Target: Lockheed Martin
Goal: Applaud a new invention by the defense company that could make it easier to develop affordable, clean water.
As national spotlight focuses on the budget cuts and the fate of the F-35 fighter jet, a recent discovery by the Pentagon weapons-maker that has almost slipped under the radar should be lauded: a new way to achieve affordable, clean water. The new method involves the use of filter made of thin carbon membranes, called graphene, perforated with holes a nanometer (or one billionth of a meter) in size. As salt water is pushed through the filter, which is itself a scant one atom in thickness, the water molecules pass through, but larger salt molecules are blocked.
John Stetson, a Lockheed engineer, has been working on the filter material, called Perforene, since 2007. He said, “It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market and a thousand times stronger. The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.” He likened the thickness of the membrane to the thickness of a sheet of paper, pointing out that the nearest comparable filter currently in use would be more than half a foot thick in comparison. Thickness is one of the primary factors in determining how much energy is needed to remove salt from seawater. Again, Stetson: “The amount of work it takes to squeeze water through the torturous paths of today’s best membranes is gone for Perforene. It literally just pops right through because the membrane is thinner than the atoms it’s filtering.”
Water scarcity is becoming a global issue. Last year, a U.S. intelligence report projected that by 2040, fresh water availability will not be able to keep up with demand “absent more effective management of water resources.”
Currently, the desalinization process known as reverse osmosis requires expensive pumping stations that use lots of energy, and are difficult for underdeveloped countries to obtain, install, and maintain. The United Nations reported that about 780 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water. These new filters could make desalinization a much more affordable process in as little as a few years. In an industry that focuses on weapons technology, Mr. Stetson and the engineers at Lockheed Martin certainly deserve commendation for this positive invention.
Dear Lockheed Martin,
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. But water availability and management is a rising global concern. Already, more than 780 million people worldwide suffer for lack of drinking water, and U.N. agencies warn that climate change will increase drought intensity and frequency in the coming years. By 2040, it’s expected that water availability will not be able to keep up with demand. Water is necessary for the food production and electricity generation of all nations, and competition over water resources could lead to tension, instability, conflict, and even potential state failure.
Now is a time for action, and it is encouraging to see a prominent weapons manufacturer turn its energies and resources towards a more humanitarian effort. Your development of Perforene has the potential to dramatically increase fresh water availability by making desalinization a less cumbersome procedure. Thank you for innovating in the cause of human welfare rather than warfare.
[Your Name Here]
Photocredit: Alex Anlicker via Wikimedia Commons