Waiter, can I have ocean water, with ice please?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

salinity water bigger
The “salinity” of water is how much salt content it has. It is measured in “parts per thousand” (ppt) and this diagram shows the salinity of different bodies of water.

The beach is a great way to cool off during the summer. You can build sand castles, play beach volleyball, or just lie in the Sun absorbing the sweet solar light. Yet, doing these activities sure can break a sweat! Why not drink some of that ocean water to rehydrate? It’s not like we would run out, since it covers about 70% of the world. If you have ever swallowed ocean water, though, you know how salty it is! It’s because of that salt that we can’t drink it. Thanks to a clever invention from the University of Texas at Austin, however, that might not be the case anymore.

They call it… the ‘water chip.” It’s small, it’s effective, and it works by using electrochemically mediated seawater desalination. Ummm… come again? What I mean by that is, the water chip uses electricity to remove the salt from seawater!

The chip features two tiny tubes, called microchannels. One small pipe allows for saltwater to enter, and the other lets it exit. There is an electrode at the point where the two microchannels meet, like the tip of the letter “V.” When one tube lets in the saltwater, it reaches the electrode, where a tiny jolt of electricity is delivered. This shock effectively removes the salt, and the cleaned liquid exits the chip!

“The availability of water for drinking and [farming] is one of the most basic requirements for maintaining and improving human health,” says Richard Crooks, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

water chip small
The prototype “water chip”.

Though this isn’t the first invention to clean seawater, it sure is the first of it’s kind. The methods that exist today involve lots of layers, energy, space, and people in order to do the job.

The water chip, on the other hand, is small, portable, and requires so little energy, it can run on the same batteries as the ones in a TV remote!

The scientists say that the chip can remove 25% of the salt in saltwater. Yet, we need 99% of it removed before it’s safe enough to drink. There’s no need to worry though! The researchers are positive they can design a more efficient chip easily.

This is promising news, especially for parts of the world that don’t have easy access to clean drinking water.

Image of water chip courtesy of Daniel Oppenheimer and The University of Texas at Austin. Image of water salinity diagram courtesy of Peter Summerlin and Louisiana State University.