Water purification and energy storage: INM authors publish in High-Impact Journal of the Nature series

Given the more than two billion people worldwide who have no access to clean drinking water, the purification of salty or contaminated water is of global importance.Professor Volker Presser, head of the program division Energy Materials at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Saarbrücken and professor at Saarland University, and his colleague Dr. Pattarachai Srimuk have developed methods for drinking water production and recovery of valuable substances. They were given the honor to present their research in the field of energy-efficient electrochemical water treatment in the current issue of Nature Reviews Materials. With an impressive impact factor of 74.4, Nature Reviews Materials is second in the overall ranking of all scientific journals.

The electrochemical purification of water is based on the principle that water contaminated with salts, heavy metals, or other chemical substances flows through a structure in which a cathode attracts the positively charged ions and an anode the negatively charged ions. The charged particles are then deposited in the electrode material. In the case of salt water, the desalination system traps positive sodium ions and negative chloride ions, making the water potable. At the same time, by catching the ions in the electrodes, energy is stored, which can be released when required. Electrochemical water desalination thus kills two birds with one stone: On the one hand, water is purified, preferably at times when there is a surplus of energy in the power grid. On the other hand, energy is stored, which can be fed back into the grid when there is an increased demand.

The article provides a comprehensive overview of the various processes of electrochemical water treatment, especially the electrode materials used, the type of ion separation, and the recovery of chemical elements. “Electrochemistry is like a Swiss army knife, namely incredibly versatile,” says Volker Presser enthusiastically. ” It allows us to extract particular ions, depending on the material and the applied voltage. This switchability offers great application potential and shows how important it is to understand the basics of electrochemical processes. ”

The list of authors who are involved in the publication alongside the Saarbrücken scientists shows the global significance of the research on electrochemical water desalination. Xiao Su, formerly at MIT and now a professor at the University of Illinois, USA, Jeyong Yoon from the Seoul National University in South Korea, and the Israeli scientist Doron Aurbach from Bar-Ilan University complete the team of experts.

INM junior scientist Pattarachai Srimuk sees promising prospects for electrochemical desalination: “The selective extraction and concentration of ions is not only of great importance for environmental technologies. Applications for medical technology, material synthesis, and sensor technology will also be able to build on the materials and mechanisms we are researching in the future”.

Bibliographic information:
Srimuk, P., Su, X., Yoon, J. et al. Charge-transfer materials for electrochemical water desalination, ion separation and the recovery of elements. Nat Rev Mater (2020).
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-020-0193-1

Your expert at INM:
Prof. Dr. Volker Presser
E-mail: Volker.presser@leibniz-inm.de