Earth, otherwise known as the blue planet, is 75 percent surface water, and yet only 2.5 percent of it is usable fresh water.
Now add in over population and urban sprawl, deforestation, climate change, and unsustainable agricultural and manufacturing practices, and we’ll have, within the next few decades, a global water crisis.
In fact, by 2050, one in five developing countries will face water shortages, according the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The situation in India is particularly dire. Over the past seven years, that country has used enough of its groundwater supply to fill Lake Mead three times over, and NASA scientists believe that if this trend continues India’s agricultural output will collapse and a severe water shortage will ensue.
In the Middle East and China too, water shortage is reaching a critical point. River basins in the Middle East lost 117 million acre-feet of their stored freshwater from 2003 to 2010 according to a recent study, an amount almost equivalent to the entire volume of water in the Dead Sea.
There are myriad non-profits and government agencies working to alleviate the water shortage, but it’s jet maker Lockheed Martin that recently came up with a new and promising technology in this area.
Lockheed recently patented a nanomaterial called Perforene, a graphene sheet with holes one nanometer—or one billionth of a meter—in size. The graphene is so thin that it will allow water to flow through it but not sodium, chlorine and other ions from sea water.
Lockheed claims that its Perforene filter is 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger, making it vastly more energy-efficient than current reverse osmosis systems and ultimately more cost-effective for the developing world.
Although Lockheed Martin has experienced some initial setbacks with the Perforene, it plans to have a prototype filter on the market by the end of the year.
It’s also investigating other applications for the Perforene material, such as separating proteins for biopharmaceutical use and removing chemical substances and compounds from water used in oil and gas wells.