You know, we talk about it often. The microplastics they are a crisis that can no longer be circumvented. By now they are present everywhere, from Antarctica to mother's milk, passing through the fruit we eat. Laboratories all over the world have started a real race against time to develop remedies.
Recently, Princeton researchers have used egg whites to create a lightweight, porous airgel that can remove microplastics and salt from water. Last month, robotics researchers at the University of Surrey developed a robot fish which moves in the water "eating" microplastics.
All remedies that may take time: at RMIT University in Melbourne the group led by Nicky Eshtiaghi, lead researcher, has created an affordable and sustainable nanomaterial that could do better in just one hour. The research results are published in Chemical Engineering Journal (I link it to you here).
Absorbent powder and a "nanopillar" structure made of... waste
The nanomaterial, developed in the form of a powder, is very effective. It is capable of removing microplastics 1.000 times smaller than those currently detectable by existing wastewater treatment plants.
"The nano-pillar structure we designed to remove pollution is recycled from waste. And it can be used over and over again," said Eshtiaghi of the School of Engineering in a release.
“The whole process takes an hour, compared to other inventions which take days,” he says Muhammad Haris, the first author. The researcher added that the iron contained in the nanomaterial obviously plays a key role in helping to easily separate microplastics and pollutants from the water.
The nanomaterial that leaves no fingerprints
Responding to a predictable question, Dr Nasir Mahmood, researcher and co-author, said the nanomaterial was designed to attract microplastics without creating secondary pollutants or carbon footprints.
In other words? This nanomaterial is a "silver bullet" that can turn the tide of the game. It takes an hour to act, adds no more pollution, is easy to produce, is inexpensive, and removes microplastics effectively.
The team is now looking for industrial collaborators who can assist in the application of the material in wastewater treatment plants.