Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

Magnetic Coils Created To Break Down Plastics In Ocean

Aug 13, 2019 05:51 AM EDT

Nano technology
(Photo : Hans)

Nobody thought that the ocean would be filled with plastic that reached the depth of the ocean floors. But scientists say that microplastics have put millions of ocean species at risk by their mere presence alone. 

More than 14 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean waters every year. Almost 40% of the total waste have been considered to be "single-use" which means such types of waste enter the ocean water within the year that it was produced. Plastics are never really broken down; most of the time, they are fragmented into smaller pieces called microplastics. These microplastics have polluted the globe, from the top of the French Pyrenees down to the deepest parts of the Mariana Trench. 

Addressing the problem in plastic pollution begins in the limiting of the production of plastics. However, innovators continue to explore ways to clean up microplastics from the ocean waters. A new study published in the journal Matter describes a new mechanism of nano technology that could help collect the microplastics in the ocean. They call it nano-coils. These devices create chemical reactions that help breakdown microplastics in the ocean. The whole process revolves around the conversion of these plastic particles into carbon dioxide and water. 

Xiaoguang Duan, lead author of the study, told the reporter from Business Insider that although the technique they plan to use is still in its infancy stage, the study already "provides a potential solution to the growing problem of microplastics in the ocean."

Duan and his team have created a microscopic nanotubes that are made from carbon. They are shaped like small springs of the bed, which they refer to as nano coils. Every tube is coated with nitrogen and the highly magnetic metal called manganese. These two compounds interact with nano-coils to create oxygen molecules that become highly reactive when attacked by microplastics. The process converts the plastic pieces into salt compounds, carbon dioxide and water that are completely harmless to ocean species. 

The team tested the nano-coils to contaminated water samples with micropollutants present and they have observed a 30 to 50 percent reduction of micropollutants within the period of 8 hours. Although more testing needs to be conducted before the technology can be ready for use in water treatment plants. 

"Our current study is still at a 'proof of concept' stage in the lab scale," he said. 

None of the innovations is not just about saving the ocean by clearing all the microplastic pollutants in it. Rather, this nano technology aims to teach the public that something can be done to address the plastic problem. The goal is for them to embody the fact that something this small can get rid of the plastic waste that they should have.

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