Materials for Water Purification and Desalination

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Materials for water purification and desalination encompass a range of advanced materials and technologies designed to remove contaminants and salt from water, making it safe and suitable for drinking, agriculture, and industrial applications. These materials play a crucial role in addressing water scarcity challenges and providing access to clean water for communities and industries around the world.

Impact on climate action

Materials for Water Purification and Desalination within Advanced Materials bolster climate action by providing efficient and sustainable solutions to address water scarcity. By enabling energy-efficient desalination and water purification processes, these innovations reduce carbon emissions, conserve freshwater resources, and promote resilience to climate change-induced water stress.


  • Membrane Filtration: Membrane filtration technologies, such as reverse osmosis (RO) and nanofiltration (NF), use semipermeable membranes to separate contaminants and salt from water.
  • Adsorption: Adsorbent materials, such as activated carbon and zeolites, can remove contaminants from water through physical or chemical adsorption processes.
  • Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs): AOPs use chemical reactions to break down organic contaminants in water, making them easier to remove.
  • Nanotechnology: Nanomaterials, such as nanoparticles and nanofibers, can be used to create more efficient and selective membranes and adsorbents for water purification.
  • Bio-Based Materials: Bio-based materials, such as cellulose and chitosan, are being explored for use in water purification and desalination due to their sustainability and biocompatibility.

TRL : 6-8 (depending on the specific material and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • High-Performance Membranes: Researchers are developing new membrane materials with improved selectivity, permeability, and fouling resistance, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of membrane filtration processes.
  • Nanostructured Adsorbents: Nanomaterials are being used to create adsorbents with higher surface areas and improved adsorption capacities, enabling more efficient removal of contaminants from water.
  • Photocatalytic Materials: Photocatalytic materials, such as titanium dioxide, can be used to degrade organic contaminants in water using sunlight, offering a sustainable and energy-efficient water treatment solution.
  • Bio-Inspired Materials: Researchers are developing bio-inspired materials that mimic the water purification mechanisms of natural systems, such as the lotus leaf effect for water repellency and the aquaporin channels in cell membranes for selective water transport.
  • Desalination Technologies: Innovations in desalination technologies, such as membrane distillation and electrodialysis, are improving energy efficiency and reducing costs.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Enhanced Membrane Technologies
  • Nanomaterials in Water Treatment
  • Sustainable Adsorption Methods
  • Advanced Oxidation Techniques
  • Bio-Inspired Water Purification
  • Next-Gen Desalination Methods
  • High-Efficiency Membrane Filtration
  • Innovative Adsorbent Materials
  • Photocatalysis for Water Treatment
  • Bio-Based Solutions for Desalination
  • Breakthroughs in Membrane Distillation
  • Energy-Efficient Desalination Technologies
  • Nanotechnology for Selective Filtration
  • Biomimicry in Water Purification
  • Novel Approaches to Salt Removal

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • NanoH2O:
    • Technology Enhancement: NanoH2O specializes in membrane technology for water desalination and purification. They use thin-film nanocomposite membranes with nanostructured materials to improve water permeability and salt rejection rates.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: NanoH2O’s membranes offer higher efficiency and lower energy consumption compared to traditional reverse osmosis membranes. Their innovative approach helps address the challenges of water scarcity and provides sustainable solutions for desalination.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: NanoH2O serves various sectors, including municipal water treatment, industrial wastewater reuse, and seawater desalination. Their membranes are used in desalination plants, water purification systems, and wastewater treatment facilities globally.
  • Aquaporin A/S:
    • Technology Enhancement: Aquaporin develops biomimetic membranes inspired by the natural water channels found in cells. These aquaporin-based membranes selectively transport water molecules, enabling efficient water purification and desalination.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Aquaporin’s biomimetic membranes offer high water permeability and selectivity, resulting in energy-efficient desalination and purification processes. Their technology mimics nature’s design to provide sustainable solutions for clean water production.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Aquaporin caters to industries such as desalination, wastewater treatment, and point-of-use water purification. Their membranes are used in desalination plants, water recycling systems, and portable water purification devices.
  • Gradiant Corporation:
    • Technology Enhancement: Gradiant Corporation specializes in innovative solutions for water treatment and desalination, including their Carrier Gas Extraction (CGE) technology. CGE utilizes a gas carrier to enhance the evaporation process, enabling efficient water purification and concentration.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Gradiant’s CGE technology offers a cost-effective and energy-efficient alternative to traditional thermal and membrane-based desalination methods. Their approach helps address water scarcity challenges while minimizing environmental impact.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Gradiant serves industries requiring water treatment solutions, including oil and gas, mining, and power generation. Their technologies are used in produced water treatment, brine concentration, and industrial wastewater recycling applications.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is a pioneer in research on materials for water purification and desalination, focusing on developing advanced materials and membrane technologies to address global water scarcity challenges.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the design and fabrication of nanomaterial-based membranes, including graphene oxide, carbon nanotubes, and metal-organic frameworks, for enhanced water filtration and desalination performance.
    • End-use Applications: MIT’s work has applications in drinking water treatment, wastewater reuse, and seawater desalination. For example, they’re developing membrane distillation systems for solar-powered desalination and nanoporous membranes for removing contaminants like heavy metals and microplastics from water sources.
  • Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford’s research on materials for water purification and desalination spans materials science, chemical engineering, and environmental engineering, with a focus on developing sustainable and cost-effective water treatment technologies.
    • Uniqueness: They are known for their work on bio-inspired materials and nanotechnology-enabled approaches for improving water filtration and desalination efficiency, as well as for their emphasis on understanding the environmental impacts of water treatment processes.
    • End-use Applications: Stanford’s research finds applications in decentralized water treatment systems, rural water supply, and industrial wastewater treatment. For instance, they’re investigating biomimetic membranes inspired by plant xylem for energy-efficient water transport and nanocomposite materials for removing emerging contaminants from water.
  • Nanyang Technological University (Singapore):
    • Research Focus: NTU Singapore is a leading institution in research on materials for water purification and desalination, leveraging its expertise in nanotechnology, membrane science, and environmental engineering.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the development of multifunctional membranes and nanomaterial-based adsorbents for selective removal of contaminants and efficient water treatment.
    • End-use Applications: NTU’s research has applications in urban water management, industrial water reuse, and portable water purification systems. For example, they’re developing graphene-based membranes for desalination and water disinfection, as well as nanocomposite adsorbents for removing organic pollutants from wastewater.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Materials for water purification and desalination are widely used in various applications, including:

  • Drinking Water Treatment: Membrane filtration and adsorption technologies are used to remove contaminants from drinking water, ensuring its safety and quality.
  • Wastewater Treatment: Advanced materials and technologies are used to treat wastewater and remove pollutants before it is discharged into the environment.
  • Desalination: Desalination plants use various technologies, including reverse osmosis and membrane distillation, to remove salt from seawater or brackish water, providing a source of freshwater for drinking, agriculture, and industrial use.