Innovation That Matters

The nano-pillar structure the team has developed is recycled from waste and can be used repeatedly | Photo source Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

Removing microplastics with magnets


The new process targets pollution 1,000 times smaller than can currently be cleared

Spotted: Following the shock news in early 2022 that microplastics are in the lungs of living people, and in larger sizes than was thought possible, the environmental impact of plastic pollution became clearer than ever. With the smallest of plastic particles taking hundreds of years to degrade, the need for new ways to clean the Earth’s waters is urgent. Using magnetism, a team of researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s (RMIT) STEM School of Engineering has created a quick way of cleaning vast volumes of water. 

Using an iron-based adsorbent in a powder form, the team employed magnets to separate microplastics and other pollutants from water. The adsorbent is made from nanoparticles prepared with special surface properties chosen specifically for their ability to attract microplastics and other particles.  

The powder and magnet combination removes pollutants 1,000 times smaller than those that are cleaned by current wastewater treatment processes. Tests of the adsorbent cleared water in less than an hour, leading the scientists to recommend large-scale pilot programmes with wastewater treatment facilities.  

Further development of the powder and process will require consideration of how to recycle, reuse, or otherwise dispose of the collected pollutants. 

From removing microplastics in the home via laundry processes, to replacing petroleum-based microplastics with naturally occurring silk ones, the innovations Springwise has spotted working to rid the world of this pollutant are many and varied.

Written By: Keely Khoury




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