having the ability to be regenerated for numerous uses.

Greek researchers develop laser-based technique for drilling holes in graphene

Researchers from the Foundation of Research and Technology-Hellas, Patras, Greece and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece have developed a technique for creating nanopores in CVD grown graphene. The technique is based on femtosecond (fs) laser treatment of graphene.

Greek team drills holes in graphene using laser image

CVD graphene is placed onto Si/SiO2 using conventional dry transferring techniques. Then, it is treated in air with 80 fs laser pulses at high repetition rate. By focusing the barrage of fs laser pulses onto the graphene, circular patterns are formed.

Researchers develop a technique to fabricate large squares of graphene riddled with controlled holes

Researchers at MIT have found a way to directly “pinprick” microscopic holes into graphene as the material is grown in the lab. Using this technique, they have fabricated relatively large sheets of graphene (roughly the size of a postage stamp), with pores that could make filtering certain molecules out of solutions vastly more efficient.

Holes would typically be considered unwanted defects, but the MIT team has found that certain defects in graphene can be an advantage in fields such as dialysis. Typically, much thicker polymer membranes are used in laboratories to filter out specific molecules from solution, such as proteins, amino acids, chemicals, and salts. If it could be tailored with selectively-sized pores that let through certain molecules but not others, graphene could substantially improve separation membrane technology.

Ionic Industries and Clean TeQ form a JV focused on graphene-based water treatment

Ionic Industries logoClean TeQ and Ionic Industries have formed a Joint Venture to progress the commercialization of graphene-based water treatment technologies.

The Companies stated that move follows the last 18 months in which Clean TeQ and Ionic have undertaken an extensive program of work together with Monash University to develop, manufacture and apply graphene oxide membranes for water filtration applications.