IISc Researchers Develop Sustainable Hydrogel for Microplastic Removal

IISc Researchers Develop Sustainable Hydrogel for Microplastic Removal

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have developed a sustainable hydrogel aimed at removing microplastics from water. Microplastics are small plastic particles that pose significant threats to human health and the environment.

Hazards of Microplastics:

Microplastics can enter the human body through water consumption, leading to increased health risks. These particles are widespread, found even in remote areas, and endanger various aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Development of Sustainable Hydrogel:

  1. Polymer Network Design:
    • The hydrogel features a unique polymer network designed to bind and degrade microplastics.
    • Filtering membranes, previously attempted solutions, were deemed unsustainable due to particle clogging.
    • The IISc team opted for 3D hydrogels to address this issue.
  2. Composition:
    • The hydrogel comprises three polymer layers: chitosan, polyvinyl alcohol, and polyaniline, creating an interpenetrating polymer network (IPN) architecture.
    • Nanoclusters of a material called copper substitute polyoxometalate (Cu-POM) were infused into the matrix to act as catalysts for UV light-induced degradation of microplastics.

Efficiency and Testing:

  1. Removal Efficiency:
    • The hydrogel exhibited high efficiency, removing approximately 95% and 93% of two types of microplastics from water with near-neutral pH (∼6.5).
  2. Durability and Stability:
    • The material’s durability and strength were tested under various conditions, demonstrating stability across different temperatures.

Detection Method:

To address the challenge of microplastic detection, a fluorescent dye was incorporated into the microplastics to track adsorption and degradation by the hydrogel under different conditions.

Researcher Insights:

  • Soumi Dutta, the study’s first author, highlighted the importance of detection due to the microscopic nature of microplastics.
  • The team conducted experiments at different pH levels, temperatures, and microplastic concentrations to assess the hydrogel’s performance.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs):

  1. What is the primary threat posed by microplastics, according to the research?
    • A) Soil erosion
    • B) Air pollution
    • C) Human health risks
    • D) Deforestation
    • Answer: C) Human health risks
  2. What distinguishes the sustainable hydrogel developed by the IISc team?
    • A) It is composed of metal nanoparticles.
    • B) It utilizes a 2D membrane structure.
    • C) It features a unique intertwined polymer network.
    • D) It relies solely on physical filtration.
    • Answer: C) It features a unique intertwined polymer network.
  3. How do the nanoclusters infused in the hydrogel contribute to microplastic removal?
    • A) By attracting microplastics through electrostatic forces
    • B) By physically blocking microplastics
    • C) By catalyzing degradation using UV light
    • D) By absorbing microplastics through chemical reactions
    • Answer: C) By catalyzing degradation using UV light
  4. What method was employed to track microplastic adsorption and degradation?
    • A) Infrared spectroscopy
    • B) Fluorescent dye incorporation
    • C) Magnetic resonance imaging
    • D) Electron microscopy
    • Answer: B) Fluorescent dye incorporation
  5. What was the hydrogel’s approximate efficiency in removing microplastics at near-neutral pH?
    • A) 80-85%
    • B) 90-95%
    • C) 70-75%
    • D) 60-65%
    • Answer: B) 90-95%