Ionophobicity of carbon sub-nanometer pores enables efficient desalination at high salinity

Summary Electrochemical seawater desalination has drawn significant attention as an energy-efficient technique to address the global issue of water remediation. Microporous carbons, that is, carbons with pore sizes smaller than 2 nm, are commonly used for capacitive deionization. However, micropores are ineffective for capacitive deionization at high molar strength because of their inability to permselectively uptake ions. In our work, we combine experimental work with molecular dynamics simulation and reveal the ability of sub-nanometer pores (ultramicropores) to effectively desalinate aqueous media at seawater-like molar strength. This is done without any ion-exchange membrane. The desalination capacity in 600 mM reaches 12 mg/g, with a charge efficiency of 94% and high cycling stability over 200 cycles (97% of charge efficiency retention). Using molecular dynamic simulations and providing experimental data, our work makes it possible both to understand and to calculate desalination capacity and charge efficiency at high molar strength as a function of pore size.