Can We Use Magnetic Nanoparticles To Clean The Ocean?

Filtration can be slow, difficult, and expensive, limiting access to readily available drinking water and making it more impractical to clean a large amount of it.

Scientists from the University of Ulm, Germany and CISC-Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain have come up with a solution to the problem.

The magnetic iron oxide nanoparticle is encased within a porous outer shell of silicon and coated with a finishing layer of ionic liquid that can help capture a wide range of pollutants. Including microplastic- a deadly byproduct of manufacturing known for its deleterious effect on fish and more broadly- any organism that swallows it.

The whole arrangement is called a polyoxometalate‐supported ionic liquid phase or POM‐SILP. It can extract both organic and inorganic matter before being drawn out of the water with a series of large magnets.

POM-SILPs have been proven effective at removing chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, and nickel, as well as ‘Patent Blue V’ dye- an organic product that substituted for natural impurity in this case. In the future they need to include real microorganisms. Who knows what variables they could be missing by instead using a refined version of real organic material.

The nanoparticle also prevents the growth of bacteria in the first place, which is good. The reason why it may be a better alternative to filtration as far as cleaning a large body of water is that the magnetic nanoparticles also bind to plastic polystyrene beads ranging from 1 to 10 µm in diameter.

They claim that additional infrastructure would not be required if it can remove the pollution with “simple permanent magnets.”

The team plans on optimizing individual components to further enhance the novel procedure as well as on figuring out how to work in tandem with industrial electromagnetic recovery systems for use in realistic operating conditions.

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