Carbon nanotubes have been heralded as the next big thing in nanomaterials thanks to their incredible abilities (though there are some reservations). Now it seems that they could also help get us more clean drinking water.

Removing the salt from seawater is generally a difficult process, but carbon nanotubes could make an existing technique far more efficient. Reverse osmosis water filtration reverses the normal flow of osmosis by using high pressure to goad the unfiltered water through a semi-permeable membrane to remove the undesirable solutes — the opposite of its natural inclination. However, the pressure required, especially for cleaning seawater, makes the process a costly one.

According to an article in Physics World, carbon nanotubes could change this. The tiny tubes are twenty times as permeable as current commercial membranes, are incredibly efficient at transporting water, and repel salt ions easily. According to models, this could cause a 5000-fold performance increase in the process. The research is a long way from fabricating these filters on an industrial level, but they could be far faster and more efficient than the ones we use now, and help bring drinkable water to countries the world over.