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IISc develops novel hydrogel that removes microplastics from water

Washington, Apr 12 (Prensa Latina) Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have designed a sustainable hydrogel to remove microplastics from water, the journal Nanoscale published Friday.

According to experts, microplastics pose a great threat to human health and this tiny plastic debris can enter our bodies through the water we drink and increase the risk of illness, as well as pose an environmental hazard.

The novel material has a unique intertwined polymer network that can bind contaminants and degrade them by using UV light irradiation.

This hydrogel developed by the team consists of three different polymer layers (chitosan, polyvinyl alcohol and polyaniline) intertwined together, making an Interpenetrating Polymer Network (IPN) Architecture.

The team infused this matrix with nanoclusters of a material called copper substitute polyoxometalate (Cu-POM).

The combination of the polymers and nanoclusters resulted in a strong hydrogel with the ability to adsorb and degrade large amounts of microplastics.

Most microplastics are a product of incomplete breakdown of household plastics and fibers, the experts stressed.

To mimic this in the lab, the team crushed food container lids and other daily-use plastic products to create two of the most common microplastics existing in nature: polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene.

“Along with treatment or removal of microplastics, another major problem is detection. Because these are very small particles, you cannot see them with the naked eye,” said Soumi Dutta, first author of the study published in Nanoscale, and SERB National Post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Materials Engineering.

To solve this problem, the researchers added a fluorescent dye to the microplastics to track how much was being absorbed and degraded by the hydrogel under different conditions.

“We checked the removal of microplastics at different pH levels of water, different temperatures, and different concentrations of microplastics,” Dutta added.

The hydrogel was found to be highly efficient – it could remove about 95% and 93% of the two different types of microplastics in water at near-neutral pH (∼6.5).

The team also carried out several experiments to test how durable and strong the material was. They found that the combination of the three polymers made it stable under various temperatures.