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Nanotechnology & Nanomaterials Research

Sustainable Chemical Research

EPA researchers are researching alternative more sustainable ways to produce and apply nanomaterials to minimize environmental and human health impacts.

Green production of nanomaterials to promote sustainable nanotechnologies

Background:

Part of the uncertainly concerning nanomaterials is the unique qualities they posses which are different from the properties of the same materials of a larger size. The unique qualities of the nanomaterials and how they travel and interact with the environment at different life stages is largely unknown. EPA is striving to learn more about these unique qualities for future risk assessment purposes and to research safer and more sustainable production processes.

Current Research:

EPA scientists are evaluating the production of sustainable nanomaterials in a matrix in which they are to be used. This type of production method reduces the mobility and handing of the nanomaterials. This minimizes the risk of exposure associated with the production process because reagents used to make nanomaterials via conventional synthesis are often toxic.

The biomimetic production approach that EPA is evaluating can be used to replace hazardous chemicals with naturally occurring antioxidants that reduce the metal salts and contain the nanomaterials that are formed.

Several protocols have been developed in-house to show that the benign antioxidants present in agricultural wastes (e.g., grape must from wineries, beet juice, simple sugars, tea and coffee extracts) are good alternative starting materials to produce nanomaterials in water or by using nontoxic byproducts such as glycerol, which comes from the biofuel industry.

Impact:

This research could provide safer methods to produce nanoparticles used for the growing nanotechnology industry. In addition, the impact of nanomaterials on health and the environment is further minimized by developing sustainable nanomaterials.

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Nano-encapsulated Membranes

Issue:

Lack of safe drinking water is the primary cause of many diseases in the world today. Every day, tens of thousands of people die from causes directly related to contaminated water. The demand for fresh water continues to grow worldwide, and fresh water scarcity has become a critical issue in many parts of the world. The scarcity and contamination of worldwide drinking water requires the development of highly efficient water purification techniques such as membrane filtration.

Membrane assisted water purification is found to be a major solution for the water crisis. For instance, membrane purification technologies such as a Reverse Osmosis (RO), Membrane Distillation (MD) and recently Forward Osmosis (FO) are widely used to produce water from ground water, surface water, waste water, and water extracted from saline sources such as brackish ground water and seawater.

Nano composite membranes and materials are the backbone of various modern technologies for a variety of sustainable applications. However, development of these materials isĀ  scientifically challenging.

Current Research:

EPA researchers are developing and evaluating a method to employ bio-renewable materials such as cellulose to develop nano-encapsulated membranes for future water purification purposes. Nano-encapsulated membranes are an up-an-coming class of materials consisting of nano particles dispersed in a continuous polymer matrix to create materials with high filtration capabilities.

Why use cellulose?

Cellulose is the most abundant natural biopolymer on Earth, which is renewable, biodegradable, and non-toxic. Materials based on cellulose and its derivatives have been used for more than 150 years in a wide variety of applications, such as food, paper production, biomaterials and pharmaceuticals. Because of the well-known characteristics of cellulose, researchers experimented with it to create more cost effective and safer means membrane production.

How this research will be used:

EPA is developing novel methods for preparing cellulosic and nanomaterial incorporated cellulosic membranes for sustainable applications. The nano-encapsulated membranes currently being developed and tested by EPA researchers can be useful for a number of applications in water or solvent purification.

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