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New low-cost, green material helps reduce water and air pollution

Researchers at the University of Brescia have developed a new class of sustainable hybrid materials that have the potential to replace activated carbon as the preferred choice for reducing wastewater and air pollution.

The material, which can be made inexpensively by mixing solid waste and a polymer that is found abundantly in nature, is more effective in absorbing pollutants than activated carbon.

“This paper shows the simple synthesis of a new porous hybrid material, obtained by using low cost and by-product materials,” explained lead author Dr. Elza Bontempi.

“The material was designed on the basis of The European Commission’s request to develop an affordable, sustainable and innovative design-driven material solution that can reduce the concentration of particulate matter in urban areas.”

Particulate matter is found across the globe in both urban and rural areas. In addition to this pollution, millions of tons of industrial waste is dumped into the world’s waterways every year.

Activated carbon is the most common adsorbent used to reduce air and wastewater pollution, but it is expensive to produce. Experts have been working to find a low-cost alternative.

In the current study, researchers combined sodium alginate, a polymer that can be commonly found in seaweed and algae, with a byproduct of silicon metal alloy processing.

“The article reports preliminary results about the new material’s capability to capture particulate matter,” said Dr. Bontempi. “It can also be used for wastewater remediation. In particular, its ability to replace activated carbon is demonstrated.”

The research team tested the effectiveness of the new material in removing toxic substances from wastewater using a methylene blue dye as a pollutant. Even at high concentrations, the hybrid material adsorbed and removed 94 percent of the dye.

In addition, the production of the material proved to be a much more environmentally friendly process compared to that of activated carbon.

The substance can be applied like paint, which makes it very versatile. It can be brushed, sprayed, or used in 3D-printing.

The sustainable material is also easy to scale up, and could be used in the development of water filtration units or to cover exterior building surfaces to remove particulate matter.

The study is published in Frontiers in Chemistry.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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