Charge-transfer materials for electrochemical water desalination, ion separation and the recovery of elements

Pattarachai Srimuk, Xiao Su, Jeyong Yoon, Doron Aurbach, Volker Presser

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Reversible electrochemical processes are a promising technology for energy-efficient water treatment. Electrochemical desalination is based on the compensation of electric charge by ionic species, through which the ions are immobilized and, thereby, removed from a feed-water stream flowing through a desalination cell. For decades, electrochemical desalination has focused on the use of carbon electrodes, but their salt-removal ability is limited by the mechanism of ion electrosorption at low molar concentrations and low charge-storage capacity. Recently, charge-transfer materials, often found in batteries, have demonstrated much larger charge-storage capacities and energy-efficient desalination at both low and high molar strengths. In this Review, we assess electrochemical-desalination mechanisms and materials, including ion electrosorption and charge-transfer processes, namely, ion binding with redox-active polymers, ion insertion, conversion reactions and redox-active electrolytes. Furthermore, we discuss performance metrics and cell architectures, which we decouple from the nature of the electrode material and the underlying mechanism to show the versatility of cell-design concepts. These charge-transfer processes enable a wealth of environmental applications, ranging from potable-water generation and industrial-water remediation to lithium recovery and heavy-metal-ion removal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-538
Number of pages22
JournalNature Reviews Materials
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Energy (miscellaneous)
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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