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Lockheed Martin moves beyond weapons to clean water with graphene

Visitors look at the Lockheed Martin's stand at the Eurosatory 2012 defence and security exhibition in Villepinte near Paris on June 11, 2012.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has discovered a way to make desalination 100 times more efficient. And that could have a big impact on bringing clean drinking water to the developing world.

The process is called reverse osmosis, and the material used is graphene -- a lot like the stuff you smudge across paper with your pencil.

"This stuff is so thin and so strong, it's a remarkable compound, it is one atom thick," says Lockheed Martin senior engineer John Stetson. "If you have a piece of paper that represents the thickness of graphene, the closest similar membrane is about the height of a room."

The new material essentially acts as a sieve, allowing water to pass though while salts remain behind. Graphene could make for smaller, cheaper plants that turn salt water into drinking water, but it could also have uses in war zones as a portable water desalinator.

"Lockheed really is concerned with the broadest aspects of global security [and] maintaining safe environments and that includes water," says Stetson.

To hear about more graphene applications, click on the audio player above.

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Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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