"Environment" research area

Sustainable Extraction of Environmental Microplastics

Primary Investigator - Cari DutcherPrimary InvestigatorCari Dutcher
Co-InvestigatorsVishal Panwar (Graduate Research Scholar)
Industry PartnersAdidas
Award Type: Seed Grant - Graduate Research Scholar (with NRRI Travel Grant)

Problem: The abundance of microscale plastic debris is critical pollution problem. Only fractions of the plastics are recycled, while the vast majority ends up in incinerators, landfills, and oceans. As a result, microplastics have now been reported in drinking water, food products, and even in snowfalls and artic ice. There is a clear need of more sustainable way of microplastic removal from our environment through waste-water and drinking water treatment and improve our understanding of overall process.

Solution: Recent findings suggest inexpensive, renewable bio-based flocculants like lignin, cellulose, and starch, modified to increase their charge density and water solubility, can be used to separate and remove microplastic from water through the established process of flocculation. This project will develop a novel strategy to efficiently aggregate and remove microplastics while simultaneously monitoring of the flocculation kinetics and aggregate size variation in a controlled hydrodynamic environment provided by a Taylor-Couette system. The researchers will determine optimal flocculant mixing conditions for formation of dense and breakage resistant flocs for efficient microplastic removal.

Impact: Wastewater and drinking water treatment are the most accessible and sensible way minimize microplastic pollution. The development of efficient bioflocculants and the use of a controlled Taylor-Couette flows to study microplastic flocculation are reasonable solutions. Our work will shed some light on the underlying mechanism of microplastic flocculation with biopolymers to achieve a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to solve the eminent problem. This will also help predict the process controls for treatment operations to minimize costs which aligns with the MnDrive goal of ensuring availability of safe and reliable drinking water with sustainable means.