Friday, April 22nd is Earth Day, so in honor of Mother Earth, let’s discuss one of the biggest issues facing our home planet—fresh water shortages—and how a material called graphene may be able to help.

Our global thirst for fresh water is rising by an estimated 170 billion gallons each year. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population are predicted to have problems accessing fresh water, a problem being exacerbated by global warming and continued population growth. The regions hardest hit are expected to be the Middle East, northern China, northern India, and the western United States.

Already, an estimated 2.7 billion people have trouble accessing fresh water for at least one month out of the year. Countries like Yemen and Syria are already facing civil unrest due in part to a lack of access to fresh water. In 2014, Saudi Arabia began farming more water intensive crops like hay on land purchased in Arizona to avoid tapping their own dwindling water supply.

But fresh water makes up only 3% of the Earth’s water supply (and roughly 2/3 of that is trapped in glaciers). What about the salt water that makes up the other 97%? Historically, removing salt from salt water, a process called desalination, has been too expensive to be a reliable method for meeting our rising fresh water needs. However, scientists and engineers may have found a new way to use graphene to make the process easier and more affordable.

 

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