Hammering swords into plows is old advice, but what about jet fighters into water filters?

Jet and missile manufacturer Lockheed Martin recently announced that they developed an atom-thin water filter that could greatly reduce the power needed to purify salt water.

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“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” John Stetson, one of the engineers developing the filter, told Reuters. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”

The filter uses a net of carbon atoms with nanometer sized holes that are big enough for H20 to pass through but too small for bulkier salt molecules. The filter could be on the market in a year or two if Lockheed can figure out how to mass produce the filters easily.

One of the most difficult problems with providing water to everyone is that freshwater rivers, lakes and aquifers make up only a small percentage of the world’s water. Much of the planet’s easily accessed freshwater is also easily polluted by agricultural runoff, human sewage and industrial processes.

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If Lockheed’s (or another company’s) salt water filter can be mass-produced and distributed economically, the 36,614,237,300,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in the Earth’s oceans could go to work watering our crops and quenching our global thirst.

IMAGE: Computer art graphic depicting the inside of a carbon nanotube. (Laguna Design/Corbis)