Scientists have unveiled "nanoccoils" that can induce chemical reactions in the ocean that convert plastic into carbon dioxide and water.
Up to 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year, 40 percent of which was produced in the past year. The worst thing is that most of these plastics do not decompose: they simply split into smaller pieces called microplastics. These particles, less than five millimeters across, have been found all over the world, from the deepest part of the Mariana Trench to the summit of the French Pyrenees.
In a study published in the journal Matter, scientists describe a new type of nanotechnology that could help solve the problem of plastic in the ocean. These are tiny magnetic "nanocoils" that induce chemical reactions that destroy microplastics in the ocean. The process turns plastic into carbon dioxide and water.
The width of the "nanoccoils" developed by scientists does not exceed one micrometer. They are spring-shaped carbon nanotubes coated with nitrogen and manganese atoms, which exhibit strong magnetic properties. These two chemical elements interact with carbon nanotubes to create reactive oxygen species, which then break down plastic molecules.
Scientists' nanoccoils / © J. Kang et al., Matter, 2019
Scientists have tested their development on solutions with microplastics. In eight hours, the percentage of plastic was reduced from 50 to 30. Then the specialists easily removed the nanoccoils from the water using magnets. Subsequently, such nanostructures can be reused. And although this development is not the only one that promises to cleanse the ocean of plastic, so far it is the most effective and does not require constant human monitoring.
A similar project was launched by entrepreneur Boyan Slat six years ago. He set out to clear the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas. The first attempt at this was unsuccessful, and in June of this year, Slath re-launched his 600-meter gripping tool.