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A unique Microfiltration method to remove micro plastics from seawater developed at IIT, Guwahati

Posted By : Amol Mishra   |   Date : Apr 22 2021 7:55 AM

A unique Microfiltration method to remove micro plastics from seawater developed at IIT, Guwahati

The team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati has created an innovative microfiltration method that can be used to remove microplastic contaminants from the seawater. 

The objective behind developing the method is to stop the residual microplastics from ending into the edible salt extracted from the seawater. 

According to the team, who published their research in the Journal of Environmental Technology and Innovation, they said that plastic pollution has become a serious concern worldwide.

Although widespread awareness programs and aggressive social media campaigns have raised a certain level of understanding among people about what microplastic is, or what sort of detrimental effect it leaves on the environment, there is still no significant level of seriousness for it.

Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic, known to be released by breaking down from the larger plastic products. These microplastics fall in the size range between a few nanometers to 5 mm.

The most terrible fact about Microplastics is they have entered into the large water bodies to such an extent that they are found inside the bodies of almost all marine organisms. 

According to the research, performed by Kaustubha Mohanty, Professor, and Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT, Guwahati, and his team, in the East Asia region, 90% of the table salt products sampled across the world are found to have traces of microplastics in it. 

It’s also evident that microplastics consumed by people can cause hormones, infertility, and problems of the nervous system, and even cancer, Kaustubha Mohanty added.

Expressing positivity about their research, the team specified that while several studies have been done to detect and quantify microplastics in different food items, including salt, there have been fewer attempts to find ways to extract them. For the first time, the IIT Guwahati team has demonstrated the effective removal, through hollow fiber microfiltration (HF-MF), of microplastics from synthetic marine water.

Mohanty explained that Hundreds of small, stroke-like tubes are bundled to form a filter matrix in our hollow fiber membrane filter. Microscopic pores fill the walls of the tubes and the microplastic is trapped inside the pipes when water is passed through the pipes, freeing this pollutant from water.

Hollow fiber membranes are already widely applied, including in the dialysis membranes for kidney disease, in day-to-day applications such as RO pre-treats, industry or wastewater applications, juice processing, and other biotech applications.

Although hollow fibers make us of a variety of materials for formation, the one developed at IIT, Guwahati, made us of PP or polypropylene, and sericin, which is a kind of silk protein. With the method developed, the team claimed that they were successful in removing almost 99% of microplastics from the synthetic seawater, with no reduction in the quantity of salt present in the sample. They added that if this seawater is subjected to salt extraction, it would be free from microplastics.

Researchers have explained, however, that microplastics can only be removed from seawater before salt extraction and that microplastics introduced during salt processing, such as the use of degrading agents, cannot be removed during the desalination process themselves.

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