Research on pollution finds magnetic filters can rid the oceans of microplastics.
There are few things in need of more research than microplastics pollution. That might sound like the first line of a pessimistic poem, but there are signs that the 125 trillion pieces of microplastics in the oceans may have met their match. Step forward the unlikely hero of this story, the mighty magnet.
You might think that magnets are only good for closing fridge doors or finding your way north, but it turns out they can be used to clear the tiny plastic particles that cause such harm to marine life, the environment in general and even the human food chain.
Magnets the Solution to Plastic Pollution
A pollution research study from Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed a powdered adsorbent that can attract microplastics when mixed with water. The research found that when the powder was added to water, the microplastics bind to the magnetic particles and can be easily separated using a magnetic field. This innovative approach offers an efficient and environmentally friendly solution to remove microplastics from water.
What’s more impressive is that the powder additive can remove microplastics that are 1,000 times smaller than those removed by existing wastewater treatment plants. These tiny particles pose a significant threat to the environment, and their removal is crucial for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Microplastics take centuries to degrade and conventional water treatment systems are not effective in filtering them out. Developing a cost-effective way to overcome the significant challenges posed by microplastics was critical, says Professor Nicky Eshtiaghi, the lead author of the study.
“Our powder additive can remove microplastics that are 1,000 times smaller than those that are currently detectable by existing wastewater treatment plants,” she said.
“We are looking for industrial collaborators to take our invention to the next steps, where we will be looking at its application in wastewater treatment plants.”
PhD candidate from the School of Engineering and one of the RMIT study’s authors, Muhammad Haris says the nanomaterials contain iron, which enable the team to use magnets to easily separate the microplastics and pollutants from the water.
“This whole process takes one hour, compared to other inventions taking days.”
Co-lead researcher Dr Nasir Mahmood says the nano-pillar structured material was designed to attract microplastics without creating any secondary pollutants or carbon footprints.
“The adsorbent is prepared with special surface properties so that it can effectively and simultaneously remove both microplastics and dissolved pollutants from water,” says Mahmood from the School of Science.
“Microplastics smaller than 5 millimetres, which can take up to 450 years to degrade, are not detectable and removable through conventional treatment systems, resulting in millions of tonnes being released into the sea every year. This is not only harmful for aquatic life, but also has significant negative impacts on human health.”
The RMIT researchers believe that their discovery has significant potential for use in wastewater treatment plants and other water treatment facilities. The technology could be incorporated into the existing treatment process to remove microplastics effectively.
The use of magnets to remove microplastics is not entirely new. Previous studies have shown that magnets can remove larger microplastics. However, the RMIT scientists have taken this a step further by developing a powdered adsorbent that can remove much smaller particles.
The team is currently working on optimizing the technology to make it even more effective. They are also investigating how the process can be scaled up to industrial levels.
The discovery of this innovative technology is undoubtedly good news in the struggle to find a solution against plastic pollution in general and microplastics in particular. With further development and scaling up, it could prove to be a vital tool in maintaining the health of our oceans and the entire ecosystem.