Finnish research helps catch microplastics

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has announced it has developed a nanocellulose-based method to detect and capture microplastics even before they enter waterways and start accumulating in the bodies of fish and other water animals.

The mesh-like, porous structure and large specific surface area of nanocellulose generate powerful capillary forces in water, allowing particles to be transported and trapped in the mesh, explained Tekla Tammelin, a research professor at VTT.

The structure is capable of catching particles indiscernible to the human eye, with a diameter of no more than 100 nanometres.

“Nanocellulose structures can be used to identify and analyse these particles and to obtain information about their behaviour at an earlier stage. We can determine the concentration of particles in water and analyse, for example, whether particles are released into drinking water from plastic bottles,” told Tammelin.

TT highlighted that 1000 litres of seawater can contain up to 8.3 million particles of microplastics, the detection of which is difficult with existing methods until they have built up in the bodies of fish.

Developed as part of a flagship project exploring new bio-based material solutions, the method could be utilised to develop inexpensive filtration solutions capable of trapping the particles at source, according to VTT.

“The solutions could be utilised, for example, in laundry, where microplastic particles are released from fleece clothing and other synthetic fibres. Similarly, we could develop filtration methods for any industry where there is a risk of microplastics being generated and released into waterways,” envisioned Tammelin.