Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Andrew Nessel makes this connection here…

In an article published on March 13th, 2013,  titled, “Pentagon weapons-maker finds method for cheap, clean water,” David Alexander of Reuters writes about a new technology from the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The technology, an exceptionally thin carbon membrane approximately the thickness of an atom with perforations a nanometer in diameter which can be used to filter water, is being eyed for use in desalination where it is expected to be 2 orders of magnitude more efficient than current filter technology. This offers great opportunities to address fresh water security issues around the world, particularly in developing countries. Alexander notes that 780 million people worldwide currently lack adequate access to clean drinking water. Cominelli et al (2009) writing in EMBO Reports, the journal of the European Microbiology Organization, puts that figure at more than 1 billion for safe drinking water and around 2 billion for access to sanitation. The World Health Organization also puts this number at “almost 1 billion.” Furthermore, the article notes the increase in permeability over current filter technology, but gives no figures on cost or energy savings, leaving the reader with an abstract grasp on how this presents an improvement.


Figure 1: Sheet of Graphene (source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/core-materials/5057399792/ )

 The development of this technology and its ultimate arrival in the market indicates the current trajectory of the economics of water. While water has been big business for drinks manufacturers, this development indicates that the opportunities in this market are significant enough to cause Lockheed Martin to throw resources and engineers at the problem. It will be interesting to see how Lockheed offers this product in the market. Will they follow the same path as agribusiness has with GMO terminator seeds, engineering the filters for a shorter life span? Or will they partner with Water Security NGOs and Philanthropic Foundations, like the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to distribute this technology where it is need most? We will have to wait to find out in 2014.



Cominelli, Eleonora, Massimo Galbiati, Chiara Tonelli, and Chris Bowler. “Water: The Invisible Problem. Access to Fresh Water Is Considered to Be a Universal and Free Human Right, but Dwindling Resources and a Burgeoning Population Are Increasing Its Economic Value.” EMBO Reports 10.7 (2009): 671-76. Print.

 “Facts and Figures on Water Quality and Health.” WHO. World Health Organization, 2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.