Simple method of binding pollutants in water

Written on:March 30, 2015
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New types of membrane adsorbers remove unwanted particles from water and also, at the same time, dissolved substances such as the hormonally active bis-phenol A or toxic lead. To do this, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB imbed selective adsorber particles in filtration membranes.

Current Method

The hormonally active bulk chemical is among other things a basic material for polycarbonate from which, for example, CDs, plastic tableware or spectacles glasses are manufactured. Due to its chemical structure, bisphenol A is not completely degraded in the biological stages of treatment plants and is discharged into rivers and lakes by the purification facility.Activated carbon or adsorber materials are already used to remove chemicals, anti-biotics or heavy metals from waste or process water. However, activated carbon can only be regenerated with a high energy input, resulting for the most part in the need to dispose of large quantities of material contaminated with pollutants.

In Membranes filter,the smaller the membrane pores are, the higher the pressure – and therefore the more energy – that is required to separate the substances from water.

Membrane adsorbers – filtering and binding in one step

Tiny polymeric particles that bind pollutants from the water are imbed-ded in the porous carrier structure of the membrane adsorbers © Fraunhofer IGB

Tiny polymeric particles that bind pollutants from the water are imbed-ded in the porous carrier structure of the membrane adsorbers
© Fraunhofer IGB

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart have opted for a new approach that combines the advantages of both methods. When manufacturing the membranes they add small, polymeric adsorber particles. The resulting membrane adsorbers can – in addition to their filtration function – adsorptively bind substances dissolved in water. “We make use of the porous structure of the membrane located underneath the separation layer. The pores have a highly specific surface so that as many particles as possible can be imbedded, and they also provide optimum accessibility,” says Dr. Thomas Schiestel, Head of the “Inorganic Interfaces and Membranes” working group at the Fraunhofer IGB.

“Unlike conventional adsorbers, our membrane adsorbers transport the pollutants convectively. This means that, with the water flowing rapidly through the membrane pores, a contact time lasting only a few seconds is sufficient to adsorb pollutants on the particle surface,” says the scientist. Up to 40 percent of the weight of the membrane adsorbers is accounted for by the particles, so their binding capacity is correspondingly high. At the same time the membrane adsorbers can be operated at low pressures. As the membranes can be packed very tightly, very large volumes of water can be treated even with small devices.

Functional adsorber particles

Depending on which substances are to be removed from the water, we select the most suitable one from a variety of monomers with differing functional groups,” Schiestel explains.

Selective removal of pollutants and metals

The researchers were able to show in various tests that the membrane adsorbers remove pollutants very selectively by means of the particles.The various adsorber particles can even be combined in one membrane. In this way we can remove several micropollutants simultaneously with just one membrane adsorber,” says Schiestel.

Cost-effective and regenerable

So that the membrane adsorbers can be used several times, the adsorbed pollutants have to be detached once again from the particles in the membrane. The regenerability of the membrane adsorbers also makes possible a further application: reutilization of the separated molecules. This additionally makes the technology attractive for recovering valuable precious metals or rare earth metals. The concentrated pollutants can then be disposed off cost-effectively or broken down using suitable oxidative processes.

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