"We are developing a device that will use the materials in batteries to take salt out of water with the smallest amount of energy that we can," said Kyle Smith, professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The most-used method, reverse osmosis, pushes water through a membrane that keeps out the salt, a costly and energy-intensive process. By contrast, the battery method uses electricity to draw charged salt ions out of the water. The researchers were inspired by sodium ion batteries, which contain salt water.

Batteries have two chambers, a positive electrode and a negative electrode, with a separator in between that the ions can flow across. When the battery discharges, the sodium and chloride ions - the two elements of salt - are drawn to one chamber, leaving desalinated water in the other.

In a normal battery, the ions diffuse back when the current flows the other direction. The researchers had to find a way to keep the salt out of the now-pure water. In a conventional battery, the separator allows salt to diffuse from the positive electrode into the negative electrode," Smith said.

The finding was published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

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