UCLA researchers have produced a tool to remove the salt content from water while avoiding the problems that arise from clogging during the purification of difficult types of water.

In reverse-osmosis purification, unpurified water is pushed through a membrane using significant pressure. The pores on the membrane only allow water to pass through, providing a clean product. However, unwanted particles from the water tend to clog the membrane which slows down the process and damages the membrane.

In order to prevent this problem, the researchers manufactured a membrane that is in constant motion, preventing unwanted matter from adhering to its surface.

“If you’ve ever snorkeled, you’ll know that sea kelp move back and forth with the current or water flow,” Yoram Cohen, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

“So imagine that you have this varied structure with continuous movement. Protein or bacteria need to be able to anchor to multiple spots on the membrane to attach themselves to the surface — a task which is extremely difficult to attain due to the constant motion of the brush layer. The polymer chains protect and screen the membrane surface underneath.”

Also, the surface has a charge, which repels particles with the same charge from the membrane.

The researchers were also able to synthesize the membrane without the use of expensive tools and machinery, making it a viable product for commercial use.

The finding was published in the March 30 advance online edition of the Journal of Materials Chemistry.