Microplastic Removal using Adhesives

University of Michigan Background
Microplastics are now ubiquitous in the environment and are found in all surface water, including locations as remote as the Arctic and the deepest parts of the ocean. Microplastics are also present in our food and in our drinking water. While efforts to remove large plastic items from the environment have been ongoing, comparatively little has been done to address microplastics pollution.
Technology Overview
Researchers at the University of Michigan have identified adhesives that are amazingly effective at removing microplastics from aqueous solutions. Surfaces coated with the adhesive have been shown to rapidly adhere microplastics suspended in water upon contact. Insertion of an adhesive-coated object into the solution followed by extraction presents a simple but remarkably effective approach to concentrating and removing microparticles from the solution. The adhesives have been successfully demonstrated with a variety of microplastics, including polystyrene, nylon, and rubber.
As an additional environmental benefit, the adhesive used for microplastics removal may be produced using an open-loop recycling process that converts waste super absorbent polymers into pressure sensitive adhesives. Developed at the University in Michigan in collaboration with a Fortune 500 consumer products company, this process provides a scalable, low CO2 emissions route to convert waste polymers from diapers and feminine hygiene products into adhesives that effectively capture microplastics in water.
The team at the University of Michigan is continuing to develop the microplastics capture technology. In addition to further work on the adhesives, the team is also developing engineering solutions to pragmatically facilitate microplastic removal. One application of particular importance is the capture of microplastics from laundry effluent (wastewater), a major contributor to microplastics pollution globally. Over half of all clothing worn worldwide is made from synthetic materials. As these products are laundered, they shed microplastic fibers that ultimately are dispersed into the environment. One way to prevent this is to remove the microfibers at the point source (i.e., the washing machine) so that they are no longer transported to wastewater treatment facilities and incorporated into the coagulated sludges typically applied to agricultural fields.
Benefits

Quickly and irreversibly adheres to microplastics in water
Operates via passive chemical attraction – no energy input required
Coating is suitable for, and easily applied to, any form factor, filter, etc.
Effective for variety of microplastics (including polystyrene, nylon, rubber)

Applications

Removal of microplastic pollution from water, including surface water, wastewater, and more
Capture of microplastics from laundry effluent

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