New, Swift Way to Eliminate Micropollutants from Water

New research from the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering has discovered a single-step water treatment process that uses a hydrogel system to eliminate micropollutants in water treatment. This method, a zwitterionic hydrogel system, was previously used as a coating on membranes for water treatment due to their nonfouling properties. Zwitterionic molecules, derived from the German word zwitter (meaning “hybrid”), contain an equal number of positive and negative charges.

Professor Patrick Doyle, lead researcher, explained the group’s use of zwitterionic molecules as a solution for capturing both organic and inorganic micropollutants in water with minimal operational complexity and long-term sustainability. In this application, Doyle’s team uses zwitterionic molecules to form scaffolding within the polymer chain network that comprises the hydrogel, causing it to be more porous and robust, which improves with scaling in hydrogel-based water treatment systems.


A Solar Power Solution to Refill Depleted Groundwater

A paper from the University of California has offered a novel concept for incentivizing private landowners to aid in refilling the oft-depleted aquifer reserves below them. Graham Fogg, professor emeritus of hydrogeology at UC Davis, offers a solution that draws upon the rebate systems put in place for solar power production: recharge net metering, or ReNeM.

ReNeM would act as a market-based mechanism to incentivize private landowners to conduct recharge on their land. This has already been tested in Pajaro Valley, California, with quantifiable successes. Participants were compensated in a direct correlation to the amount of water they returned underground, similar to how energy is paid for in private solar power returns.

Fogg’s data shows that ReNeM could operate with a lower cost than many alternative solutions for refilling emptied aquifers and produce far more benefits for its collaborators and stakeholders.


Assessing Methods of Measuring Microplastics in Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is assessing its current methods of microplastic sampling from water sources. In a recent posting, the agency offered a retrospective on its methods of measuring microplastics in water.

Previous collection methods utilized plankton sampling nets but were deemed suboptimal, as the netting itself would often shed microplastics into the collected samples prior to lab testing. Most tests also require intensive time and resource allotment, such as chemical pretreatment, to prepare the collected samples for analysis.

Water Sample

In 2018, though, the EPA signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with a not-for-profit research foundation, Draper. CRADA was intended to evaluate and improve microplastics capturing and assessment technologies, and its findings were reported in a 2021 paper.

The paper’s collaborators have since received continued support from the EPA to develop new portable testing solutions, which are emerging as viable alternatives for microplastic measurements.


Sustainable Water Treatment from Piezoelectric-Activated Persulfate

Scientists from Jinan University have discovered an eco-friendly approach to breaking down harmful substances in water called piezoelectric activation of PS.

This process uses materials that produce piezoelectricity, which is an electrical charge generated when stress is introduced. In this case, motions found in natural waterways, such as waves or water currents, squeeze or press the materials, causing them to produce piezoelectricity. The piezoelectricity, in turn, is used to activate persulfate, a chemical that helps to break down harmful substances.

Piezoelectric persulfate diagram. Credit: Environmental Science and Ecotechnology (2023).

Further research is being conducted to improve upon this material’s environmentally protective process.


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