Reusable Water-Treatment Particles Trick, Trap And Terminate Water Contaminant
Rice University scientists have developed something akin to the Venus’ flytrap of particles for water remediation.
Micron-sized spheres created in the lab of Rice environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez are built to catch and destroy bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic chemical used to make plastics.
The research is detailed in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.
BPA is commonly used to coat the insides of food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines, and was once a component of baby bottles. While BPA that seeps into food and drink is considered safe in low doses, prolonged exposure is suspected of affecting the health of children and contributing to high blood pressure.Rice University researchers have enhanced micron-sized titanium dioxide particles to trap and destroy BPA, a water contaminant with health implications. Cyclodextrin molecules on the surface trap BPA, which is then degraded by reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by the light-activated particles.
Credit: Danning Zhang/Rice University
That’s where the trap comes in.
Close up, the spheres reveal themselves as flower-like collections of titanium dioxide petals. The supple petals provide plenty of surface area for the Rice researchers to anchor cyclodextrin molecules.
Cyclodextrin is a benign sugar-based molecule often used in food and drugs. It has a two-faced structure, with a hydrophobic (water-avoiding) cavity and a hydrophilic (water-attracting) outer surface. BPA is also hydrophobic and naturally attracted to the cavity. Once trapped, ROS produced by the spheres degrades BPA into harmless chemicals.
In the lab, the researchers determined that 200 milligrams of the spheres per liter of contaminated water degraded 90 percent of BPA in an hour, a process that would take more than twice as long with unenhanced titanium dioxide.
The work fits into technologies developed by the Rice-based and National Science Foundation-supported Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment because the spheres self-assemble from titanium dioxide nanosheets.
“Most of the processes reported in the literature involve nanoparticles,” said Rice graduate student and lead author Danning Zhang. “The size of the particles is less than 100 nanometers. Because of their very small size, they’re very difficult to recover from suspension in water.”
Credit: Alvarez Lab/Rice University
Because ROS also wears down cyclodextrin, the spheres begin to lose their trapping ability after about 400 hours of continued ultraviolet exposure, Zhang said. But once recovered, they can be easily recharged.
“This new material helps overcome two significant technological barriers for photocatalytic water treatment,” Alvarez said. “First, it enhances treatment efficiency by minimizing scavenging of ROS by non-target constituents in water. Here, the ROS are mainly used to destroy BPA.
“Second, it enables low-cost separation and reuse of the catalyst, contributing to lower treatment cost,” he said. “This is an example of how advanced materials can help convert academic hypes into feasible processes that enhance water security.”
Co-authors of the paper are Rice graduate student Hassan Javed and postdoctoral research fellow Pingfeng Yu; Rice alumnus Changgu Lee, an assistant professor at Ajou University, South Korea; and Jae-Hong Kim, a professor and chair of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University. Alvarez is the George R. Brown Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice.
The National Science Foundation supported the research.
Contacts and sources:
David RuthRice University
Citation: Easily-recoverable, micron-sized TiO2 hierarchical spheres decorated with cyclodextrin for enhanced photocatalytic degradation of organic micropollutants
Danning Zhang, Changgu Lee, Hassan Javed, Pingfeng Yu, Jae-Hong Kim, and Pedro J. J. Alvarez https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b04301