Graphic: David Cohen-Tanugi

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a method to desalinate seawater and purify it at the same time, removing bacteria and particulates from it. The method, called shock electrodialysis, has the potential to improve and streamline water purification systems, academics have claimed.

The foundations of the process could be found in a desalination method known as electrodialysis, which engineers have been working on over the past few years. In essence, it is the opposite of reverse osmosis and it drives sodium or chlorine ions through a membrane, leaving the water on the other side. The process is relatively cheap and can be more productive than reverse osmosis but it requires additional stages of filtration and disinfection.

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But this problem could also be solved. According to the authors of the research, unlike electrodialysis, their "shock" version of the process is able to disinfect water by removing about 99% of all bacteria. It can also separate positive from negative particles, they claimed.

Lead researcher Daosheng Deng explained that the process could be very useful for fields like chemical engineering. It may be harder to scale up the technology so that it is able to produce freshwater on a commercial basis but results look promising so far and shock electrodialysis is certainly worth looking into, according to the MIT Technology Review website.