Synthetic Corals Can One Day Help Clean Oceans Of Industrial Pollution


More and more waste is building up on shorelines and deep under the ocean because of human activity, but humans have not made any efforts to add cleaning agents to ensure our waters are pollution-free — until now.

Scientists have developed a device that has coral-like metal-absorbing properties that rids ocean waters of industrial waste.

Researchers from China's Anhui Jianzhu University conducted an experiment to test the effectiveness of their coral-like industrial waste cleaners and published their findings in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science.

"Absorption is an easy way to remove pollutants from water, as developing new products that can do this is a big challenge in environmental remediation," said Jianzhu University's Dr. Xianbiao Wang, one of the study's authors.

Dr. Wang noted the importance of the product's physical and synthetic structure. While science allows them to experiment with creating adsorbents that have different structures, they were able to particularly fabricate products whose important feature is similar to that of corals. Dr. Wang emphasized the synthetic material's "potentially huge applications."

Using aluminum oxide, Dr. Wang's team designed coral-like nanoplates that absorb metals like mercury from water. Previously, aluminum oxide has been used in removing pollutants, however, the material's structure was not seen as optimal and did not perform very well. The new nanoplates made by the team at Anhui Jianzhu University curl up to coral-like structures and behave like real corals.

When the nanoplates were tested on water, the researchers found that the structures mimicking coral behavior absorbed mercury about 2.5 times more than an aluminum oxide nanoplate.

Mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic heavy metal ions keep piling up onto ocean beds due to human activity — industrial and manufacturing processes. The human-caused waste in the waters don't seem to have effects on humans, but as the waste actually only starts to pollute the water, it then later affects humans as well. When mercury makes its way into the ocean, its first absorbents are marine plants and animals. Mercury actually slowly makes its way up the food chain when fish become toxic. Toxic fish that are eventually consumed by humans cause cognitive impacts on 1.5 to 17 of every 1,000 children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even at very low levels, heavy metals can pollute real corals. While corals are very good mercury and heavy metal absorbents, they may eventually die because of their efficiency in taking in the waste. The synthetic coral-like structures function in the same way as real corals but, unlike corals, are not at risk of dying. 

Photo: NOAA's National Ocean Service | Flickr

ⓒ 2018 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Real Time Analytics