Throughout the world an intensified use of desalination as a means to reduce current or future water scarcity is observed. In terms of technology, the general trend is the adoption of membrane over thermal technologies, and reverse osmosis (RO) is today the leading desalination technology. Numerous large-scale RO seawater desalination plants have been built. Objective of this article is to review the development of membrane-based desalination processes, to describe the historical and current development of RO membrane materials, to illustrate the energy demand and cost of desalination technologies, and to introduce the potential role of advanced materials and innovative technologies in improving performance and sustainability of desalination processes.

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