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Solvents that act like a magnet could be new solution to fight microplastics

Possible new solution to fight microplastics
Posted at 3:38 PM, Mar 21, 2024

Tiny plastic pieces showing up everywhere in our environment are a growing concern, but there may be a new solution to fight against pollution.

We're talking about microplastics, particles smaller than 5 millimeters that you often can't even see.

They're in our oceans and are even ending up in our bodies.

Now researchers at the University of Kentucky have figured out a way to get them out of the water.

They've developed an eco-friendly solvent that acts like a magnet.

"We hear a lot about the how scary microplastics and nanoplastics are, but not necessarily a lot that's been done about it. So even if this doesn't become a huge solution that everyone will use in the future, I think it's a pretty cool step toward finding a solution toward what to do about this material and the environment," said Jameson Hunter, an associate research engineer at the University of Kentucky.

The researchers are using natural deep eutectic solvents to get the microplastics out.

The solvents are a mix of plant materials like the extract from mint and coconut.

The microplastics are attracted to the solvents like a magnet.

The solvents pull the tiny plastic pieces to the surface of the water and hold onto them.

The molecules in the solvents can form bonds with the molecules in the plastics, kind of like how Velcro works.

Then the microplastics can be removed from the water.

"Once we pull them out, there's a potential we can use those microplastics for something more useful like we can make battery materials from the microplastics to add some value to this waste material that exists in the environment," said Jian Shi, associate professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky.

The researchers say the solvents are pretty inexpensive to make because the things that go into them are readily available in large quantities.

So far this has just been tested in a lab, so it's not ready to be used on a large scale yet.

But the researchers see the potential for that in the future.