Novel Graphene-based Microbots to End the Pollution of Oceans

They can remove up to 95% of lead in contaminated water.

The ocean pollution has become a serious problem for years, therefore research has escalated in coming up with possible methods to solve the menace.

Such contamination is not composed only of one contaminant, but several of them. The material which stands out is of course plastic. We even know that the plastic from the ocean pollution has produced artificial islands made of plastic and stones.  It is an “achievement” of humanity that no one should be proud of.

 On the other hand we have the metals such as mercury, which are both in the seas and as part of the food chain of living things.

Thanks to a team of German and Spanish researchers, we may have a new method to remove these metals using novel Microbots.  The research was recently published in the journal Micro Letters titled:  Graphene-Based Microbots for Toxic Heavy Metal Removal and Recovery from Water.

Through collaboration between researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Stuttgart, Germany);  the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia and the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (Barcelona, Spain);  they successfully made microbots from graphene designed to detect and collect particles of heavy metals in waste water.

These microbots have three layers: The outer part, graphene oxide adsorbs lead. The middle part, nickel, allows researchers to control their movements through a magnetic field. Finally, the engine is coated platinum and allows microbots propel forward thanks to a chemical reaction with hydrogen peroxide (leaving typical bubbles around).

The microbots act as a flock, sweeping all metal particles that are part of the pollution of the oceans.  Researchers say that up to 95% of lead contaminated water can be removed in just one hour. The collected particles pass through an acid bath or are recycled in some cases.

Although the research was based on sequestering lead, it is expected that similar designs can be used with the three layers mentioned and to remove other types of heavy metals from water.

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