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In nature, membranes play an important role in the separation of salts, including both the process of dialysis and osmosis occurs in the body. Membranes are used in two commercially important desalting processes: electrodialysis) ED) and reverse osmosis (RO). Each process uses the ability of the membranes to differentiate and selectively separate salts and water. However, membranes are used differently in each of these processes.

ED is a voltagedriven process and uses an electrical potential to move salts selectively through a membrane, leaving fresh water behind as product water.

RO is a pressure-driven process, with the pressure used for separation by allowing fresh water to move through a membrane, leaving the salts behind..

Scientists have explored both of these concepts since the turn of the century, but their commercialization for desalting water for municipal purposes has occurred in only the last 30 to 40 years.