New solution to capture microplastics before they enter waterways

New solution to capture microplastics before they enter waterways

April 30, 2020
Marcia González

A thousand liters of seawater can contain up to 8.3 million particles of microplastics. Until now, identifying these very small particles has been difficult – usually they are only detected once they have accumulated in the bodies of fish. A method developed at VTT utilizes nanocellulose structures for early particle identification. Nanocellulose would allow particles to be captured even before they enter waterways

The properties of nanocellulose films and hydrogels support the identification and capture of very small microplastic particles.

“Nanocellulose has a mesh-like, porous structure and a large BET surface area,” said research Professor Tekla Tammelin from VTT. “In the water, powerful capillary forces are generated in this structure, allowing particles to be transported inside the mesh and bound there.”

The method provides a way to catch microplastic particles of a size that the human eye cannot detect. These are particles with a diameter of only 100 nanometres.

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

The identification of microplastic particles with nanocellulose structures has been developed at VTT as part of the ‘FinnCERES’ flagship project, which is exploring new bio-based material solutions. The next step could be to develop new and inexpensive filtration solutions utilizing the method.

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

The rescheduled Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2020 will take place at Cologne Messe, Germany, on Monday 9 November and Tuesday 10 November. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email

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