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Removal of pollutants in drinking water and wastewater is a complex process using titanium dioxide. Treatment facilities also use ultraviolet light to activate the decontamination ability of the compound. But in the new study led by Rice University, the process has been simplified using a nanoparticle-infused polymer to remove pollutants.

Nanotech Polymer for Water Treatment

Some treatment facilities use titanium oxide, a naturally occurring oxide of titanium, to remove pollutants in wastewater. The compound is turned into a semiliquid mixture, combined with wastewater, and exposed to ultraviolet to eliminate pollutants. After that process, the treated water must be filtered to remove the compound.

Researchers at the Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment at Rice University simplified this process using nanotech polymer mats. They created the mats from spun polyvinyl fibers and augmented them with small plastic beads that dissolve with chemicals to make them very porous. The porous property allows titanium oxide to have a larger space to capture contaminants.

The research team tested with methylene blue to determine efficiency. Methylene blue is a known dye and medication for the blood disorder methemoglobinemia. However, the chemical can cause side effects, such as shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and serotonin syndrome.

“Current photocatalytic treatment suffers from two limitations. One is inefficiency because the oxidants produced are scavenged by things that are much more abundant than the target pollutant… Second, it costs a lot of money to retain and separate slurry photocatalysts and prevent them from leaking into the treated water,” explained Pedro Alvarez, Director of the NEWT Center at Rice.

In the test, the nanotech polymer mat attracted the methylene blue mixed in a water sample with its hydrophobic property. When the researchers exposed the mat to the light, it activated the photocatalytic titanium oxide that produced a reactive oxygen species which destroyed the methylene blue. Any pollutants destroyed this way were simply converted to harmless byproducts.

The new nanotech polymer mats also used a fraction used by current technologies. The mats can also be cleaned, reused, and scaled in larger sizes if needed.