Graphene Microbots rids polluted water of lead


As technology and manufacturing of electronic devices advance, contaminants and pollutants which we know are dangerous to living organisms are produced also. These contaminants include; mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and cadmium, all these are released into our environment whenever things like electronics, batteries and the likes are being manufactured.

An international team of researchers has risen to help curb the effects of these dangerous elements, they have developed a school of tiny microbots which are smaller than the width of the human hair. We don’t know what the cost of this development is but this is what it brings to the table, the microbots have the ability to remove particles of lead from contaminated water and as it seems, it does this more effectively than any  other means.

These bots are made up of three layers, on the outside is Graphene oxide which does the job of absorbing lead particles from the water. At middle is Nickel, which permits external control of the microbot using a magnetic field and in the innermost layer, is Platinum. Platinum propels the robots by adding hydrogen peroxide to the water, the hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen.

The research team said that a swarm of these microbots can bring about a reduction in the amount of lead in contaminated water from 1000 parts per billion to just 50 parts per billion, that a reduction of 95% in 60minutes depending on the amount of water and microbots of course.

One interesting thing here is that these bots can be reused, the same magnetic field that controls them can be used to retrieve them so yah! they can be cleaned and used again. In addition, the lead removed by the microbots from water can be reused also.

This is a new application of smart nanodevices for environmental applications. The use of self-powered nano-machines that can capture heavy metals from contaminated solutions, transport them to desired places and even release them for “closing the loop” that is a proof-of-concept towards industrial applications.

Samuel Sanchez
Co-author, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent systems.
Magnetic guidance of the microbot. Gif via Vilela, et al

Magnetic guidance of the microbot. Gif via Vilela, et al

In the future, microbots could be controlled by an automated system that magnetically guides the swarm to accomplish several tasks. “We plan to extend the microbots to other contaminants, and also importantly reduce the fabrication costs and mass-produce them,” Sánchez said.

The Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) exists since March 18, 2011. Its Stuttgart location (the former MPI for Metals Research) is in the process of scientific reorientation; a new institute location arises in Tübingen. The MPI for Intelligent Systems belongs to the Max Planck Society, a German research institution strong in basic research.

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