Micro and nano plastics are everywhere: in the air, in seas and rivers, in soil, and in plants and animals. The use of plastics in various products is increasing their concentration. The growing presence of micro- and nano plastics in water is a growing problem worldwide. While there is no complete clarity on the harmfulness of these plastics to humans and the environment, there are serious concerns among scientists. UT researcher Dr Alvaro Marin, who is an associate professor in the Physics of Fluids group in the University of Twente’s Faculty of Science and Technology (TNW) is working with colleagues on a technology for detecting and identifying traces of micro and nano plastics in consumable water.
At this moment, there is no technique publicly available to detect microplastics (and even worse, nano plastics) in water on a larger scale. Researchers from UT’s NanoBioPhysics group (NBP), in a recent publication, managed to quantify nano plastics in water samples coming from disposable plastic cups using advanced microscopy techniques. Unfortunately, the technique is not able to identify the chemical nature of the plastic particles for industrial applications.
Alvaro Marin is now working on a new follow-up project, for which he recently received a Proof of Concept grant from the European Research Council (ERC). In collaboration with NBP, he and his team aim to develop a technique in which they let a droplet of potentially contaminated water evaporate, and analysis of the non-evaporated remainings using a spectrometry technique may take place. This would substantially reduce the time required for analysis and will increase the signal emitted by the plastics when using spectrometry techniques. To develop this technique, Alvaro is working closely with the NanoBioPhysics chair at UT (Mireille Claessens and Christian Blum) and WETSUS, the European centre of excellence for sustainable water technology in Leeuwarden.
There is increasing attention to the potential damage of micro and nano plastics in water. Earlier, the World Health Organisation WHO expressed concerns about this increase. Since 2019, the European Commission has been working on a European law to ban micro plastics. When this law comes into action, companies dealing with plastic recipients will have an urgent need for techniques to assess the release of microplastics in their products.