Engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say that they have developed a desalination process which requires just 1% of the energy needed in the best systems currently available.

The process enables the engineers to produce thin graphene carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in diameter. These holes are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater.

The sheets of graphene are just one atom in thickness. Because they are so thin, it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter to separate the salt from the water.

John Stetson, one of the engineers working on the process says that "It's 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger. The energy that's required and the pressure that's required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less."

According to a 2012 United Nations report about 780 million people in developing countries do not have access to clean drinking water. This development could spare these countries from having to build the expensive pumping stations needed for current reverse osmosis plants.

Lockheed expects to have a prototype filter that could be used as a drop-in replacement for the filters now used in reverse osmosis plants by the end of 2013 and is also working on other applications for the graphene filters..